HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.20 pm]: As members would be aware, I have spoken quite a number of times on the issue of the Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital site. There are some additional developments that I will speak to tonight. There is a general agreement that the patch of bushland that we are talking about is a threatened ecological community because it contains banksia woodland.
The PRESIDENT: Member, I am sorry to interrupt you but I am finding it really hard to hear you. I am not sure whether it is your microphone or maybe you might speak up a little bit, please.
Hon ALISON XAMON: There is an approved conservation advice from the federal Department of Environment about how to deal with this threatened ecological community and it addresses this exact situation. We are talking about subdivision and infill. The advice is unequivocal; it states not to touch this TEC or the non-TEC bush around it. If it acts as a wildlife corridor, it is to be added to the conservation estate. Over the past month or so I have been asking questions to try to understand how the process has made it to this point and, despite all common sense, and, as I have said before, in defiance of clearly articulated community will and state planning policies, we still find ourselves with this particular proposal.
Yesterday, the subdivision application went before the Statutory Planning Committee of the Western Australian Planning Commission. I know that the community group that has been fighting so very hard to try to preserve this bushland were outside the offices early yesterday morning, once again making it clear to the decision-makers that people in that community really care about what happens to this bushland. Today we found out that the planning committee has deferred a future determination. The minutes of the reasons for that deferral will be published in the next fortnight. I understand there are a number of reasons for that. It is partly because the committee is waiting for a new chair, which is reasonable. The committee has acknowledged that there is too much uncertainty and too many unknown factors and it plans to meet with the proponent next week, but at this time we do not have any further time frames in place or information on what will happen. I am concerned about the information provided in the first place as part of the subdivision application.
I want to draw members’ attention to some of the dates that really stand out in the process of assessing, in the first place, the ecological value of this site and the appropriateness of the bushfire management plan. This proposal was self-referred by LandCorp to the commonwealth and a determination was made on 29 January 2016. The banksia woodlands of the Swan coastal plain were listed as an endangered ecological community on 16 September 2016. Of course, the information submitted to the commonwealth did not include anything about the banksia woodlands on the site because at that time they were not listed, even though they were no less endangered than they are now. Yesterday, the minister answered my question and stated that the initial 2015 advice for the metropolitan region scheme amendment was reviewed in 2016 for the improvement scheme and that nothing substantial had changed. I suspect that the 2016 advice was also prepared prior to the listing of the banksia woodland as the improvement scheme went before the Statutory Planning Committee for final approval on 9 August 2016 and the bushfire management plan was completed and approved in May 2017. The final updated “Guidelines for Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas” was finalised and published in December 2017. The guidelines cannot be retroactively applied, but they clearly state that when clearing in a site such as this causes conflict with environmental objectives, sucking up and accepting a changed design and reduced lot yield might be required. We know that clearing of this bushland is clearly in conflict with environmental objectives for the banksia woodlands. Simply through a fluke of timing, LandCorp has been able to avoid responding to these concerns, but as a government body it still has a responsibility to undertake the best possible practice.
Yesterday I received correspondence between the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and LandCorp regarding the clearing application that is currently on hold. I requested this correspondence during the last sitting. I recognise that the Minister for Environment and Minister for Planning have been very forthcoming with information and I note that they have not put me on any sort of merry-go-round in providing information and have been very clear in giving me the information I have requested. The correspondence given to me yesterday was particularly enlightening in the context of the map submitted to the Statutory Planning Committee that it considered yesterday. The correspondence refers to the previous meeting between LandCorp and DWER. At the meeting, DWER advised that the clearing application would need to be re-advertised, as during the meeting LandCorp confirmed that clearing was for development purposes. Yet LandCorp was insistent that the clearing was for bushfire management purposes. It really is just lucky that the bushfire management plan will reduce the fire risk sufficiently to make it safe to develop those cleared areas. Of course, the map submitted to the Statutory Planning Committee for yesterday’s meeting clearly marks out areas of bushland that would be bushfire management clearing and other bushland areas that are proposed development sites. That is pretty convenient, but not necessarily best practice.
I am deeply concerned that the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions did not provide advice to the WAPC on the subdivision application. It is especially true that when it came to the clearing application, the advice provided by the same agency on the same bushland was so clear and unequivocal on the need to properly assess this bushland as a TEC. I wrote to the Minister for Planning about this advice. Once again, I want to acknowledge that the minister and her staff were very good and ensured that my letter on the issue and my concerns on the environmental advice provided to the WAPC were presented to the Statutory Planning Committee yesterday. I appreciate that. It is really important that we listen to the expertise of our public servants on these matters. It is quite clear that the public servants very much have this right. I think the knowledge and expertise needs to be accurately conveyed to decision-makers at every level. This issue clearly demonstrates the concerns that certainly the Greens have held for a number of years on the way in which communities and local governments are being disenfranchised on planning decisions. It is even more frustrating when we have a project, as we have here, that is a shining example of what could be a welcome and desired urban infill that maintains urban bushland areas.