The dust hadn’t settled on yesterday’s NSW 2008 budget presented by Treasurer Michael Costa when the Iemma Government’s other nasty, Planning Minister Frank Sartor, suspended standing orders and dramatically introduced his draconian pro-developer legislation.

Parliament sat until after 2am to ram Sartor’s Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Bill through the lower house.

The Coalition’s Brad Hazzard launched a vigorous but ultimately futile attack on the legislation which is now heading to the upper house for consideration.

Sydney MP and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore opposed the bill and called for an independent Upper House public inquiry into the planning system “to maintain democratic involvement, abolish conflict of interest and influence, protect heritage and the environment and address the critical issues of global warming and diminishing energy resources”.

She described the bill as “the worst legislation that I have seen in 20 years in this place. I am amazed that it has been allowed to progress this far”, and continued:

The Bill reduces communities’ say in local development and transfers planning decisions from elected representatives to bodies predominantly hand-picked by the Minister, or by developers, to make decisions behind closed doors.

The Bill removes processes that are in place to protect environment, heritage, neighbourhood and community and reduces the role of the independent Land and Environment Court. People and communities will be excluded.

If this Bill is enacted our planning system will be more conducive to corruption, not less!

In the final vote, the Independents were split: Moore and Port Macquarie MP Robert Oakeshott voted against the legislation but it was supported by two regular government leaners, Tamworth MP Peter Draper and Dawn Fardell from Dubbo.

The debate was briefly interrupted by a no confidence motion in Health Minister Reba Meagher moved by Coalition leader Barry O’Farrell.

Although lost on the numbers, the stirring debate clearly damaged Meagher whose grasp of the portfolio is under relentless questioning.

Trawling the traumatic aftermath of the Dr Graeme Reeves scandal at Bega Hospital and elsewhere, O’Farrell told MPs:

It is typical of the Minister for Health—who not only lacks competence and empathy with those who fail to get the services they deserve from the health system, but offers no apologies for her actions—that she is not prepared to front up to this place for the start of debate on a censure motion against her.

She is no doubt tutored in the skills that the Labor Party teaches to new and old Ministers in how to say everything except ‘Sorry’, to say everything except ‘I resign’, and to say everything except ‘I accept responsibility for my failures’.

But the “Beast of Bega” was a sideshow to the main events — Costa’s budget and Sartor’s new planning regime with most MPs saying that the Treasurer’s 2.5% pay cap for public sector workers was the Labor Government’s suicide note.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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