Less than a week after being returned to office, the Liberal-National Party moved quickly to weaken environmental protections and local government powers by transferring them to the planning department and the premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
Under the Administration of Acts Order and associated changes made on Tuesday this week, the Coalition government have moved many key ministerial responsibilities, effectively disempowering the ministers and their departments.
Of major concern, say NSW Labor and the Greens, is the scrapping of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), a department tasked with the oversight of environmental protection across the state.
Premier Berejiklian told Fairfax’s SMH that ‘heritage would be shifted to the Arts portfolio headed by Don Harwin as minister’.
SMH reporter Peter Hannam also wrote, ‘As part of the changes, the Office of Local Government will also cease to exist as a separate entity, while the Planning & Environment cluster will end its operations as of July 1 this year’.
According to Administration of Acts Order, the re-appointed Planning Minister Rob Stokes will now exercise all the powers under the Local Government Act 1993. The newly appointed Minister for Local Government is Shelley Hancock.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said, ‘The dramatic changes disempower these Ministers from having any official role in the administration of key legislation in their areas including under the Protection of the Environmental Acts, the Heritage Act 1977 and the Local Government Act 1993’.
Shoebridge describes the move as an ‘official legal coup’.
He said, ‘NSW Planning has a history of abusing the environment, not protecting it, which makes these changes so dreadfully concerning. It’s not just the Planning Minister who has seized control, so has the Premier by taking over all responsibilities under the Heritage Act 1977.
‘What is the point of having a Heritage Minister who has no role in administering the Heritage Act?’
No environment department
Deputy opposition leader in the NSW Legislative Council and shadow Minister for the North Coast, Walt Secord said, ‘NSW is now the only State in Australia without a stand-alone environment department.’
‘The National Party and their white shoe brigade mates have gotten their way; they must be salivating at the prospect of logging and overdeveloping the North Coast.’
Secord says a ‘gang of eight’ senior ministers have centralised power and described the decision by Premier Berejiklian to axe the Office of the Environment as an ‘act of betrayal to the state’s eight million residents that threatens the health of our rivers, oceans, animals, plants and people’.
‘The change will mean that for the first time in many decades there will no longer be a dedicated state government agency looking after the state’s natural and built environment. Responsibilities previously undertaken by the OEH will be subsumed into a larger Department of Planning and Industry’.
‘In the final days of the election campaign, Premier Gladys Berejiklian claimed that the environment was a priority, but we now see the Premier acting against the environment.’
Some of the key changes in the Administrative Arrangements (Administrative Changes—Ministers) Order 2019 include:
‘Construction of references to Minister for the Environment In any document, a reference to the Minister for the Environment is to be construed: (a) as a reference to the Premier if used in or in relation to legislation administered by that Minister, or (b) in any other case, as a reference to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces’.
‘Construction of references to Minister for Heritage In any document, a reference to the Minister for Heritage is to be construed as a reference to the Premier.
‘In any document, a reference to the Minister for Tourism and Major Events is to be construed as a reference to the Treasurer.
‘In any document, a reference to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is to be construed as a reference to the Premier.
‘In any document, a reference to the Minister for Multiculturalism is to be construed as a reference to the Attorney General, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence’.
Additionally, point 43 reads, ‘Construction of certain references in legislation relating to local water utilities (1) A reference in sections 57–66 of the Local Government Act 1993 (and in any instrument of any kind, or in any contract or agreement, made pursuant to any such provision) to the Minister for Primary Industries (required by previous orders to be construed as a reference to the Minister for Regional Water) is to be construed as a reference to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces’.
‘(2) A reference in clause 21, 138 or 147 of the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (and in any instrument of any kind, or in any contract or agreement, made pursuant to any such provision) to the Minister for Utilities (required by previous orders to be construed as a reference to the Minister for Regional Water) is to be construed as a reference to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces. (3) The reference in section 409 (6) of the Local Government Act 1993 to the Minister for Energy and Utilities (required by previous orders to be construed as a reference to the Minister for Regional Water) is to be construed as a reference to the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces.’
Premier Gladys Berejiklian,
Deputy Premier, Minister for Regional New South Wales, Industry and Trade John Barilaro,
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet,
Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole,
Special Minister of State, Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, Aboriginal Affairs, and the Arts, and Vice-President of the Executive Council, Leader of Government Business in the Legislative Council Donald Harwin,
Minister for Transport and Roads, Leader of the House Andrew Constance,
Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard,
Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes,
Attorney General, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman,
Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello,
Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell,
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott,
Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey,
Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres,
Minister for Energy and Environment Matthew Kean,
Minister for Agriculture and Western New South Wales Adam Marshall,
Minister for Counter Terrorism and Corrections Anthony Roberts,
Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock,
Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson,
Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Dr Geoffrey Lee,
Minister for Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors and Veterans Anthony Sidoti,
Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women Bronwyn Taylor,
Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth James Ward and Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope.