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Planning and Development Update: Omnibus Bill

Best Hooper

The Victorian Parliament passed the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 (Bill) today.

The Bill responds to the current circumstances and challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic by temporarily amending various Acts, empowering the making of various regulations and modifying the application of certain laws of Victoria.

Among the measures, the Bill will introduce the following changes relevant to the planning and land development industry.

Planning and Local Government changes – Availability of Documents and Council Meetings

The Bill responds to some of the challenges of physical distancing measures by amending the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to allow a designated entity (such as a responsible authority or a municipal council) to make documents available for inspection free of charge to the general public on its website. This will, for example, enable access to planning permit applications via a website where not already available.

The Bill will also amend the Local Government Act 2020 to allow virtual meetings for local councils. Council meetings may be closed to the public during the prescribed period if the meetings are streamed live on Council’s Internet site.

VCAT proceedings and hearings

The Bill will amend the Open Courts Act 2013 to enable VCAT to conduct proceedings and hearings through electronic means.

The President of VCAT and the head of a list may make a modified access and procedure order (MAP order) for a specified proceeding or hearing, or a specified class of proceeding or hearing, which could:

  • Require that the proceeding or hearing must be held with or without the appearance of the parties or by audio visual link or audio link; and
  • Permit or prohibit a specified person, or a person of a class to be present or from being present for the whole or part of the proceeding or hearing.

Section 157(1) of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Act 1988 will be amended to allow the Rules Committee of the Tribunal to make rules other than at a meeting. This simple yet practical change removes a barrier for the Tribunal to make rules to regulate its practice and procedure.

Planning Panel hearings

The Bill will amend the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to enable Planning Panels Victoria to conduct hearings by electronic means.

The requirement that a panel must conduct its hearing in public will be taken to be satisfied if the hearing is made available to be viewed free of charge by the general public by electronic means, either while the hearing is being held or as soon as reasonably practicable afterwards.

Further, the panel can hear from a person who has a right to be heard or is called by a panel by electronic means at a time specified by the panel.

Execution of Documents

The Bill will amend the Oaths and Affirmations Act 2018 to allow an affidavit, jurat or other document to be taken by electronic means. Similarly, it allows for witnessing affidavits to be undertaken by audio or audio-visual means (including accepting scanned hard copy or electronic copies in lieu of sighting originals).

It does not appear that the Bill intends to extend to execution of Section 173 Agreement which are often executed as Deeds as with other jurisdictions, and appears limited to witnessing affidavits.

Commencement and Sunset

The COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 will come into operation on the day after the day on which it receives the Royal Assent. Most provisions in this Act will sunset after 6 months after its commencement.

We welcome the temporary measures introduced by the Victorian Government which remove some of the barriers for councils, VCAT and Planning Panels Victoria to perform their functions through electronic means in this unprecedented time.

A copy of the Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum can be found from this link.

Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any queries about the Bill and its implications on you.

Best Hooper

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