Many of Tasmania’s laws require the responsible government agency to invite public comments on a proposal before making a final decision. The written document setting out your comments might be called a ‘submission’, an ‘objection’ or a ‘representation’, depending on the relevant law.
This section sets out some tips for making sure that your representation is as effective as it can be.
Check the details
You should carefully check the details in the public notice or on the government website for the following information:
- How can you make comments?
Sometimes there is a specific form that must be completed, but most often you can make your representation in any format – anything from dot points to detailed comments or a brief covering letter attaching a relevant scientific report.Unless the notice specifically says that email representations will be accepted (this includes providing an email address for sending representations), you should send a copy by post.
- When is the representation due?
For representations relating to development applications or mining objections, late representations will not be accepted. For some other matters (such as comments on draft legislation), you may be able to request an extension if you have a good reason why you won’t be able to make comments before the deadline. It is important to submit representations before the deadline to make sure that your comments are taken into account.If you are posting your representation, make sure to leave enough time for it to arrive before the deadline (within Tasmania, you should post representations at least 5 days before the due date to be safe). You may want to submit in person if convenient. If you are emailing your representation, it is a good idea to request a “Delivery Receipt” to confirm your email has been received. Keep a copy of this receipt, in case the agency later queries whether your representation was made in time.
- Who does the representation need to be sent to?
Check the notice for details regarding who the representation should be addressed to. Where you are sending the representation by email, make sure you have the email address correct. Sometimes, the notice will specify what reference you should use in your representation (for example, the notice may direct people to send comments to [email protected] with the title “Planning Review”). You should follow those directions and make it clear in your representation and any covering letter or email what the representation relates to. This will help to make sure that it gets to the right people before the deadline.
Do your homework
- Get a copy of the relevant documents (such as the development application and supporting material, planning scheme, draft policy or environmental assessment). In most cases, these can be downloaded from the relevant council or government website, or hard copies will be available from the government office. Please note, while many councils and government agencies will provide copies free of charge, this is not required by law and you may be asked to pay to get a hard copy.
- For development applications, check the planning scheme to find out which zone the land is in (e.g Rural Resource), how the proposal is classified (e.g Visitor Accommodation or Light Industry) and what development standards, such as height restrictions, limits on vegetation clearance or lot density) the proposal will be subject to.Think about which requirements the proposal meets, and which ones it does not – councils often have no discretion to refuse a development that satisfies the relevant development standards.
- For proposed changes to planning schemes, look at what uses and developments will be permitted under the proposed changes – are they much broader than what is currently permitted? Once an activity is “permitted”, opportunities for further public comment is limited.
- For development applications, mining proposals or proposed rezonings, find out more information about the site of the proposed activity, including details of any threatened species likely to be on the site, whether any heritage places are located on or near the site and whether the site is subject to any contaminated sites notices.
- For proposed changes to legislation, read the second reading speech for the existing legislation to give you an idea of the original intention of the laws.
- For proposed changes to management plans, find out if there are any expert reports assessing the area or the existing management plan available online or in the DPIPWE, UTAS or State libraries.
What your representation should include
- Make your representation concise and clear. Where possible, refer to the section numbers in the plan / policy / DPEMP.
- If the representation is more than 2 pages long, include a summary of your comments at the start of your representation.
- Briefly explain your interest in the proposal. For example, do you live in the area? Do you regularly go hiking in the park in which the development is proposed? Are you a member of a group aimed at protecting a particular place? Are you a scientist concerned about development impacts on a particular species?
- Explain your concerns about the proposal – where possible, explain each concern in a separate paragraph and, if appropriate, under a separate heading. Talk about the current situation and any personal impacts (e.g changing amenity of your area) or broader impacts (e.g concerns about threatened species, water quality or rights of public participation) that you think the proposal will have.
- Be clear about what you are seeking – for example, do you completely oppose the proposal, or would you be happy if conditions were imposed (such as restricted operating hours or excluding an area from clearing)? Do you support proposed changes to legislation, but would like to see further changes adopted?
Suggest alternatives if you disagree. Giving reasons, and offering information and alternative suggestions, will help improve the plan / development.
- For development applications, you may also like to request that the Council organise pre-permit mediation between you, Council and the developer to see whether any minor changes or conditions can be agreed upon to address your concerns. Council must invite the developer to participate, but the developer is not required to do so (see s.59, LUPAA).
- For proposed changes to legislation, point out any ways in which the changes will not be consistent with the RMPS objectives, or with the purposes of the legislation expressed in the original second reading speech.
- If appropriate, include a brief case study providing an example of how current laws are not working (or, of where they ARE working and should not be changed). For example, talk about how your Landcare group had to cancel a long running community event due to funding cuts or how you have noticed increasing discolouration of water in your local creek since spraying regulations have been relaxed.
- Include information that supports your arguments, such as scientific papers, newspaper articles, maps or historical records. It is always a good idea to include the document, rather than just refer to it – providing a copy will increase the chances of the person reading your representation actually reading the supporting material.
Things to consider
- Petitions can be a useful way of showing community support for or opposition to a proposal. However, if as many people as possible actually make representations to express their support / opposition, this is much more powerful. Similarly, getting people to sign form letters can be useful, but you should also encourage people to add their own comments to make the letter more compelling (some decision makers are dismissive of form letters and do not believe that people are genuinely concerned unless their letter is more personalised).
- Online petitions / submissions generators are an increasingly popular way of generating high volumes of submissions. These can be very beneficial to show the level of community concern about a project and can help people who may not otherwise feel able to make a submission. The risk is that scores of identical submissions will overwhelm government officers and the key issues may not be made clear to the decision-maker – remember that it is often departmental staff that will deal initially with submissions and they may just summarise the overall content.
Think about your key message and whether it is best expressed by the number of submissions, or by the quality of individual submissions.
The Planning Commission also has some useful tips for writing representations.