The NSW Independent Planning Commission is a statutory body whose function is primarily to act as consent authority in relation to State significant development. The Commission is not subject to Ministerial control other than in relation to its procedure.
The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces requested the Productivity Commissioner (Peter Achterstraat, the former NSW Auditor-General) to conduct a review of the Commission. The review examined, among other things, whether it was in the public interest to maintain an Independent Planning Commission and the operations and processes of the Commission in the State’s planning framework. The review’s full terms of reference can be found on the Productivity Commissioner’s website.
On 1 February 2020, the Minister released the Productivity Commission’s report to the public. It contains 12 recommendations to improve the Commission’s independence, governance and performance.
The following is a summary of those recommendations, which the Government has accepted in full:
* Governance – establishing the Commission as a separate and independent agency and formalising its governance arrangements, including by establishing the Chair as the head of the Commission with accountability to the Minister, developing a governance framework, and improving internal systems, procedures and the culture of the Commission’s Secretariat.
* Composition – reducing the number of Commissioners (currently 29) and seeking Commissioners with greater generalist decision-making skills, rather than narrow technical expertise. The Productivity Commission concluded that some of the Commissioners’ experience is highly specialised and may not be well suited to the Commission’s core decision-making function.
* Referral triggers – tightening the criteria for matters to be referred to the Commission, so that it determines only sufficiently contentious or complex projects. Previously, 25 community objections to a project could trigger a referral to the IPC. This is to be increased to 50 ‘unique’ objections, and, for the first time, those objections must come from people living within a specified distance of the project (eg 100km), so that projects with large numbers of formal submissions will not necessarily be referred to the Commission. This change to the objections trigger is predicted to reduce the Commission’s caseload by more than 25%, based on data from the past five years.
* Modification applications – removing the referral of modification applications to the Commission except those subject to reportable political donations.
* Budget and resourcing – reviewing and revising the Commission’s budget to ensure it is appropriately resourced, and reviewing the remuneration model for Commissioners.
* Performance and efficiency – establishing outcome-focused objectives and performance measures (including timeliness targets) the Commission must report against, improving internal policies and procedures and IT systems to support the Commission’s workloads, implementing continuous improvement mechanisms, simplifying and shortening Statements of Reasons, and abolishing multiple stage public hearings.
A copy of the full report can be found on the Productivity Commissioner’s website.
The Commission’s Acting Chair, Peter Duncan AM, has been appointed to oversee the implementation of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations. No timeline has been set.