Before making a submission, meeting with Council taking action, you need a clear understanding of the issues. You will need to gather as much information as you can about a proposal and its potential impacts. It can also help to know what the relevant laws or regulations are, which authorities are involved and what actions you can take to raise your concerns.
What sort of information do you need?
Knowing the basic information can help you decide what your first steps should be, how much time you might need to dedicate to the issue and who else you should involve. Some information will be available to the public and some may be harder to obtain.
A lot of information is available on government websites, including maps, strategies and policy documents annual reports, monitoring data, licensing information, compliance reports and assessments documents. Check the relevant department website to see what you can find:
- Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment
- Farming (including chemical use, water management, salinity, pest control and organic farming)
- Fishing (recreational and commercial)
- Marine Farming
- Biosecurity and Weeds
- Threatened Species and Wildlife Management
- Water (including irrigation, dams, surface water and groundwater quality and environmental flows)
- Land Tasmania (land titles, Crown Land)
- Office of the Coordinator-General (for major projects)
- Your local government’s website will also include a range of information, including minutes from all Council and Committee meetings (other than closed meetings). Click here for a list of Council sites.
If you can’t find the information that you are looking for on the website, contact the Department or agency to ask where you can obtain a copy.
In some cases, the Department may refuse to provide a document to you. In these situations, you can make a Right to Information request (for documents held by the Tasmanian Government or local councils) or a Freedom of Information request (for documents held by the Federal government) – see below for information about RTI requests.
You can also get copies of legislation (including regulations and orders) online:
All legislation is also available on Austlii (note: Austlii is not updated as regularly as the two sites listed above, so use it cautiously)
For Tasmanian legislation commenced since 2008, you can also find fact sheets and explanatory notes from the originating Bill on the Parliament website. Sometimes this can be useful to help you understand the purpose of the legislation.
It is also useful to find the second reading speech delivered when an Act was introduced to Parliament. In particular, it can help to emphasise the intent of the legislation if the Minister herself can be quoted as saying that the Act is designed to achieve a particular environmental outcome. You can find the date of the second reading speech in the notes at the end of the legislation, then search Hansard records for that date.
It can be useful to search for legal cases that have addressed similar issues to your own case. For example, if the Tribunal has considered the same provision of the planning scheme that you’re seeking to challenge before, it will be helpful to understand how the provision was interpreted and to think about how your situation may be different to the facts in previous cases
Most cases since 1994 are available online:
Environmental Law Australia is an excellent resource, including all the legal materials prepared for significant environmental law cases.
Gathering information about a site
A lot of preliminary information about a site is freely available online. For example:
- TIGER database – mining tenements (for detailed information on how to use TIGER, go to the Community Guide to Mining)
- Water Information System Tasmania (WIST) – details of water licences, dam permits, extraction limits, flow data and water restrictions
If you need detailed property information, you will need to pay for a Title Search through Land Tasmania.
You can also request a full Property Information Certificate from the local government, outlining all relevant planning issues affecting a property (including all approved buildings and development on the site, contamination issues, road easements, enforcement notices, sewerage lines etc). The certificate search is expensive, but comprehensive.
Getting access to other government information
Under the Right to Information Act 2009, any person has the right to seek information from councils and government departments relating to their decisions and activities. Wherever possible, use the standard government form (see below) to make a request for information under the Act.
The Ombudsman has released Guidelines and a Manual regarding the application and operation of the Right to Information Act 2009 (Click here to access to Guidelines and the Manual). If a request is refused by a government department, you can ask the Ombudsman to review whether the document should be disclosed.
There is an equivalent Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act, which is used to obtain copies of information held by Commonwealth government agencies.
Here is an example of a Right to Information application:
Click here for another sample RTI request.
Politicians are exempt from fees under the Right to Information Act 2009, provided the information requested relates to their role. Therefore, convincing a sympathetic politician to request information on your behalf can be a more affordable option in some cases.