What happens at a panel hearing?
A hearing is conducted in a relatively informal manner. Hearings can be conducted in-person, by online video or a combination of both.
The hearing will be conducted consistent with directions set by the panel at the directions hearing.
At the hearing:
- The Panel Chair starts the hearing, describes the amendment and introduces other panel members.
- The planning authority outlines the purpose of the amendment, any changes proposed as a result of considering submissions, and its response to the submissions.
- If the council is not the planning authority, a representative of the council gives its view.
- If someone asked the planning authority to prepare the amendment (the proponent), that person presents submissions and evidence to support the request.
- Submitters are heard in the order set out in the timetable or decided by the Panel Chair.
- The panel normally gives the planning authority and proponent a short response to submissions made during the hearing, known as ‘right of reply’.
A person who made a submission about the amendment and completed the request to be heard form can be a party at the hearing.
You are encouraged to represent yourself and can be present at the hearing at any time. Members of the public are welcome to attend the hearing.
You can ask the panel if you need clarification on any aspect of the hearing or the amendment. The panel may ask the planning authority (or someone else) to respond.
The panel may adjourn the hearing to other dates if it considers this necessary. It may inform itself on any matters as it sees fit.
Presenting your submission
If you do not attend the whole hearing, arrive at least 15 minutes before your allotted time.
You must present your whole case, including documents, call witnesses and respond to witness statements. If you are unsure about this, ask the Panel Chair for guidance.
Written material presented at the hearing is to be provided electronically.
If you have difficulty supplying copies of your submission, please contact us.
- identify your main arguments briefly if they are already covered in your written submission
- avoid lengthy repeating points, or points made by previous speakers
- ensure your presentation relates to the matters under discussion, is based on fact, and relates to planning matters
- use visual aids such as photographs and plans to highlight main points, if possible
- ensure your documents are provided to all parties by the deadline directed by the panel – generally by 12 noon the day before they are to be relied on.
A submitter presenting at the hearing cannot be cross-examined or asked questions by another party. The panel may ask questions to clarify their submission.
Expert witnesses must comply with Practice Note 1: Expert Evidence.
If you call an expert witness, the panel will allow them to be cross-examined (asked questions) by other parties.
The Panel may:
- limit the evidence parties and their witnesses give to ensure that it is relevant to the matters being considered
- set a time limit for evidence-in-chief
- stop parties and witnesses from speaking about things which the parties may want to say but the panel believes will not affect the findings and recommendations to be made.
Read more about providing expert evidence.
Questioning witnesses and other submitters
When a witness is called, usually the witness report or statement is taken as having been read by the parties. The panel will have read it too.
The panel will often ask for a summary of the evidence to be given. PowerPoint presentations should be circulated in accordance with the panel's directions.
There will then be an opportunity to question the witness, called 'cross-examination'. This is limited to asking questions about the evidence – including the written statement and evidence given at the hearing. It is not the time to make comments or statements.
The panel will decide the order for others to ask questions. You will only have one opportunity to ask questions. When preparing for the hearing, think about the questions you want to ask to test the evidence.
Other than questioning expert witnesses, parties cannot question one another about their submissions unless clarification is required. If you want clarification of another submitter, such as the planning authority or proponent, your question must be asked through the Panel Chair.
The hearing timetable
The hearing is generally conducted in the following order:
- planning authority or responsible authority (in the case of amendments and planning permit applications)
- proponent for amendment or applicant for permit
- council, if they are not the planning authority or responsible authority
- public or servicing agencies, for example Melbourne Water, EPA, other councils
- organised groups
- individual submitters
- right of reply – responding to matters arising in submissions.
The principle guiding this order is that the matters before the panel are fully presented before it hears submissions and comments from the submitters.
This means that the panel will understand the history, policy and strategic context of the matter, what it is about and its likely impacts, from the perspective of the planning authority and the proponent before it hears from other submitters.
The Panel Chair will introduce themselves, any other panel members, and then confirm who is present and appearing for each of the parties. If someone has offered a title, it is fine to use this. If you are unsure how to address someone, ask for their preference.
You should refer to the Panel Chair by their preferred terms of address. Other members should be referred by preferred terms of address to as Mr Smith or Ms Jones. Name plates will be on the hearing table to help you recall the panel member's name.
All parties are expected to use formal names, such as Ms Green or Dr Black, not first names.
Any preliminary matters will be raised at the start of the hearing, for example:
- confirming that required documents have been circulated
- ensuring expert witness statements have been received
- explaining any site visit already undertaken by the panel.
This is when you should ask any questions that have arisen since the directions hearing.