Apr 16, 2012

Transcript of press conference – Parliament House, Canberra

SUBJECTS: Second airport for Sydney (Warren Truss comments, Badgerys Creek site, High Speed Rail); Greens leadership; Craig Thomson; Budget Surplus

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Warren Truss this morning, as the Leader of the National Party and the Shadow Transport Minister, gave an interview on ABC Illawarra. That was pretty interesting. It was interesting in terms of a leader of the National Party walking away from regional New South Wales in particular.

We know that regional New South Wales relies upon access to the existing Kingsford Smith Airport.  We know that because Kingsford Smith Airport is reaching capacity, there are restrictions in terms of the slots that are available to aircraft from regional airlines. Indeed, were it not for my determination to guarantee those slots, right now there would be no availability for regional airlines into Kingsford Smith Airport during the peak periods.

As it is, there are no slots available during over eight of the 17 hours that Sydney Airport operates. For regional New South Wales at the moment, if you have growth in some of those areas such as northern New South Wales, in the future, there simply won’t be a capacity to increase the availability of access to Sydney Airport.

For people who work in regional New South Wales, it’s particularly important that they’re able to fly in, in the morning, do a day’s work in Sydney, or for that matter, meet friends, engage in recreational activity and then fly home in the afternoon. That’s the sort of access that people in these regional communities want.

And yet, Warren Truss said this morning on ABC Radio, Illawarra, two things that were pretty interesting. One, he said that international flights can simply go somewhere else, to Melbourne or Brisbane. I’m not quite sure how that fits with the New South Wales Government’s position of the importance of Sydney as a global city but what Mr Truss is at least acknowledging is indeed that Sydney Airport is reaching capacity.

But to simply dismiss the need for a second Sydney airport, to say that planes can go to Melbourne or Brisbane, is essentially saying that those jobs can go to Melbourne or Brisbane or somewhere else as well.

Importantly, when it comes to international access, a majority of people who come to Australia want to come through the gateway airport at Sydney. Sydney is where they want to land. If we restrict access and they’re simply not capable of coming to Sydney, some people will choose Melbourne or Brisbane but some people might choose other potential sites overseas and we’ll lose that tourism activity.

Mr Truss also said that we could make increased use of Bankstown, rather than Sydney Airport. I assume he’s talking particularly about access to regional flights. There are a couple of problems with that. Bankstown doesn’t, of course, meet up with other regular passenger transport flights to other capital cities, and a number of people who use regional flights use Sydney as a stepping stone to either go to other destinations around the nation or to international destinations.

Warren Truss as the Shadow Minister has got a responsibility to actually read this report, to ensure that he supports – as have other members of the Coalition – the recommendations that are in the report and acknowledge that Sydney does indeed need a second airport sooner rather than later.

QUESTION:  Paul Keating has called on the Gillard Government to forget about Wilton and just get behind Badgerys Creek. Why won’t you do that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Paul Keating has referred to Badgerys Creek and he said that it has been a victim of politics. In that he’s right. There’s no doubt that had the Keating Government been elected again in 1996, then we would not now be talking about a second airport for Sydney because one would be up and running.

John Howard did nothing over those 12 years to act on the work that had been done. All the land had been purchased and all the planning work done.

What I want is a real solution to Sydney’s aviation capacity constraints. It’s quite clear that there is much more support for Wilton than there is for Badgerys Creek.  Mr Keating was, I think, a very good prime minister. He’s right when he talks about planning being undertaken for Badgerys Creek but he’s also right in saying that politics got in the way. That politics is something that wasn’t confined, of course, to just the Coalition.

What we need to do with Sydney Airport is actually come up with a real plan that can increase aviation capacity, one that makes a difference and one that can actually be implemented.  I think the point has come, if anyone reads the report – the joint report co-chaired by Mike Mrdak from my department and Sam Haddad, the head of Planning in New South Wales – they’ll know that we are, as Joe Hockey said on the weekend, at D-Day. We need a decision on a second Sydney airport.

The consequences in terms of national productivity and our national economy are there in the report for all to see; they’re also there for all to experience. This morning I sat on a plane on Sydney tarmac for half an hour with the delay that occurs during peak periods right now.

The sort of idea that Sydney Airport can double its capacity is a fantasy.  It’s one which also assumes that every international aircraft is an A380 and every domestic aircraft is a wide-bodied jet, such as an A330.  What that means, of course, is no access for regional airlines.

They’re the sort of questions that Warren Truss has got to come up with real solutions for.

QUESTION:  So are you worried about how…

QUESTION:  Just on that – just on that…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: One at a time.

QUESTION:  Just on the issue of international flights, are you saying if people can’t get into Sydney, they’d rather go, what, to Auckland or something than land in Melbourne or Brisbane?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:     There are other opportunities. If you’re someone looking at a holiday destination and you’re in the United States, there are places other than Australia you can go.

The sort of idea that when you rock up to your travel agent in New York and you want to buy a ticket to Sydney and you get told, ‘we’ll sell you a ticket to Canberra, which is 280 kilometres away, and then you can travel to Sydney by another mode of transport’, is, as Joe Hockey has said, quite frankly, absurd. It’s like someone buying a ticket to New York and landing in Washington DC.

What we need to do is to acknowledge the growth that is there in aviation capacity globally. That’s what this report does. The potential for Australia to benefit from growth in our region, in China, in India, in Indonesia, the growth of the middle classes. We’re seeing a massive growth in aviation. A 22 per cent increase last year alone in tourists from China to Australia.

We need to be able to take advantage of that opportunity. In order to do that, we need aviation capacity and we need aviation capacity in Sydney as well as in our other capital cities.

QUESTION:  Are you worried about housing developments around Wilton making that a potentially more difficult site? And are you ruling out Badgerys Creek because of the political problems, and if so, what are you going to do with the site?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve already stated what the Government’s position is on Badgerys Creek. We stated that at the time of the Aviation White Paper.

With regard to proper planning around the Wilton site, I was somewhat perplexed by the Planning Minister of NSW, Brad Hazzard, saying he hadn’t been consulted on this report. This report was jointly chaired by the secretary of his department. This report had input from the head of Transport for New South Wales, Les Wielinga, and Sam Haddad, the secretary of the Department of Planning. There were two people, bureaucrats from New South Wales, one from the Federal Government, and four from the private sector.

Most of the information in the report, in particular the planning and land use issues came from the NSW Government. At the time when we released the report, one year after the O’Farrell Government came into office, we made sure and I have done all that I can to make sure there’s a bipartisan approach to this. I’m going to continue to do that. I want to see an outcome for this issue.

This is the last opportunity we will have. That’s what the report indicates. There are only two sites available for a potential second Sydney airport that are identified by the report. It looked at sites all around the region, including the Greater Sydney Region, inside and outside the Basin. It came up with this expert advice. What we need to do is examine the implications that are there in the report and respond in a bipartisan way which gets rid of some of the politics that has been an issue in the past.

QUESTION:  So what’s the reason then…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hang on a tick…

QUESTION:  Minister, you’ve used the example of New York and Washington DC. A better comparison might be Baltimore and Washington DC, which is used as a, effectively a second airport for Washington DC. Other countries, in the UK, other satellite cities are used as second airports to, say, Heathrow; Luton, etc.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s nonsense. Luton! How far’s Luton from London?

QUESTION:  OK, [Indistinct]… London’s not the best example…[Indistinct]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is nowhere in the world, where an airport is used as a secondary airport more than 100 kilometres from the city. Nowhere in the world. No examples that have been come up with by anyone.

London has five airports – Stansted, Gatwick, Luton, Heathrow, and there’s another one there somewhere (laughs).

QUESTION:  [Indistinct]

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  There is – where is it?

QUESTION:  City.

QUESTION:  London City.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  See, London City. Lenore knows.  There is nowhere in the world where you fly into a major global city and have to travel almost 300 kilometres to get to that city. It simply doesn’t work.

High-speed rail is important. We’re doing an analysis of that. But I make this point well in advance for all of you. When the high-speed rail study comes out in December at the end of this year, if you think having a second airport for Sydney is a tough issue, wait till you have a 200-metre-wide corridor down the east coast through the most densely populated area of Australia. It has to go in a straight line so it can’t go round every green-and-yellow-bellied bell frog, it has to go in a straight line, it has to go through areas of terrain that are difficult. And when it gets to Sydney, it has to have big tunnelling operations.

This is something that is going to be very difficult. That’s not to say it’s not worth looking at. It’s just to say when you look at infrastructure issues, they are always difficult. What the Australian people expect of us as governments is to be prepared to make decisions in the national interest. It’s quite clear that the capacity constraints that we can all see at Sydney Airport right now are a handbrake on our activity. They’re a handbrake on our productivity. They’re a handbrake on jobs.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us why you’re pushing Wilton and why you have ruled out Badgerys Creek?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve said that many, many times. I’ve said it before already here. The Government’s considering the report. The details are there for all to see in the report. The report outlines Badgerys Creek and Wilton as the two options. We know what the circumstances are around Badgerys Creek are. I’m of the view that it’s worthwhile taking Wilton to the next step and having a scoping study of Wilton. I’m taking that through government processes.

What I did was make a decision on Day One that I received this report on 2 March to release it publicly for all to see. All 3,200 pages so that everyone could see it for themselves and examine it in detail. I’m determined on this issue to get an outcome. I want to work with the broadest possible section of people to get that outcome.

If this becomes simply a partisan issue, then it is impossible to get an outcome. We know that from past experience. That’s why we need to take into account what people’s views are. We need to work across the political spectrum. We know that Labor and the Coalition, Labor and the Coalition at senior levels in this Parliament support a second airport for Sydney and have been prepared to come out and back the recommendations that are in this report.

QUESTION:  Mr Albanese…

QUESTION:  Minister Craig Emerson said today that…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  One at a time. Can we finish on airport first maybe, if you’re done?

QUESTION:  Can you rule out locking out regional airlines from Sydney Airport until the second one’s built?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  On my watch, I will support regional airlines coming into Kingsford Smith Airport. But I tell you what, have a look closely at what Peter Collins said in his op-ed in the Fin Review. Peter Collins, former New South Wales Liberal leader, wouldn’t have written that article, given he now works for the lobbyist firm that relies upon the New South Wales Government. Have a look at what he had to say about regional airlines being pushed out. Have a look at what Sydney Airport have said themselves. Have a look at what Warren Truss has said as the Leader of the National Party on radio today, and I think people in regional communities have a right to be very concerned.

Any more on the airport and then we…

QUESTION:  One more.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: One more and that’ll do.

QUESTION:  Mr Hockey threatened or promised to walk naked through Martin Place if the second airport was built in Sydney. Does that inspire you or disturb you? [Laughter]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think Joe Hockey understands the issues around Sydney Airport. He knows, having read the report, I think you’ll find he’s changed his mind. He’s read the report, he’s examined it. He, as the chair of the Sydney Airport Community Forum from 1996, I think, did a very good job developing the long-term operating plan. He’s someone who understands that this is an issue of economic productivity. So he understands that.

He also understands the consequences for the people who live around Sydney Airport of no action, so I take Joe on face value here. I think he’s been fair dinkum. I give him nothing but credit for that. I’m prepared to work with people of goodwill across the spectrum, federally, in NSW. I think the Premier needs to re-examine this issue on what the consequences are.

I understand vested interests at Sydney Airport are speaking up for their vested interests. But governments have a real responsibility, and they have an opportunity here.  They can’t say in 3200 pages that they haven’t been warned of what the consequences are.

QUESTION:  Mr Albanese…

QUESTION:  Craig Emerson said today [indistinct] fall back in votes from the Greens [indistinct] retirement of Bob Brown. What’s your view on Senator Brown’s retirement, and do you expect the party to take a more extreme ideological position?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I certainly wish Senator Brown well on his retirement. He’s been a figure who’s loomed large. He’s someone who I think I have a very good relationship with. I think he’s someone of integrity. That doesn’t mean that I agree with his views on a whole range of issues. I don’t. I think Labor and the Greens Party have very different views about a range of issues. Take the airport: the Greens position has been going out there, congratulating Barry O’Farrell on his stand but saying he should go one step further.

I must say there’s a logic in that. Because they say there shouldn’t be another airport – a second airport. But we should also close Kingsford Smith Airport, have an airport somewhere else outside of the Sydney basin, and have high-speed rail or transport connections to that.

I don’t know quite how you get out of Sydney on that basis through aviation. I know how you get in – you can parachute in.

That’s the Green Party’s position on Sydney Airport.

It’s unrealistic. It’s a position that would undermine Sydney’s position as a global city.

I think Christine Milne’s someone who also is a worthy successor to Bob Brown. She’s someone who is very passionate about her views about climate change and the environment. I think there are different views in the Greens. And that will come out over a period of time.

Locally, certainly the Greens have a different position in my part of the world – the inner west of Sydney – to Bob Brown on a whole host of issues. And we saw some of them in the last state election.

QUESTION:  The Greens have your seat at the top of their list for the next election. Are they a bigger or less formidable threat under Senator Milne, and why should you prevail at the next election?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m very confident of prevailing at the next election because I have the support of my electorate. I won by – in the order of eight to 9000 votes last time round. That was because of a collapse in the Liberal vote, that was the problem there. Some people got excited on election night. I’d already claimed victory at about a quarter to eight. It was not a close election in Grayndler. I would expect that it won’t be close next time either. I think one of the things that people will look at is individual candidates in terms of the Greens’ political party.

Clearly they have had a big advantage in terms of having a well-respected figure, quite rightly, well respected figure such as Bob Brown. He’s someone who I respect even though I disagree with some of his views.

He won’t be the leader next time. We’ll see how that plays out.

QUESTION:  So that will make your job easier?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly we’ll see how that plays out. In terms of my emphasis, it isn’t about who the Member for Grayndler is. My emphasis, each and every day, when I wake up, is making sure that Julia Gillard is re-elected as Prime Minister and that Tony Abbott is stopped from wreaking the havoc that he would on the social fabric of this country if he were ever to become Prime Minister.

QUESTION:  Sounds like you’re saying there’ll be more examination of individual Greens candidate’s positions and views in the absence of the figurehead that Bob Brown I guess provided or was to the Greens party?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I think that will occur over a period of time, and I think it’s been occurring already. Once you’ve had the Greens political party expand and become larger – have more representation – there has been more analysis and scrutiny of individual positions that they have.

For example on Sydney Airport, if you took Barry O’Farrell’s view that airport noise is contamination that shouldn’t be visited upon anyone, then the logic of that is you would shut Kingsford Smith Airport.

I take a view that if you live in a global city, there are consequences of that. There’s noise from planes, trains, and automobiles. There’s congestion. We need to alleviate them and to maximise the liveability in our cities and in our urban communities, but we can’t have a situation whereby you can live in Marrickville and not have noise from cars and traffic congestion and trucks and planes. That’s not my position.

I support Kingsford Smith Airport staying there. I support constraints on it.  But it is important. The report is important as well. It identifies Kingsford Smith Airport as the gateway to Australia. It’s important to acknowledge that I take a different position. There are 6,000 people employed by Kingsford Smith Airport, very conservatively, in terms of the direct jobs that it creates. We need economic activity and job creation. That’s the position that I take. I think that’s a position that you can have whilst maintaining a consistent position on the environment and sustainability. I certainly have always had a strong position on that.

I wrote a lot of our policy calling for a price to be put on carbon. I’ve consistently argued that in my entire time here in the Parliament.

QUESTION:  Minister, will the Government be helping the workers at Toyota that have lost their jobs and what does this say about the broader economy. Can we still manufacture things in Australia?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We do need to manufacture things here in Australia. We need to do that because we need a diverse economy. The reason the car industry is so important is because it has a multiplier effect in terms of the manufacturing sector, and in terms of innovation. It’s important that we have it. Similarly, why aviation’s important – it has a very high multiplier impact in terms of jobs and economic activity.

With regard to specific measures, that’s a matter for other Ministers but I certainly am very committed to making sure we have a viable domestic car industry.

One more.

QUESTION:  Tony Abbott has renewed calls for Craig Thomson to cooperate with the police over their HSU investigation. Do you think he should do that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: With regard to Tony Abbott, you know it’s a record on repeat – his comments. Those matters are a matter for Craig Thomson. It’s wise to not get involved in micromanagement of legal issues. It’s a matter for individuals and the advice that they receive.

QUESTION:  Minister, we have the unusual situation at the moment where the Greens and economists agree [indistinct re returning the budget to surplus]. The only reason the government is doing it is because [indistinct].

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  We’re doing it because it’s good economic policy. It’s good economic policy to set us up for the future. It’s important. We took the action that was necessary during the Global Financial Crisis. The Economic Stimulus Plan was important in making sure that Australia didn’t go into recession, and protecting jobs. As we’ve come through that successfully it’s also important that we return to surplus in this Budget. That’s good economic management. That’s prudent fiscal strategy. And it’s one of course that will add to putting downward pressure on interest rates.

Thanks very much.