By Dennis O’Connell
Friends of Banyule, along with other community groups across Melbourne, put submissions to the Department of Justice about recently announced fee increases for parties lodging appeals at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Friends of Banyule’s submission noted that proposed increases were inconsistent with VCAT’s own legislation and statement of principles as outlined on its website.
These include that it should provide a low-cost, fair and accessible tribunal which provides access to the public when seeking a review of decisions by government agencies and authorities and review/appeal especially in the case of planning decisions.
The Planning List is currently processing a large volume of cases, not due to so-called “vexatious claims” as sometimes stated by the development lobby, but rather the high level of development activity now taking place across Melbourne and the subsequent impact on communities.
We noted that the process is already skewed in favour of corporations and developers, able to use planning professionals, paid consultants and costly legal counsel which residents and community groups, are often unable to match, given their voluntary nature and limited resources.
Any fee increases would compound this, making the potential for residents and community groups to obtain a fair outcome less likely; And, those seeking review would be denied due process and natural justice, underlying principles of our legal system.
We will await the outcome of the review, the date for receipt of submissions having now closed. It is hoped submissions of community groups will be duly taken into account. We are concerned that when the scales of justice are weighted in favour of those with more money and lobbying power, then the best interests of justice are not served for the general community.
Let’s hope that access to justice is not restricted, nor undue barriers including cost are placed in its way.
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