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Bastion Point and cynical planning politics

The Windsor Hotel redevelopment document accidentally leaked by Minister Madden’s media advisor (25 Feb 2010) reveals a strategy to undermine an advisory committee report, and manipulate a community consultation process. As you can see in the full Madden Media Plan, it also contains the line ‘ March 16 and 17 Bastian (sic) Point decision in Supreme Court’, with the following dot point -‘Documents tabled on Feb 16 – will need cover as allegations against Minister’s actions’. Minister Madden tabled his submissions for the case on 16 February. See also Melissa Fyfe’s 7 Mar 2010 story in The Age regarding this wording.

Minister Madden has laid the blame on the media advisor, claiming it is an internal draft document. However, the leaked document names as ‘strategy’ a sham public consultation to undermine an advisory committee. Is this the type of background manipulation Minister Madden has employed with Bastion Point?

The Environmental Effects Statement (EES) for the Bastion Point development began in 2000, when then Minister for Planning, John Thwaites, directed a reluctant East Gippsland (EG) Council that the EES be ‘rigorous and transparent’.

It became apparent to those opposing the development that the EES was anything but this, with a lack of rigour in most of the studies, and highly questionable consultation.

When these concerns were raised with the government, the campaign was told there would be an open inquiry process held for stakeholders to express their views.

To the credit of the government, it kept its word and held the public inquiry – to the chagrin of independent MP for Gippsland East and abalone licence holder, Craig Ingram, who had asked the government to cancel the inquiry, and simply approve the development.

Minister Madden appointed three experienced Panel members, who all had strong track records in environmental assessment. After almost a year of EG Council manouvering about the start date of the Inquiry, they finally agreed to appear – with a plan, ‘Option 3b’, formulated just a month before the Inquiry was due to start.

The Independent Panel presented their report to Minister Madden in October 2008 – it was not revealed to the public until June 2009 when Minister Madden released it with his Assessment.

The Panel report, when released, was damming of the EG council process, its ‘design on the run’, and its proposals. It was even described by EG Councillor Gamble as a ‘searing report’. The report was unequivocal in recommending against the final council plan, ‘Option 3b’, and recommending against any breakwaters at Bastion Point.

Yet when Minister Madden released his assessment in June 2009, it completely overturned the Panel findings – based partly on Minister Madden’s unannounced one-day visit to Mallacoota. He ignores the Panel findings – he only had to read the Executive Summary to read of the net negative effect on tourism, on the lack of net societal benefit, and strong concerns on safety of the proposed breakwater.

Minister Madden’s report is written in first person – yet who advised him on his decision to overturn the Panel report? His one-day sojourn in Mallacoota was surely not enough to invalidate the hundreds of thousands of dollars and almost as many hours, spent by the community, the Council, and Government on the EES and Inquiry.

The public has a right to know what political processes happened between the time of the Panel handing their Report to Minister Madden in October 2008, and his overturning of the report in June 2009.