Friday, 19 June 2015

UPDATED: Have you read the forecast? Changes ahead in the Land, Planning and Environment scene

UPDATE: Since this blog was first published on 19 June 2015, the Planning and Environment Amendment (Recognising Objectors) Act 2015 was given royal assent on 11 August 2015.
At this stage the Act has not come into operation. Unless it is proclaimed by 14 April 2016 it will become operative on that date.  The bill and the Act as assented to are in identical terms.
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There are changes afoot in the Land, Planning and Environment scene, including amendments to both the Act and the Regulations and a new levy for metropolitan developments valued over $1 million.


A new bill has been introduced into Parliament that will permit VCAT and responsible authorities to consider the number of objectors to a permit application when deciding whether a proposed use or development may have a significant social effect.

Decision-makers must already consider whether a use or development may have a significant social effect, however the number of objectors to a permit application was previously not specifically identified as a relevant consideration.  The proposed amendments clarify that the two key decision-makers in the planning permit process, the responsible authority or VCAT on review, may take the number of objectors into consideration before a decision is made, if the circumstances require.

The Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, stated that the new requirement 'is likely to be particularly relevant in circumstances where a proposal may reduce access to or enjoyment of community facilities or services or adversely affect public health and safety.'  He stated that the number of objectors and the consistency of their views may demonstrate a section of the scale of a social effect on the community.

As is the case now, an objector will need to put their concerns in writing and state how they would be affected by the grant of a permit.

The Minister  also clarified that "social effects" may include matters such as the demand for use of community facilities and services, access to social and community facilities, choice in housing, shopping and recreational leisure services, community safety and amenity and the needs of particular groups in the community.


A new levy on planning permit applications for projects valued at over $1 million within Melbourne metropolitan areas takes effect from 1 July 2015.  Relevantly no exemptions apply for State Government Agencies.

The levy will be payable to a relevant responsible authority or planning authority and will be administered by the State Revenue Office (SRO).  Applicants must first apply for a Metropolitan Planning Levy (MPL) Certificate from the SRO and pay the MPL before making a planning permit application.  The rate for the MPL has been set in essence, at $1.30 per $1000 for affected projects.

The levy is payable where the estimated cost of  the development exceeds the threshold amount, which is currently $1 million for the 2015-2016 financial year.  Moving forward, this threshold amount will be indexed by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The SRO is to publish the CPI adjusted threshold amount annually.


Rounding up a sweep of recent changes and drawing seven months of public consultation to a close, new Planning and Environment Regulations 2015 came into operation on 16 May 2015.

Of relevance to State agencies that own, develop or manage land, three new forms have been inserted for giving notice of a proposal and decision to amend or end a section 173 Agreement.  As such, all users of Victoria's planning system will need to update their systems and review the new forms.  To consider the effect of these changes on your Department or agency, contact:

Eliza Bergin
Principal Solicitor
8684 0267

Juliette Halliday
Managing Principal Solicitor
t 8684 0299

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Smile, you could be on 'body worn camera'

Take a closer look at all the gadgets and equipment worn by your local police officer and you might notice a small vest-mounted video camera attached to his or her lapel.  The camera,  called a body worn camera (BWC), records police interactions with the public and they may soon be worn by front line officers across the country.

According to news reports, BWCs are popular and have been trialled in every Australian state. For example:

Even in the US, President Obama has reportedly asked Congress for $263 million over three years for 50,000 BWCs across the country following the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. It wouldn't be surprising to see the use of BWC's extend beyond policing to other areas of enforcement - perhaps parking inspectors, park rangers or fisheries officers keen to document their encounters on duty.

What are their key advantages?

1. Potential reduction in violence.

There is little data on the efficacy of BWCs, but what exists is positive.  The most widely cited study tracked their use by police in Rialto, California.  There, Cambridge researchers found that the use of BWCs decreased incidents of the use of force by 59% and complaints against police by 87%.

Although limited, the study suggests that people are less willing to resort to violence and that police behaviour improves when both parties know they are being recorded, and it also appears to deter members of the public from bringing spurious complaints.

2. Use as an evidentiary tool.

For investigating and prosecuting agencies, the BWC is no doubt appealing as an evidentiary tool.  Clear, verifiable footage captured by BWCs could reduce hours in court examining and verifying the veracity of oral accounts.  This in turn would reduce the public resources spent on each trial and enable courts to hear more cases in less time.

However, investigating agencies using or considering using BWC footage as evidence will need to take into account a range of factors including:

  • Admissibility requirements. The admissibility of footage captured by body worn cameras will generally be governed by the principles which apply to the admissibility of evidence in general.  In Victoria these principles are set out in the Evidence Act 2008, which generally provides that evidence is admissible if it is relevant to the issues in dispute between the parties and either is not hearsay or, if hearsay, falls within an exception to the hearsay rule.  However, depending on the jurisdiction in which the dispute is brought, other provisions may be applicable: see for example s 98(1)(b) of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998.
  • Pre-trial disclosure requirements. Agencies will need to be equipped to hand over relevant footage, or at least have facilities for defence lawyers to view the footage in a secure setting.  Whether interested parties, including the media, can access footage when no prosecution is on foot will be another matter for determination.

Other legal considerations


To date, no specific Victorian legislation removes the statutory privacy obligations of police and other agencies using BWCs.  Agencies intending to use BWCs should therefore ensure that their use complies with legislation regulating the collection, use and disclosure of personal and health information, and in particular the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (PDP Act) and the Health Records Act 2001. Notably, the law enforcement exemption to the PDP Act, if applicable, would allow Victoria Police to collect, use, disclose and restrict access to information recorded by BWCs when reasonably necessary to carry out law enforcement functions. In some circumstances the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 may also apply. Amendments to privacy notices are likely to be required.

The law also restricts publication of personal and sensitive information including details of sexual assault, family violence victims and children involved in court proceedings, and information that could prejudice the fairness of any pending or in progress trials.  Agencies will need to be especially careful to identify and appropriately deal with personal information of third parties that is captured in background events and peripheral conversations.

Data retention

Information collected via BWCs must be securely stored and otherwise dealt with in accordance with legislation, including the Public Records Act 1973 and the PDP Act Parts 4 and 5 as applicable.  From a practical perspective, continuous recording could mean enormous data storage costs, so agencies will need to develop policies on when to turn the cameras on and off. For example, it has been reported that the practice in the Northern Territory is to turn on the BWC only when police exercise their powers or 'make customer contact or custody'.

For further information on these issues please contact members of our Policing Practice Group or Technology and Data Protection Practice Group:

Louise Jarrett
Managing Principal Solicitor
t 9247 6798

Grahame Best
t 9247 6425

Deidre Missingham
Senior Solicitor
t 8684 0483