Thursday, October 4, 2007

Committee Hearing

The Committee Hearing that I observed was held in Sydney on Monday the 24th of September 2007 at 11am. It was held by the standing Committee for State Development that was holding an inquiry into aspects of agriculture in NSW. The main purpose of the hearing was to examine the contributions of agriculture to the NSW economy, the problems surrounding it as well as the initiatives that could be employed to further assist in the growth of the agriculture industry in NSW.

The Executive Director for Rural and Regional Planning, from the NSW Department of Planning, Richard Pearson was referred to as the Committee witness. At first I thought this was a bit strange as it made it sound like what I was about to see was some sought of court case. But as the hearing proceeded I had begun to realise that Pearson was the representative who was speaking on behalf of all NSW councils.

From what I gathered the Department of Planning is trying to come up with strategies to improve the economy of rural communities. They want more people living in rural areas so that their economies can be self sustained but at the same time they want to protect the environment. The strategies involve making sure that there is enough land set aside for growth and urban development without causing harm to nature. Basically, the Department of Planning would like rural communities to consider subdivision and settlement in their areas. According to Pearson the reason behind this is because the ways in which the agriculture industry in NSW functions is changing; so by subdividing it will provide opportunities for the future.

At times the hearing would get a little fired up and I sensed that many of the Ministers (if that’s what they are) were having digs at Pearson. At one point during the hearing one of the Ministers cut off what Pearson was trying to say several times. I guess maybe this is because they only have a short time to hear the committee before they hear the next one or maybe this Minister was just rude or on a power trip.

One problem that is arising already with subdivision in rural towns is convincing farmers who have historic farming land to be accepting of new opportunities and initiatives. There is apparently conflict between long established farming enterprise and new residents who are moving in to country towns.

One thing that the Minister did make quite clear of is that the Department of Planning needs to make sure that their strategic plans for subdivision are completed within the set time frame. She referred to previous projects that had taken too long to complete. The Minister clearly stated that she wants NSW councils to have the correct number of staff needed to operate the new strategic plans across NSW, enough funds to finance the changes and to make sure there is adequate service and infrastructure available to support the initiatives that will be put in place.

I found this an interesting hearing to listen to as a majority of the time they were referring to the Central West region. I am interested to see the changes that are going to take place over the next few years around Bathurst after having listened to this hearing that has the ideas in the planning stage.

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