Friday, 25 September 2015

Reform to the development contributions system

In 2012, the (then) Minister for Planning announced a preferred framework for the development contributions system in Victoria in A New Victorian Local Development Contribution System - A Preferred Way Forward. Issues such as the cost and time taken to prepare a development contributions plan and the level of detail required to justify a contributions levy were identified as reasons that the existing development contributions system in the Planning and Environment Act 1987 should be changed.

The Standard Development Contributions Advisory Committee was appointed by the Minister for Planning in 2012 to review and report on the new system. It did this in two reports: Report 1; Setting the Framework (2012) and Report 2: Setting the Levies (2013). The Advisory Committee examined the existing development contributions system and recommended reforms to it. These included using standard levies that could be applied in all Victorian municipalities in various development settings, to make the process for producing development contributions plans less costly and more efficient.

Recently, the Planning and Environment Amendment (Infrastructure Contributions) Act 2015 (Amending Act) was passed. It is expected to commence early 2016 and will implement some of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, including setting a standard levy to raise revenue to pay for infrastructure which is needed because of the development of land for residential and other purposes.

What is an Infrastructure Contributions Plan?

The new Infrastructure Contributions Plan (ICP) system will operate in a similar way to the existing development contributions plan (DCP) scheme, with some significant differences. Similar to DCPs, ICPs are a mechanism to raise and distribute money required to pay for certain infrastructure.

Like DCPs, an ICP can be included in a planning scheme to levy financial contributions (an infrastructure levy) to fund the construction of infrastructure (works, services and facilities), the need for which is generated by the development of land. The levy is payable when a person seeks to develop land.

ICPs cannot be used to levy contributions for State infrastructure in areas where the growth areas infrastructure contribution (GAIC) applies.

What levies can be required under an ICP?

Unlike DCPs, the infrastructure levy imposed under an ICP can consist of a standard levy or a supplementary levy.

Although not explicit in the Amending Act, it is proposed that the Minister for Planning will make directions which will state that the standard levy is to be used to fund 'basic and essential' infrastructure items selected from a pre-set list of 'allowable' items for residential, retail and commercial development. The allowable items are to be defined in the Ministerial directions and are likely to include items such as transport, community and recreation facilities, and a public land component. The standard levy can be picked 'off the shelf' from the allowable items list for certain areas.

The supplementary levy can be imposed to fund infrastructure that cannot be funded from the standard levy. The use of the supplementary levy (and the rate at which it will be set) will need to be justified each time it is used, unlike for the standard levy.

Where do ICPs apply?

Although it is not explicit in the Amending Act, it is expected that the Minister's directions will initially permit ICPs to be used in greenfield growth areas and strategic development areas in metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas. Greenfield growth areas will accommodate Melbourne's urban growth and are usually located on the periphery of urban areas. Strategic development areas are generally identified in Plan Melbourne and are located on sites that provide development opportunities close to public transport and other infrastructure.

Who are the levies paid to?

The levies are paid to local councils, and relevant State agencies who will be responsible for constructing the infrastructure specified in the ICP (such as VicRoads for certain roads and intersections). With the agreement of the State agency or council, land can be set aside on which infrastructure such as roads, community facilities and parks can be constructed.

How is this relevant?

Once the ICP system is operating, State agencies who have a role in providing works, services and facilities to meet the infrastructure needs of new development in greenfields growth areas and strategic development areas will need to be aware of the differences between the existing DCP system and the new ICP system.

This will include familiarity with the types of State infrastructure that can be funded under ICPs (such as public transport improvements). Funding for State infrastructure is expected to be raised via the supplementary levy (and only for areas where the GAIC does not apply).

State agencies can be expected to have a role to play when a supplementary levy is required to fund the cost of providing State infrastructure, including having input into the justification for a supplementary levy for these purposes.

Victorian Government clients seeking advice on land, planning and environment issues can contact:

Managing Principal Solicitor
8684 0299

Principal Solicitor
8684 0489

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The High Court puts SA breath test laws to the fairness test

Under South Australian drink-driving laws, if you blow a positive breath test you can go to a doctor of your choice and get a blood test to confirm its correctness. But what happens if the doctor makes a mistake and the blood test can't be used? In a case that made it all the way to the High Court, that's exactly what happened, provoking an interesting debate over judges' discretion to ensure a fair trial.

In SA Police v Dunstall [2015] HCA 26, the High Court rejected an argument that courts can exclude evidence for broad-textured reasons of 'fairness', where to do so would be contrary to the intent of Parliament in a particular legislative scheme.

How did it get to the High Court?

Mr Dunstall had successfully argued for a Magistrate to exclude evidence of his positive breath test taken by police on the basis of 'general unfairness'. While he had taken the opportunity to challenge his drink-driving charge by obtaining a blood test in the manner provided for under SA law, the medical practitioner who performed the test failed to take enough blood so the sample couldn't be analysed, and it couldn't be used to challenge or confirm the blood alcohol reading on his positive breath test.  Of course, once the breath test evidence had been excluded, there was insufficient evidence to sustain a drink-driving conviction.

SA Police appealed the Magistrate's decision, and lost, in the SA Supreme Court and Full Court.  The appeal then went to the High Court, which found in favour of SA Police.

The 'fairness discretion' and the question before the High Court

It was no surprise that the Court confirmed the existence of a 'fairness discretion': a trial judge has certain discretionary powers to ensure that an accused receives a fair trial according to law, including by excluding evidence or, in rare cases, by ordering a stay of proceedings.

A trial judge can exclude evidence in three well recognised categories of discretion:

  • The Christie discretion allows a judge to exclude evidence where its probative value is outweighed by the risk of prejudice to the accused person.  
  • The Bunning v Cross discretion enables a judge to exclude evidence that has been tainted by illegality or impropriety.  
  • The Lee discretion enables the exclusion of confessional statements where certain rules about how confessions can be obtained have been breached.

None of these 'discretions' were available in the case of Mr Dunstall's blood test, which was best characterised as a 'loss of evidence' through no fault of either party.  The High Court had to decide whether a judge has power to exclude probative evidence simply on the basis that its admission could be unfair to the accused.

The High Court's decision

The Court found that Mr Dunstall's argument failed to come to terms with the legislative scheme.  Under the SA law, the offence of drink-driving was established by proof of the breath analysis reading alone.  Blood test evidence could be used to confirm, or to call into question, the breath test evidence, but a defendant does not have a statutory 'right' to blood test evidence to rebut the presumption that the breath test was reliable.  The onus is wholly on the defendant to procure the 'second opinion' evidence.  Where the defendant tries to obtain blood test evidence and, through no fault of their own or that of the Police, these efforts fail, it is clearly intended by the SA legislation that the evidence of the individual's blood alcohol level provided by the breath test cannot be challenged.  The only circumstances in which the breath test could be challenged where a faulty blood test was taken were those explicitly provided for in the legislation, ie where a faulty test kit was provided to the accused by Police.  Accordingly, in this case it was not open for a court to decide to exclude the breath test evidence.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Nettle considered the scope of a potential fairness discretion, finding that a 'residual discretion' exists to permit a judge to exclude otherwise admissible evidence to prevent an 'unacceptable risk of miscarriage of justice'.  However, Nettle J found that Mr Dunstall could not show an unacceptable risk of injustice, but only that the loss of his blood test evidence 'might have' have had such a result.  In Nettle J's words, the fairness discretion does not exist:
to give effect to idiosyncratic notions of "fair play" or "whether the forensic contest is an even one", still less to deny effect to statutory  modifications of common law means of proof which, because of idiosyncratic notions of what is fair, a judge may disapprove.
In short, the 'unfairness' in Mr Dunstall's case resulted from the proper operation of the legislative scheme itself.  Whatever the scope of a court's 'fairness discretion' to prevent injustice in a criminal proceeding, it cannot override the clear intent of Parliament.

Victorian Government clients seeking advice on public law can contact:

Rachel Amamoo
Managing Principal Solicitor
03 8684 0899

Jordina Rust
03 8684 0468

Friday, 18 September 2015

Key features of the Corrections Legislation Amendment Bill 2015

This week the Corrections Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Bill), was passed by the Victorian Parliament.
On its commencement, the new act will mean Victoria's parolees will be subject to cancellation of parole should they receive an interstate or overseas prison sentence whilst on parole. The Adult Parole Board's power to compel production of documents or attendance of witnesses is codified and procedural changes to the Board are made, while the power of prison Governors to monitor prisoners electronically is made explicit. Victoria Police will have an additional 12 months to commence proceedings against a parolee for breach of parole conditions under amendments to the Corrections Act 1986 (Corrections Act).

The Bill also amend the Corrections Act to codify the powers of prison Governors, the Adult Parole Board and Victoria Police.

Interstate Prison Sentences against Parolees

Following the decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria in Mercorella v The Secretary to the Department of Justice [2015] VSC 18, the Bill clarifies that parolees may have their parole cancelled if a court in or outside of Victoria imposes a term of imprisonment for offences committed either before or during the parole period.

Adult Parole Board's power to compel evidence

The Bill clarifies the Board's power to compel persons to produce specified documents or attend meetings of the Board to give evidence.  Where a notice to attend is issued to a person in custody, the Board will be able to direct the Governor of the prison to facilitate the attendance of the prisoner, either in person or by video link.
In relation to taking evidence, the Bill confirms the Board is not a court and is not bound by the rules of evidence.  However, the Board may require a person who attends under a notice to attend, to give evidence on oath or affirmation.
In the absence of a reasonable excuse, it is an offence for a person to fail to comply with a notice to produce or notice to attend, potentially attracting a term of imprisonment or fine.

Electronic monitoring of prisoners in prisons

Under the Bill, a new provision is inserted in the Corrections Act to explicitly permit a Governor of a prison to order electronic monitoring of a prisoner.  Examples of possible uses given in the second reading speech are to monitor the movements of selected prisoners within certain areas, to keep certain prisoners separated, or to assist in a medical response if the monitor indicates that a prisoner has stopped moving.
The current s 23, which gives a prison officer general powers to give an order to a prisoner for the security or good order of the prison or the safety or welfare of the prisoner or other persons, is not affected by the new provision.

Time frame for commencing proceedings for breach of parole conditions

Currently, a parolee commits an offence if he or she breaches the conditions of their  parole.  Under the Corrections Act, Victoria Police must commence proceedings against a parolee for breaching his or her parole conditions within 12 months of the date of commission of the alleged offence.
To prevent the time limit of 12 months resulting in some breach proceedings being statute barred because a breach of parole conditions may not be readily apparent before the 12 months elapses, the time limit is extended to 2 years.  This will allow for a criminal investigation to evolve over time, and for  Victoria Police to await the outcome of court proceedings related to other offences.
Among other changes, the Bill will also permit the Secretary to the Department of Justice and Regulation to authorise departmental officers to perform the roles of a community corrections officer, regional manager and secretary to the Board.

Brendan McIntyre
Principal Solicitor
9947 1435

Elizabeth Wortley
Senior Solicitor
9947 1433

Debra Coombs
Principal Solicitor

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Charter review handed down today!

The 2015 Review of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities was handed down today.

The Charter Review 2015 is titled 'From Commitment to Culture' and looks at ways to make the Charter more accessible, effective, and practical.

The Review contains a number of recommendations that may herald an exciting new era for the Charter, including:

  • a separate cause of action (minus damages) to VCAT
  • dispute resolution procedures via the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and
  • a range of other initiatives and amendments.

We look forward to the Government's response to the Review.

For more information about the Charter Review 2015, or the Charter and its application to Victorian Government clients, please contact:

Catherine Roberts
Managing Principal Solicitor
03 8684 0427

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Tweets aren't cheap

This case illustrates the great care that must be taken when drafting short, sharp publications intended for dissemination on either social or traditional media platforms.

In Hockey v Fairfax Media Publications Pty Limited, handed down on 30 June 2015, Justice White of the Federal Court of Australia found that Fairfax Media had defamed Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey and awarded him $200,000 in damages. The judgment makes for interesting reading.

The case concerned articles, tweets and a poster published by the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), The Age and The Canberra Times. The articles stated that Mr Hockey was providing 'privileged access' to a 'select group' in return for donations to the Liberal Party. The tweets and poster acted as sign-posts to the articles through use of the phrase 'Treasurer for Sale' and similar.

Mr Hockey sued the papers' corporate arm, Fairfax, for defamation in three proceedings, which were heard together.  He asserted that the publications contained defamatory imputations (e.g. accusations or meanings), including that he had acted corruptly (the relevant imputations).

Did the publications contain the relevant imputations?

Fairfax conceded that the relevant imputations would be defamatory, but denied that the articles, tweets and poster conveyed them. The contest between the parties turned on this point.

In determining whether the articles, tweets and poster conveyed the relevant imputations, Justice White adopted the customary 'reasonable person test' as his starting position. His Honour queried whether the 'ordinary, reasonable reader would have understood the matters complained of in the defamatory senses pleaded' and, in doing so, made several handy comments about the nature and disposition of our hypothetical friend (see paragraphs 63 - 73 for more on this).

Ultimately, his Honour concluded that the ordinary, reasonable person would not have understood the articles to have conveyed the relevant imputations about Mr Hockey, but would have understood two of the tweets and the poster to have done so.

The key distinction between the articles, tweets and posters, in his Honour's judgment was the context that the authors of the articles were able to provide in drafting them. His Honour found that individual passages of the articles, when read in isolation, could be understood as conveying a defamatory imputation.  When the articles were read as a whole, however, his Honour found that those passages were 'cured' - that the ordinary, reasonable reader, after reading the articles in full, would arrive at a more nuanced conclusion that did not defame Mr Hockey. 

The tweets and posters were a different story. Without the benefit of context, Justice White found that two of the tweets and the poster were undoubtedly defamatory. His Honour did not consider that the hyperlinks contained within the two relevant tweets provided sufficient context since, on the evidence, a substantial number of people viewed the tweets without clicking on them. The third tweet that contained an embedded version of the article was, however, deemed to contain sufficient context and, for that reason, was not regarded as defamatory.

Defence of qualified privilege did not apply

The statutory defence of qualified privilege, and the extended form of qualified privilege recognised in Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) 189 CLR 520 were found not to apply because, in his Honour's view, the publications were not reasonable, and appeared to have been motivated by an improper motive that would prevent the defence from succeeding.

His Honour considered the application of the defences to each of the articles, tweets and posters. Mr Hockey conceded, as part of this consideration, that the subject matter of the articles, tweets and poster was a matter of public interest, and that imputations contained in the publications were conveyed in the course of providing the public with information on that subject. The application of qualified privilege therefore centred on the third element of the defence - whether, in all of the circumstances, Fairfax's conduct was reasonable.

His Honour considered a range of factors, some from statute and others from common law (see paragraphs 227 - 230 for more on this), as part of this enquiry. Ultimately, his Honour  concluded that Fairfax had not acted reasonably in publishing the articles, tweets or poster. 

The most relevant consideration in respect of the articles was the steps Fairfax had taken to obtain a response from Mr Hockey before publishing them - steps which, in his Honour's view, were inadequate. The most relevant consideration in respect of the tweets and poster was the availability of alternative, non-defamatory modes of expressing the same point -  that Fairfax could have used words like 'Hockey: donations and access. Herald investigation', or other non-defamatory phrases, without losing effect.

His Honour also considered whether, in the event qualified privilege were deemed to apply, it would be vitiated by the presence of an improper motive by  Fairfax. The issue of an improper motive arose from several emails and texts sent between Fairfax editors and journalists, which included an instruction that the story be 'nailed to a cross'.  His Honour concluded, on the basis of this exchange, that the articles, tweets and poster had been actuated by SMH editor-in-chief, Darren Goodsir's, personal animus towards Mr Hockey, and that qualified privilege would therefore have been defeated, if it had applied.

To refresh your memory on best practice for members of the VPS on social media see our previous blog When is it ok for a public servant to tweet political opinions?

If you would like advice about this case, or about defamation law and its application to you,  please  contact:


Managing Principal Solicitor

Friday, 4 September 2015

Lease vs Licence - What difference does it make?

The State and its agencies own and manage vast tracts of land in Victoria, much of which offers potential economic or other benefits to the private sector.  For example, the State often makes land and buildings available to a business operator for the purposes of running its business or a community group so it can  hold meetings, workshops and/or training sessions.  Alternatively, the State may wish to make land available for use by the private sector in the furtherance of particular significant policy objectives.

Preliminary considerations

Before deciding on the nature of the tenure which your department or agency should grant over a piece of land, it is important to step back and ask a few questions. For example, you should consider:

·         Who wants to occupy the land and for what purpose?
·         Does the Government want to make the land available to achieve a particular policy objective?
·         Does achieving that purpose require exclusive possession or is a lesser form of tenure sufficient?
·         Does the future tenant need to put up the tenure as security for raising capital so they can finance the project?
·         Will the department or agency or third parties need to access the land while it is occupied?

The answers to these questions will assist with determining which form of tenure you should offer to the prospective occupant and the terms and conditions of that tenure.

When is a lease appropriate?

A lease is an agreement between an owner of land and a tenant which grants a right of exclusive possession to the tenant.  This means the tenant can exclude the whole world, including the landlord, from accessing the land for the term of the lease as long as the tenant complies with its obligations under the lease agreement.  Even if a tenant breaches a condition of the lease and risks 'forfeiting' the lease, a leasehold tenant can apply to the Court for the equitable remedy of relief against forfeiture.  If the tenant is successful, the Court will permit the tenant to remain on the land, subject to prompt rectification of the existing breaches and compliance with other conditions.

The rights under a lease will attach to the leased land - if the tenant assigns the lease to a third party, for example if the tenant sells its business, the third party will also enjoy the same right of exclusive possession of the leased premises. 

Another aspect of a lease is that it is capable of being registered on the title to the land.  Registration of the lease also enables registration of any mortgage granted over the leasehold interest.  So if a tenant has granted a mortgage to a bank as security for money borrowed against the lease and the tenant defaults in its mortgage repayments, the bank will be able to access the important statutory powers applicable to a mortgagee in Part IV of the Transfer of Land Act 1958.  These include a mortgagee's power of sale, the power to take possession of the land and a right to seek an order for foreclosure.  As a result, banks may be more willing to provide finance to a tenant with a registered leasehold interest.

These aspects may make a lease an attractive option to someone who wants to operate a business from the premises and needs to raise investment capital for its start up and who also wants the flexibility of later transferring the leasehold interest, along with the business, to a third party. 

Of course, a downside for a tenant is that a higher commercial value is likely to attach to the lease consistently with the powerful bundle of rights held by a leasehold tenant.

When might you grant a licence?

Like a lease, a licence grants a right to a party to access and occupy land subject to the terms of the licence. 

Unlike a lease, the occupant under a licence does not have the right to exclusive possession of the licensed premises - in other words they may have to share occupation with the licensor and third parties or may only be able to use the licensed area at certain times or days.

Another key difference of a licence to a lease is that the rights of a licensee are not assignable to a third party (unless the agreement specifically permits this).  Additionally, a licence interest cannot be registered on title.

Therefore, a licence is likely to be suitable where an occupant needs specific rights to an area of land, water or airspace, but it is not necessary or appropriate for the occupant to have the right to exclude the rest of the world from the premises.  Examples of where licences are commonly used in Government include granting a right to a telecommunications company to install a mobile telecommunications tower on State owned land and allowing community groups to use school buildings and facilities.

As property law experts within Government, the VGSO Property Team is well placed to assist you with land use arrangements and other property issues.  Please contact:

Anthony Leggiero
Managing Principal Solicitor
9947 1430