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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:

  1. The Panel Chair starts the hearing, describes the amendment and introduces other panel members.
  2. The planning authority outlines the purpose of the amendment, any changes proposed as a result of considering submissions, and its response to the submissions.
  3. If the council is not the planning authority, a representative of the council gives its view.
  4. If someone asked the planning authority to prepare the amendment (the proponent), that person presents submissions and evidence to support the request.
  5. Submitters are heard in the order set out in the timetable or decided by the Panel Chair.
  6. 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.

You should:

  • 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

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.

A panel is required to give a reasonable opportunity to be heard to specified people.

What constitutes a reasonable opportunity to be heard will depend on the circumstances of the case.

Generally, a party is allocated the amount of time requested unless the panel decides the request seems unreasonable. In preparing a timetable, the panel will consider any availability and time constraints identified by each submitter in their request to be heard form.

The amount of time, and any time constraints a submitter might have, may be discussed at the directions hearing.

Once the timetable has been issued, the panel manages the hearing in accordance with the timetable. This is to ensure that no other party is disadvantaged by circumstances such as, a submissions exceeding the allocated time, or changing the time when expert evidence is to be called.

Over a long hearing, there may be some scope to vary the timetable, though you should not assume this to be possible. If you can no longer appear at the scheduled time, you should advise the Panel Chair at the hearing or contact us and ask for advice. Parties should not 'swap' times with another party without prior approval of the panel.

You should prepare your submission to keep within the time that has been allocated to you. More time will not be possible. However, if you run out of time, any written material not addressed will still be considered by the panel.

Hearing protocol

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.

A panel tries to operate informally and efficiently, but proceedings are part of a formal process that operates within specific guidelines.

The format is not the same as an ordinary meeting or council meeting. Structure and orderly behaviour is essential to ensure all parties have a fair opportunity to present their case.

When attending the hearing, you must:

  • ensure you have turned off your mobile telephone and that you do not answer calls in the hearing room
  • not interrupt a person's submission or presentation of evidence, no matter how much you disagree with what is being said
  • avoid disrupting others by talking to other people or generating noise
  • always be respectful and courteous when speaking or in a written submission
  • direct any questions or concerns about the hearing through the Panel Chair.

When you arrive at the hearing venue, go into the room. Take a seat at the hearing table (if you are a party and the hearing has not commenced) or near the table.

The panel will enter the hearing room at the hearing commencement time specified on the timetable. Everyone in the hearing room should stand. Sit when invited to do so.

When it is your turn, you will be invited to sit at the hearing table, if you are not already there.

At the end of the hearing, everyone should stand while the panel leaves the room.

Everyone should stand when the panel adjourns and when the panel returns such as during a break.

Parties are (within reason) able to enter and leave the hearing venue as they wish. They are not required to bow on entry or exit.

Hearings are not usually recorded by the panel. Parties are not permitted to record any part of the hearing by any means without consent from the panel.

Find out more about recording hearings.

When the hearing is finished

After considering all submissions, evidence and information presented at the hearing and after inspections, the panel will send the planning authority a written report. This occurs from 20 to 40 business days after the close of the hearings, depending upon the number of panel members and complexity of the matter.

The planning authority must consider the panel’s report before it decides whether to adopt the amendment and forward it to the minister recommending approval.

If it decides to adopt the amendment, as it was exhibited or in modified form, the planning authority may accept or not accept all or part of the panel’s report and/or change the amendment. A copy of all submissions and the panel report are given to the Minister for Planning.

If the planning authority disagrees with the panel’s recommendations, it must provide a written explanation for its departure and why changes were made. It must give the minister other information as set out in the Planning and Environment Regulations 2015.

Page last updated: 20/06/23