Aug 13, 2018

Airports Amendment Bill 2016 – Consideration in Detail – Monday, 13 August 2018

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:12): I ask leave to move amendments (1) and (2), as circulated in my name, together.

Leave granted.

Mr ALBANESE: I move amendments (1) and (2), as circulated in my name, together:

(1)   Schedule 1, item 19, page 6 (line 6), omit “$35 million”, substitute “$25 million”.

   [lower threshold amount]

(2)   Schedule 1, item 22, page 7 (lines 9 and 10), omit “then the Minister is taken, at the end of that period, to have approved that shorter period”, substitute “then, at the end of the period referred to in paragraph (b), the request is taken to have been refused”.

[refusal of shorter consultation periods]

I thank the minister for the constructive way in which we’ve engaged on this legislation to make sure that what is, I think, a good piece of legislation is made better by dialogue. These questions shouldn’t be partisan; they should be the subject of proper scrutiny—hence these amendments that I’m moving today, which the government will accept, I think will improve the bill before it goes to the Senate and should ensure that passage is expedited in the other place with the support of all of the adults in the room.

Amendment (1) changes the lower-threshold amount in schedule 1, substituting $25 million for $35 million. The rationale for this is quite clear: a major development plan must be completed in a number of circumstances, including when a monetary trigger is reached. The current monetary trigger of $20 million was determined in 2007. The bill originally proposed to increase this threshold by 75 per cent, to $35 million. In my view, that’s excessive and it’s also problematic. While the government has argued that this increase reflects changes to construction industry costs, and other economic conditions that have occurred, I believe that a 75 per cent increase doesn’t accurately reflect the changes in construction costs since 2007. According to the ABS construction CPI, costs have increased by 20 per cent. A number of major and sizeable airport construction projects would fall under a $35 million threshold, and such projects would be exempt from public consultations and other assessments. A $25 million monetary trigger is far more appropriate.

I will say to the minister that one of the first things I did upon coming to the high office that he now holds, of transport minister responsible for aviation, was go to an opening of a number of projects at Melbourne Airport. I asked what the process was for the MDP. What had occurred was they’d broken up what was a very large expansion into a series of smaller projects in order to not have an MDP. The truth is that we, as public office holders, have a responsibility to ensure that there’s public scrutiny available. That’s what the government’s acceptance of this amendment will do. I thank him for the spirit in which it’s put forward. It is to ensure that there’s no diminution of accountability as a result of the expansions, of which there are a number of very considerable expansions to aviation around this country.

What I see, and I know the minister sees when he sees those expansions, is jobs and economic activity. It’s a good thing, but it needs to have that scrutiny to make sure that whilst we maximise the economic benefit of aviation we also minimise the impact on the community, because from time to time infrastructure projects do have a negative impact on the community and that’s why it’s important that they be able to be consulted.

The second amendment is to change the issue of shorter consultation periods. It is:

Schedule 1, item 22, page 7 (lines 9 and 10), omit “then the Minister is taken, at the end of that period, to have approved that shorter period”, substitute “then, at the end of the period referred to in paragraph (b), the request is taken to have been refused”.

This is an important amendment. It’s about ensuring that the power of the minister is retained and that you don’t have, through a default circumstance, consultation periods being cut off, or approval being deemed to have occurred, without a conscious decision of the minister to examine the proposal that is before him or her, and to be able to therefore— (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): The member’s time has expired. The member for Grayndler.

Mr ALBANESE: Due to a range of circumstances that can occur—the minister is very busy with a very large portfolio—it is important to have proper examination. I know that the minister will take his duties very seriously and examine each of these plans. With a range of plans, particularly for the secondary airports, I found they can have a real impact, because—whether it be the Parafields, the Jandakots or the Bankstowns—they tend to be located around a lot of residences. I certainly took my responsibility seriously and on a range of occasions basically sent it back effectively with a mark of ‘needs to do better before it’s approved’. And guess what? They did do better. That provides a confidence there for the public.

Currently the public consultation period associated with draft MDPs, as specified in subsection 92(2A) of the act, is 60 business days. The minister can approve a shorter period, not less than 15 days, if asked in writing by the airport operator to do so, and as long as they are satisfied that the proposed development is consistent with the airport master plan and does not raise any issues that have a significant impact on the local or regional community.

The bill seeks to insert new subsection 92(2BA), which would provide that if the airport makes a request for a shorter consultation period and the minister does not make a decision on the request within 15 business days then the minister is deemed to have approved that shorter period. Labor can’t support that amendment, and I’m pleased that the minister’s been very much open to having some dialogue about this. This is one of the pieces of legislation in this parliament which won’t change a vote either way. Most legislation is like that. We should be able to consult, have dialogue and come out with better outcomes in the national interest. In the words of the Bills Digest that was prepared by the Parliamentary Library:

This amendment seems to raise the possibility that the Minister could simply not decide on the request, and then be deemed to have approved the short period, even if the development is inconsistent with the airport master plan, or raises issues that have a significant impact on the local or regional community.

It should be within a minister’s capability to consider a request for reduced consultation within 15 days. In circumstances where this doesn’t occur, it’s appropriate for it to be deemed that the request is not approved, is refused. That achieves a better balance. The whole philosophy behind the aviation green paper and white paper process was to ensure that you had proper planning around airports. In some of the debate that’s taken place about flight paths, for example, with Western Sydney airport, I note that of course there aren’t flight paths yet, because they’re done every five years under an airport master plan. There is a constant review. There is a constant need now, and indeed a legislated requirement, to have community consultation and engagement. Interestingly, at the time that that was done, a lot of the airports weren’t exactly fans of this reform. They all acknowledge now that, as a result of this reform, their processes have been substantially improved and the relationships with the communities around their airport have been enhanced.

I commend the amendments to the House and I thank the government, and the minister, in particular, for their support.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.