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Breaches of the Council Model Code of Conduct – A Lesson for Councillors

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has recently heard a matter in which the Office of Local Government was seeking a determination as to whether the mayor of Inner West Council, Mr Darcy Byrne, had engaged in misconduct as defined in s 440F(1) of the Local Government Act 1993, for failing to comply with an applicable requirement of the Inner West Model Code of Conduct.

By way of background, following approval by Inner West Council to amendments being made a development control plan, a councillor at Inner West Council posted on her Facebook page which referred to her unhappiness in the amendments being approved and commenting that the mayor had been the one pushing for the amendments. In response, another councillor commented on the Facebook post, as well as other individuals.

Mr Byrne subsequently sent letters (described as concerns notices pursuant to the Defamation Act 2005 (NSW)  to both councillors, alleging that he had been defamed by the Facebook post and requesting that the comments be deleted and a public apology be issued via Facebook.
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Laws for the Paws

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed what we used to consider a “normal” working environment as working from home is now the new status quo. Fortunately, this has allowed many of us to bond with our pets but what happens when our beloved pets get themselves into trouble? And the next question that follows, to what extent can local council officers enter our property to seize our pets?

Powers to entry property under the CAA Ct

In New South Wales, the Companion Animals Act 1998 (NSW) confers large powers upon local councils to regulate the effective and responsible care and management of our little furry companions.

One of the key provisions in the CAA Act is section 69A Powers of authorised officers to enter property, which allows an authorised officer to:

  • enter any property to seize or secure any companion animal, or
  • determine whether there has been compliance with, or contravention of the Companion Act or the Companion Regulations.
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Impact of Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020 on Local Governments

In December 2020, the Commonwealth parliament passed the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020 (Cth) (Foreign Relations Act), which will impose new restrictions on local governments’ autonomy in making certain types of arrangements with foreign entities.

The Foreign Relations Act requires State and Territory statutory bodies, including local governments, to notify the responsible Minister (which is currently the Foreign Minister) before entering into arrangements with foreign public entities. The type of “arrangement” that will trigger compliance with this requirement are extremely wide and include:- any written arrangement; agreement; contracts; understandings; or undertakings, whether legally binding or not. The types of foreign entities with whom arrangements are entered into that will trigger the notification requirement are also very wide, including:- foreign countries; foreign local governments; and certain types of universities.

Under section 34 of the Foreign Relations Act, a local government must notify the Foreign Minister when it proposes to enter into an arrangement with a foreign entity. The Foreign Minister may then, under sections 35 and 36, make a binding declaration that the local government must not enter into the notified arrangement if the Foreign Minister is satisfied that the arrangement would adversely affect, or would be likely to adverse affect, Australia’s foreign relations, or would be, or would be likely to be, inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.
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New Practice Note Issued in NSW on Voluntary Planning Agreements

On 12 February 2021, the Planning Secretary issued a new Planning Agreement Practice Note (VPA Practice Note) under clause 25B(2) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations 2000 (EPA Regulations), replacing the Development Contributions – Practice Note – Planning Agreements (Former VPA Practice Note) issued on 19 July 2005. This clause provides guidance on the making, administration and negotiation of VPAs under section 7.4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (EPA Act). On the same day, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Development Contributions) Regulations 2021 (Amendment Regulations) made numerous amendments to the EPA Regulations.

VPA Practice Note Differences to Former VPA Practice Note

The VPA Practice Note contains numerous differences from the Former VPA Practice Note; most notably:

  • Providing specific guidance on offers to enter into VPAs,
  • Providing specific guidance on developer’s obligations under a VPA through security for enforcement,
  • Providing specific guidance on VPA registration,
  • Providing specific guidance on re-notifications of draft VPAs where material changes are made post-public notice,
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Home owners should not underestimate the importance of Council approval!

It’s likely crossed most home owners’ minds:  it might be nice to replace the front fence, or it’s time to upgrade to a bigger backyard garden shed. But before home owners get too excited, it’s crucial that any plans for any kind of development are submitted to the local Council. Omitting this step could result in not only a potential fine and conviction, but the demolition of that dream development.

Why do Home Owners need Council approval?

Home owners sitting on their deck admiring the view should be thankful that there are no high rise developments in their line of sight and for that they can thank their Council’s Local Environment Plan. Each Council’s Local Environment Plan sets out what each parcel of land in a suburb and community is zoned as and therefore what can or cannot be built there. So in a residential area, it may be prohibited for buildings taller than two stories to be built, or for a rubbish dump to be next to a child’s primary school. But these same regulations also limit what a home owner can and cannot do with their own land, from what kinds of home businesses they can run, to what kind of additions, renovations and developments can be constructed as well as what kinds of development require consent.
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Overlapping responsibilities in Condition of consents for music festivals

The entertainment and live music industry has undoubtedly taken the biggest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. To grapple with the economic fallout, the Federal Government announced a $250 million targeted package to help restart the creative, entertainment, arts and screen sectors.

As event organisers slowly formulate management plans, local councils will undoubtedly play a significant role to consult with other agencies to ensure a COVID-safe environment. The following case of NSW Commissioner of Police v Rabbits Eat Lettuce Pty Ltd [2019] NSWCA 182 is relevant as it demonstrates the complexities of having a condition of consent that involves multiple local agencies.

Background

In 2015, the Richmond Valley Council granted the applicant, Rabbits Eats Lettuce Pty Ltd (REL), temporary development consent to hold music festivals in Koppenduff (the Consent).

One of the conditions, which the Court found was unusual, stated:

Condition 7

 An event must not proceed if either New South Wales Police, New South Wales Rural Fire Service or Richmond Valley Council advises it is unsafe to do so.
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Universal 1919 Pty Ltd v 122 Pitt Street Pty Ltd [2020] NSWCA 50

The Court of Appeal recently considered and upheld a judicial review decision, Universal 1919 Pty Ltd v 122 Pitt Street Pty Ltd [2019] NSWLEC 117 (“Universal  1”). As a result, we now have a unanimous decision from the Court of Appeal of NSW that the statutory requirements found in Schedule 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to afford procedural fairness to a recipient of a section 9.34 Notice are sufficient to exclude any remaining common law rights.

Universal 1 was a decision made by Justice Biscoe in the Class 4 jurisdiction of the Land and Environment Court, in relation to the validity of a Development Control Order No. 10, Restore Works Order issued under section 9.34 and 9.35 and Schedule 5 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (‘the Act’).

This case also deals with the validity of orders (pursuant to section 9.34) issued to an Owner of a building (the landlord), as opposed to an Occupier.
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Secretary, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment v Wollongong Recycling (NSW) Pty Ltd [2020] NSWLEC 125

The above case in the Land and Environment Court reminds us of the crucial role that investigators of a Public Authority, such as Council Officers, play in upholding the foundational principles and goals of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The carrying out of development without consent or not in accordance with the consent undermines the objects of the Act, and Council Officers are usually the ones who bring this conduct to the attention of the Court.

 “People need to be aware that the offence of carrying out development not in accordance with development consent is a crime, that offenders will be prosecuted and that the Court will impose significant penalties on offenders”  Chief Justice Preston

Introduction

It may seem strange to some people that in today’s day and age where there are large scale campaigns to encourage more recycling by everyone, that an actual recycling plant should be penalized for recycling more than it is lawfully allowed to do on the site. However, the Land and Environment Court made such a decision recently in relation to an offence by a large recycling company operating in Wollongong.
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