Supermarket Planning Policy

Recent articles just published in The Canberra Times reveal the extent to which the flawed ACT Goverment supermarket policy apparently led to a review of the ACT public service and its outcome: the present directorate structure. As reported earlier, developments at the Canberra International Airport with the advent of Costco and Woolworths have exposed the impotence of the ACT Government in attempting to promote supermarket competition. The ACT Government ignored previous Productivity Commission and Australian Competition and Consumer Commision studies in the construction of the policy and managed to earn the flack of the ACTPLA chief executive.

The Canberra Times              Monday                      18 July 2011

 Supermarket row led to PS shake-up

By Alan Towell
Chief Assembly Reporter

The bitter turf war between the ACT’s top planner and its land release agency last year sparked the biggest shake-up of the public service since self-government.

Former chief minister Jon Stanhope says the row that embroiled himself, ACTPLA chief executive Neil Savery and the Department of Land and Property Services over supermarket competition policy was “the final straw” that led to the Hawke review of the public service.

The Canberra Times revealed on Saturday the bitter behind-the-scenes struggle over the contentious supermarket proposal for Giralang in Canberra’s north led Mr Savery to accuse the chief minister arid LAPS officials of improper interference in the planning process. Confidential Government documents revealed Mr Stanhope’s confidence in his planning chief, already shaky after several incidents that attracted bad publicity for ACTPLA, collapsed completely as a result of the affair.

Although advice from the Government Solicitor cleared the chief minister of improper conduct and Mr Savery withdrew his allegation against Mr Stanhope, he told The Canberra Times that the damaging row was the catalyst to commission Allan Hawke to undertake his root- and-branch review of the territory’s bureaucracy.

As a result of the review, the Government announced in March that a single agency, with nine directorates, would become the administrative basis of the ACT Public Service.

But it was the planning and land bureaucracy that was hit hardest, with Mr Savery one of two agency heads in planning and land development who saw their organisations consumed by larger directorates. ACTPLA was rolled into the Sustainable Development Directorate under David Papps, and the Land Development Agency became part of Economic Development, led by former LAPS chief executive, and target of Mr Savery’s ire, David Dawes. Mr Stanhope, who reacted furiously to Mr Savery’s accusations of interference, said he was worried that a lack of collaboration between the two agencies was hampering the implementation of government policy.

“At the time, I was deeply concerned that the agencies implementing Government policy were not working as cooperatively as I would have expected them to,” the former chief minister said. “That particular experience and this particular issue was a major catalyst in my decision to commission Allan Hawke. “My decision to commission Allan Hawke to undertake a review of the ACT Public Service grew from this, it was the final straw, the catalyst that led me to that decision. “It was the lack of relationship, the lack of collaboration between two agencies that we expected to implement government policy.”

The cabinet document revealed that months of infighting over the proposal to build a supermarket at Giralang shops in Belconnen boiled over and culminated in Mr Savery accusing the chief minister of overstepping the mark in his determination to stop Woolworths setting up shop at the centre. Although the top planner later rescinded his allegations about the chief minister, he did not back away from his accusation that LAPS officials had engaged in a pattern of interference that made it impossible to achieve the Government’s stated aim of “taking the politics out of planning”.

Mr Savery is overseas and numerous attempts to contact him for comment have been unsuccessful, while Mr Dawes has made it clear that he did not wish to comment on the affair.

Note: copyright of the material in this clipping resides with Fairfax Media. Usage permitted in accordance with the Australian Copyright Act 1968, Section 42: Fair dealing for purpose of reporting news. Source: The Canberra Times – 18 July 2011


The Canberra Times                Saturday                            16 July 2011

 Capital chiefs in planning stoush

By Alan Towell
Chief Assembly Reporter

The ACT’s chief planner accused former chief minister Jon Stanhope of improperly interfering in the planning process last year, confidential cabinet documents reveal.

And ACTPLA chief executive Neil Savery, who was later forced to rescind his comments about the then chief minister, also lashed out at territory land release authority officials, accusing them of repeatedly overstepping “the mark, when it comes to their interference, in statutory process”.

The brawl, over a supermarket redevelopment in Giralang in Canberra’s north, required the intervention of the ACT Government Solicitor, whose advice vindicated the stance of both Mr Stanhope and his Land and Property Service officials and forced Mr Savery to concede that Mr Stanhope had not acted improperly. But the chief planner, who complained that the alleged interference was making it impossible to achieve the Government’s stated aim of “taking politics out of planning,” did not back away from his comments alleging a pattern of interference about LAPS bureaucrats.

The documents reveal a bitter split, the culmination of months of infighting between government agencies over the controversial supermarket competition policy, with the chief minister accused of overstepping the mark in his determination to ensure that groceries giant Woolworths did not set up shop at Giralang.

The correspondence, issued after a freedom of information application by the Canberra Liberals, shows allegations flying between LAPS, ACTPLA and the chief minister’s office as tensions over the plans to build the supermarket in the Belconnen suburb reached boiling point last year. Acting planning minister Katy Gallagher issued the pile of documents to The Canberra Times only after they were supplied through the FOl process to the Opposition and Liberals leader Zed Seselja challenged the Government yesterday to prove that it had learned its lessons from the affair.

Mr Stanhope wrote to ACTPLA urging it to consider the Government’s competition policy when assessing the Giralang site. Mr Savery then wrote a brief, dated May 17, 2010 to then planning minister Andrew Barr, saying, “The paragraph represents a clear attempt to influence the authority’s decision by saying if you don’t refuse the application, the Government will use other means at its disposal to stop it. “This level of interference would not be encountered by other statutory office bearers, such as the Auditor-General, the Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Magistrate etc.”  Mr Savery wrote that “call in” powers should be used on the development, because the planning process had been “compromised” by the alleged interference.

He was also scathing of LAPS, who he repeatedly accused of giving bad advice to the chief minister. “The Minister for Land and Property Services would appear to have been poorly advised by his department,” he wrote. Mr Savery went on to allege a pattern of interference by LAPS which was undermining ACTPLA’s statutory role and even putting the government at risk.

“I find this level of interference, which in the case of DLAPS is occurring on an ever more frequent basis, although not always as obviously as in this case, has the potential to make the role of ACTPLA as a statutory authority for a range of tasks increasingly difficult and puts the government at risk,” the chief planner wrote to the planning minister. “I don’t commit to these words lightly and appreciate that this creates a very awkward situation for you.”

The accusations provoked a furious reaction from Mr Stanhope, who, after receiving advice from ACT Government Solicitor Peter Garrison, wrote to his public service chief Andrew Cappie-Wood asking for a meeting to discuss the chief planner’s allegations. Mr Stanhope wrote, “I am also, as I am sure you would appreciate, deeply offended by Mr Savery’s allegation that I sought to inappropriately influence a statutory decision.”

Mr Savery withdrew his accusations against the chief minister in a minute written later, conceding that Mr Stanhope had not made “an attempt to sway the outcome of ACTPLA’s decision on a particular development application”. But the documents also show that Mr Stanhope’s confidence in his planning chief collapsed after the spat, with the chief minister later accusing Mr Savery of not understanding “some fairly fundamental aspects of his role”.

Mr Stanhope then asked Mr Cappie-Wood for advice on the territory’s exposure to legal action over historical ACTPLA decisions affected by Mr Savery’s “apparent misunderstanding”. “Suffice to say, the Government’s confidence in Mr Savery has been seriously shaken over this and other recent shortcomings in ACTPLA,” Mr Stanhope wrote.

Mr Savery is overseas and numerous attempts to contact him for interview were unsuccessful, while David Dawes, who was LAPS chief executive at time of the crisis, declined to comment.

Mr Stanhope said yesterday that he had been “enormously disappointed” by Mr Savery’s approach to the development but added that he been vindicated by Mr Garrison’s legal advice.

But Opposition Leader Mr Seselja said the Government had to demonstrate that it had fully investigated the matter and that lessons had been learned. “The chief planner has clearly felt compelled to raise concerns about interference in the independent planning process, and about that process being compromised,” Mr Seselja said.

“The community has a right to expect that any political input into the planning system is conducted in an open way in accordance with proper process. The question for Mr Barr and Ms Gallagher is what they did to investigate and address these claims of interference in the planning system.”


 Documents thicken plot

By John Thistleton
Chief Assembly Reporter

A box full of Freedom of Information documents in Opposition Leader Zed Seselja’s office heaps even more intrigue on the ACT Government’s contentious supermarket competition policy.

Sifting through the documents last week, the Opposition rang The Canberra Times to prepare us for an attack on the Government, but wanted to read and weigh up everything carefully first. Aware the documents from the ACT Planning and Land Authority were circulating, the Government this week handed its own copies of them to The Canberra Times. They reveal the lengths the Government and former chief minister Jon Stanhope went to in getting the policy into shape.

For many years small supermarket operators have found it almost impossible to establish themselves in the ACT grocery market. Each time a site became available, either Woolworths or Coles used their market strength to outbid any rival. That’s what this policy is trying to stop.

The Productivity Commission says it’s one of the most overt restrictions on competition, by explicitly excluding Woolworths from bidding on four newly released supermarket sites and Coles from bidding on three sites. Supabarn has been given an unimpeded opportunity to set up shop in Kingston and another site has been earmarked by the Government for use by Aldi and Supabarn. But the commission says the Government’s barriers seem founded primarily on Woolworths’ and Coles’ high market share, rather than any evidence of adverse competition outcomes as a result of this dominance.

Last year the Opposition uncovered a letter from former federal Labor minister for competition policy and consumer affairs Craig Emerson which accused Mr Stanhope of picking winners in the industry.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, whose former deputy commissioner John Martin drew up the policy, found it was anti-competitive.

In a Senate Estimates hearing in 2009, commission chairman Graeme Samuel said the policy was inconsistent with the findings of the commission’s grocery inquiry report of 2008.

The Opposition has brought to light a fresh concern about the policy. Woolworths wants to open a supermarket at Giralang, but Supabarn and IGA say this would impact adversely on their turnover in nearby suburbs.

Note: copyright of the material in this clipping resides with Fairfax Media. Usage permitted in accordance with the Australian Copyright Act 1968, Section 42: Fair dealing for purpose of reporting news. Source: The Canberra Times – 16 July 2011

 

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