Dec 15, 2007

High fliers back in real world – Opinion – The Daily Telegraph

SYDNEY Airport Corporation’s cavalier indifference to the issues of residents in noise-affected suburbs in the airport precinct is now under official scrutiny – thanks to new Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

And we can guess already at the likely outcome of Mr Albanese’s laser inspection – an unfamiliar and intense measure of discomfort for the corporation’s executives. For the no-nonsense minister is also the member for Grayndler, which takes in most of the suburbs suffering the worst effects of aircraft noise.

So this is not just a matter of routine ministerial oversight, it’s a constituents’ matter – and that’s personal. Mr Albanese has spelled out the position for SAC Ltd’s edification; his appointment, he told them, is going to be “their worst nightmare”.

And the tension is building. Ten days ago, SAC Ltd blithely announced the airport’s east-west runway would be closed down for a period of 15 months to allow the construction of a needed run-off area – with the consequence of a big increase in traffic on the main north-south runway.

Now, there is no suggestion the work is not needed. That is not Mr Albanese’s issue. What infuriated him – and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as well – was the corporation’s phlegmatic assumption it could simply drop this bombshell, having consulted precisely nobody, apparently.

Well, the chickens have come home to roost. Mr Albanese has carpeted the airport chiefs to convey Mr Rudd’s displeasure and to inform them their 15-month schedule is “unacceptable”. And they’ve been sent back to work out a plan to cut the 15-month disruption to as shorter time frame as possible.

Having enjoyed a smooth ride with the last administration, no doubt SACL will think itself ill-used. But having taken the opportunity to gouge every available cent of revenue from airport patrons over time, and having trampled the wishes of inner city residents on this latest occasion, a stiff reaction from Mr Albanese should have come as no surprise.

As corporate citizens, they have set an example for rapacity, and if now they are about to feel some pain, they have only themselves to blame.