One day before the release of the CIS (Comprehensive Impact Statement), subscriber to the Linking Melbourne Authority’s newsletter could learn that the government has assigned an independent committee that will provide recommendations for the assessment process. How independent is this committee?
I have said before that the whole EWL process has so far been marked by a complete abstinence of democratic principles. Although at first sight promising, the next chapter in the process only gets more obscure. What, dear reader, makes a committee independent? To my understanding something is independent from something else, if there is no obvious connection between both. In the EWL process and the discussed CIS assessment, an independent committee would be one that has no connection to the developers, the government, the authorities or any other party involved in the project.
Now, while I am certainly not questioning the competence of people I don’t know, I wonder why we as tax payers, and thus buyer of the whole process, do not learn why and how these people were chosen for the said role. What are their strengths, and why are they the right persons for this very important task? We don’t know, because neither the newsletter nor the website of the Linking Melbourne Authority tell us anything about the people or the process that lead to their nomination.
I believe that in a democracy and considering the controversy the whole project has produced so far, an independent committee should be chosen by the people, not by a totalitarian government. At least we could expect the process that leads to the nomination of such a committee to be transparent. The nomination should have been open and inclusive. All citizens should have been informed about the open positions and invited to apply. Further, parties that cannot be present but will heavily be affected by the project (e.g. future generations, flora and fauna) should also have a voice. This could have been done by nominating as well some representatives from environmental NGOs: Birdlife Australia, the ACF or any other conservation group who know the issues surrounding new developments and habitat fragmentation. None of that is the case and it would be a surprise if some of the committee members would actually represent those groups. At best, they are independent from the environment and environmental interests.
A quick research on the internet doesn’t provide much insight into the biographies of the committee members. What I found is the following. Lynette Denison serves (or served) as a Principal Scientist on Air Quality for the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA). James Holdsworth has prepared a residential street study for the South Melbourne City Council. Des Grogan has written “Melbourne planning scheme amendment C133 residential parking rates panel report”. Nicholas (Nick?) Wimbush has 20 years of experience in a variety of State and Local Government roles in Western Australia and Victoria including advising the Victorian Government in a senior role on coastal planning and development. Since 2006 he has been a full time Senior Panel Member with Planning Panels Victoria.
Certainly very competent people in the area of infrastructure development. However, how independent are they in this process? How much do they know about unbiased, inclusive and transparent assessment processes? How well can they represent society, given that they have been closely involved with governmental bodies, some even with the Napthine government?
What at first glance looks like a good idea might turn out to be the next chapter in a very questionable process. Is the Napthine government playing a new act in its burlesque and we, the tax payers, are those they are laughing about?
 Provided they are the same persons. Unfortunately, I had limited time for a research, given that I’m at KL airport on my way to some travel overseas.