Town planning farce: Lawler dodges the hard questions


2583 Eva Lawler OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
The Development Consent Authority can act in contravention of the Planning Act. After three years of Alice Springs News Online trying to get a clear yes or no answer to this question, the government’s refusal to say no can be understood as yes.
This morning new Lands Minister Eva Lawler (pictured at the microphone) walked away from questions put to her by the News.
The controversy started with the Development Consent Authority (DCA) in June 2015 giving consent for a plumbing business to be run from a block zoned “rural living” in the Rangeview Estate, in the face of overwhelming opposition by objectors during the public comment phase.
The permission was for Home Based Contracting.
The scandal contributed to broad public concern in the “farm areas” of Alice Springs about their creeping industrialisation, and came to boiling point with the recent bid to store dongas on a block in Ilparpa. This was knocked back by the current – Labor appointed – DCA.
The DCA deals with land planning issues of a lower order than, for example, rezoning and formulating the Town Plan or the Planning Scheme: These are what home buyers and businesses base their investment decisions on, for many people the most significant financial commitments in their lives.
The News, in its extensive coverage of the issues (google this site), revealed that the Planning Scheme directs that Home Based Contracting means “the storage on the site of a dwelling of materials and/or vehicles associated with a business operated by a person resident in the dwelling, but which business does not operate from the site of the dwelling”.
Yet the plumbers made it clear in their application that this is what they intended to do, and once they received the consent, they proceeded to do just that.
This had been approved by the DCA put together by the Adam Giles government and headed up by former CLP Chief Minister Denis Burke.
The News has raised the issues with the lands department, the former Planning Minister Nicole Manison and now Ms Lawler, who wrote to us on September 19.
It was all the same broken record answers: “Under section 84 of the [Planning] Act the DCA has the powers that are necessary or convenient for, or incidental to, the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers.”
As the plumbers decision suggests, the DCA seems to have powers far in excess of what it is understood to have.
To clarify this we put – in essence – the following questions to Minister Manison, and then to Minister Lawler: “Does the Northern Territory Planning Act grant the Development Consent Authority statutory powers to issue permits that are in contravention of the requirements of the Planning Scheme?
“Would you please give me a Yes or a No answer.”
When challenged this morning, at the opening of the Ruffino Park at Kilgariff, Ms Lawler repeated the section 84 answer.
The following conversation took place in which the News asked this question twice: “Does the Planning Act empower the Development Consent Authority to issue permits which are in conflict with, in contradiction and violation of, the Planning Scheme?
LAWLER: The response was provided in the letter yesterday that you got.
NEWS: It does not give me an answer to that question.
LAWLER: That’s all right. I replied in that letter yesterday, yeah. So what’s your concern? This is more a personal issue, isn’t it, rather. What’s your concern?
That was a cheap shot, but the bullet, undignified for a Minister, was a blank: The writer of this report had declared in correspondence with the government, as well in the published reports in the  News, that he was acting as a reporter as well as a resident objecting to the plumbers’ application. We declared our interest.
NEWS: I acted as both and I made that clear. Your letter does not answer my question. It refers to section 84 which gives the DCA certain rights. The question is …
LAWLER: All of these things, Erwin, are … there are opportunities for consultation and discussion around them. Yeah.
NEWS: Give me a Yes or No answer.
LAWLER: That’s all right, you got the answer in my letter.
NEWS: That letter does not answer my question. Will you give me a Yes or No answer?
And with that the minister, ignoring the question posed by the News, walked off to rejoin the crowd celebrating the opening of a small park at Kilgariff.


  1. This encounter instantly reminded me of a passage in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” when Winston Smith followed an old man into a pub with the intention of finding out from him what life was like before the revolution that led to the rise of Big Brother.
    Yet no matter how earnestly he asked the old man to recall the early years of his life, “Winston had the feeling they were talking at cross-purposes.”
    He kept on prodding the old man for information but “a sense of helplessness took hold of Winston. The old man’s memory was nothing but a rubbish-heap of details. One could question him all day without getting any real information.”
    Plying the old man with beer, he tried one more time but failed: “Winston sat back against the window sill. It was no use going on. He was about to buy some more beer when the old man suddenly got up and shuffled rapidly into the stinking urinal at the side of the room. The extra half-litre was already working on him. Winston sat for a minute or two gazing at his empty glass, and hardly noticed when his feet carried him out into the street again.”
    Welcome to the Big Brother reality of honest accountable government in the Northern Territory!


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