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Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Innovation in Planning and Development Assessment Summit

Location: Dockside Conference Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney

E & O E – PROOF ONLY

Acknowledgements

  • Robyn Barrow, Chair, eDA National Steering Committee
  • Peter Allen, Chair, Development Assessment Forum
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered and pay my respects to Elders past and present.

Introduction

Thank you, Miles (Clemans) for that introduction, and thank you all for taking the time to come here today.

As many of you are aware, Australians are faced with a significant housing affordability challenge.

When it comes to housing affordability, economists, developers, researchers and the not for profit sector are all in agreement.

It is becoming more and more difficult for people to find and keep a home, whether they are renters or owners.

This is something we are not going to be able to fix overnight, and it will require great cooperation across all levels of government and business.

Planning and development have much to contribute to housing affordability. Some States and Territories have been using planning levers – such as inclusionary zoning in South Australia – to increase the supply of lower cost homes.

We also know that holding costs are a major contributor to the cost of new homes. Planning delays are built into the cost of new homes and have an impact on the decisions of developers to bring new supply to market.

We owe it to new home buyers to manage the development assessment process as efficiently as possible.

To run an efficient system we need to insist on national features of development assessment systems that reduce the time and resources currently wasted in the interaction between developers, planners and councils who work with different systems across a variety of jurisdictions.

Housing Affordability

The overwhelming reason for the current housing affordability crisis is a supply shortfall, with insufficient houses being built to meet demand.

Treasury and industry analysts agree that the current shortfall in home building is approximately 50,000 homes.

Household demand is being driven a mix of the ageing of the population, immigration and relationship break ups. Housing supply is just not keeping up.

This lack of new houses is driving up rents and keeping the price of existing housing stock high, causing financial stress for low and moderate income home buyers and renters alike.

Government Housing Initiatives

The 2008 Budget announced a significant package to tackle the housing crisis.

The package included measures to make savings easier, to cut housing development costs, to increase the number of affordable rental properties and to build homes for homeless people.

Housing Affordability Fund

A key measure was the establishment of the new $512 million Housing Affordability Fund.

The Fund will be used to address the significant supply-side barriers to the development of new housing, which are inevitably passed on to the home buyer:

  • the ‘holding costs’ associated with planning and approval delays such as interest, land taxes, council rates and staff costs, which can add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a new home
  • the cost of developing new infrastructure such as water, sewerage, transport, and parklands, often funded by infrastructure charges

The Government has allocated $30 million from this Fund for the development of IT infrastructure needed to implement a nationally consistent electronic development assessment program (eDA).

Electronic Development Assessment

Using computer-based processes for considering development applications has long been recognised as providing benefits for all involved in planning approvals.

For applicants it means less paperwork, and having ready access to the information they need prior to applying, which streamlines the process and reduces the potential for error or misunderstanding about requirements.

The ability to make electronic adjustments to lodged applications also saves both time and paperwork.

Electronic development assessment provides savings for local government and the development industry, especially when it is necessary to refer applications to other government authorities prior to making a decision. Referral to environmental and other agencies is common, of course, and important, but often adds considerably to the overall time taken to make a decision on a development assessment.

For this reason it is important that all the IT systems used by consenting and referring authorities are able to communicate with each other, to cut out or reduce the paper trail between the many parties inevitably involved in an application.

The national communication protocol

National leadership is critical to ensuring we are all on the same page in the increasing switch from paper to electronic systems to process development applications.

Currently developers, councils and State and Territory Governments are using different software systems to handle development assessments electronically – systems that do not easily talk to one another.

We are left in a situation that is a bit like the problems of different rail gauges in each State and Territory.

To create a modern and national economy we need a single set of standards that allow for the interoperability of existing software.

I am pleased to announce today that the Commonwealth Government will provide $3.6M so that software used by councils and State and Territory Governments will be able to communicate with one another.

These funds will be used to for a national project team that will implement and continuously refine a common protocol for electronic development assessment. This protocol will set out the technical specifications for having interoperable electronic development assessment systems, sometimes referred to as the eDAIS.

Development of the protocol, and revision by the national project team to keep it updated and reflecting changes to planning systems in particular, ensures that different software systems built by different vendors, across different jurisdictions, are broadly compatible.

The eDAIS does not prescribe how individual development assessment systems must operate internally, but the common language the systems use to talk to each other.

By providing this clear national framework, the Government is ensuring that all affected parties, including applicants, developers, local, State and Territory Governments as well as Commonwealth referral agencies, move to electronic systems which ‘talk to each other’ in the most efficient manner possible.

Achieving end-to-end electronic development assessment in high growth areas

The national protocol provides the framework for electronic systems interaction, but to be fully effective, each jurisdiction clearly needs its own computer-based system to take advantage of the opportunities for integration with other authorities.

I am pleased to announce that more than $26 million will be provided nationally, to achieve electronic development assessment processes starting in areas of high household growth, ensuring maximum savings to home buyers.

These electronic development assessment reforms will be ‘end-to-end’: that is, every step from lodgement, tracking, referral and approval will be conducted electronically.

I am also able to announce the funds that will be provided by the Commonwealth to councils in each State and Territory. I expect to announce the specific allocations to individual local councils in the coming weeks.

The three smallest jurisdictions – Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory will receive half a million dollars each.

The balance will be spent in the larger jurisdictions, with funds being allocated based on the proportion to of new dwelling approvals over the last five years (units and houses) in each State. This will ensure that the federal funds are targeted to areas that most need a fast tracked handling of development assessments – namely, local government areas that are in high growth areas.

NSW will receive almost $6 million dollars; with Victoria and Queensland around the $6.5 million mark. South Australia will get $1.79 million and WA $3.82 million.

This money will not be provided to unless it is used to support the provision of IT solutions which comply with the national protocol.

This is very important: developers work across State and Territory borders and don’t want the added costs of needing different IT systems, once the major step of councils going electronic in the first instance has been achieved.

This commitment is one more contribution to establishing a single national economy.

It is also important for all levels of government, as the national protocol provides the capability for streamlined referral processes, which save government time and paperwork as well as applicants.

In most jurisdictions local government is the lodgement point for a development application, and depending upon the nature of the application and the planning processes in that State or Territory, the application may require referral to one or more other government agencies.

For fully integrated electronic development assessment it is necessary for all involved to have the capability to receive and process applications electronically.

Thus to ensure end-to-end electronic development assessment in high growth areas, we are negotiating jointly with the State or Territory Governments and Local Government Associations.

Conclusion

If all that sounds confusing, then I can assure you that we are getting the technical details right in order to simplify the development assessment process for users, making development assessment systems more consistent and efficient, right across Australia.

Of course, those of you who work across different jurisdictions would be well aware of the different planning laws and systems across the country.

Some States have centralised planning processes, others have devolved more to the local government level.

The difference in planning processes across the country certainly adds to the challenge of developing national electronic standards. However, let me be clear that we are not seeking to be prescriptive about the substance of planning – in this area as in many others, Australia is very clearly a federation of States.

The Commonwealth is not able to mandate how each level of government conducts its development assessments, nor does it seek to.

With housing costs at record highs, I look forward to the speedy roll out of these initiatives.

Improvements in development assessment processes will reduce delays in planning approvals, which in turn produces savings to home buyers.

Thank you.

ENDS