Feb 23, 2017

Speech to Western Sydney Aerotropolis Summit


It’s great to be here today to see the level of interest in the development of the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek.

It’s has taken decades to achieve the political bipartisanship necessary to get this important project under way.

That’s a credit to people on both sides of politics.

Bipartisanship has cleared the way for governments, councils, businesses and communities to contemplate the massive economic opportunities that come with the construction of an airport.

That’s why today is so important.

When it comes to the Western Sydney Airport, we must get the planning right.

It is critical to the national economy.

As the 2012 joint study into Sydney’s aviation needs found, Sydney Airport is constrained by its land mass.

It is one half and one third of the size of the Melbourne and Brisbane airports respectively.

Sydney Airport is the nation’s busiest airport in terms of passenger movements yet it sits on the smallest land area for a major airport. Indeed, the Badgerys’ Creek site is almost twice the size of KSA.

Four out of 10 aircraft that travel in this country pass through Sydney Airport, so a delay at Kingsford Smith has huge knock-on effects across the nation.

When KSA sneezes, the rest of the nation catches the flu.

The Western Sydney Airport will offer great new options for travellers and airlines, while boosting tourism.

But if we get the planning right, the airport will provide unprecedented opportunities for airlines and aviation-related companies to expand in the vicinity of Badgerys Creek.

That means jobs – high value jobs for the people of Western Sydney, an area that has been crying out for new employment opportunities.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The task ahead is not just to build a runway and an aircraft terminal.

That’s only half the job.

We must extract maximum community benefit from this project by making it a catalyst for development of thousands of jobs across a range of industries.

We need to create an aviation precinct so successful that it transforms the entire region.

We must consider the Badgerys Creek site not as Sydney’s second airport, but as the airport for Western Sydney.

We want the Western Sydney Airport to be so successful that its success unleashes waves of prosperity across a range of sectors including research, tourism, education, advanced manufacturing, logistics and residential development.

We must develop an aerotropolis.

And at the same time, we must ensure the airport is developed to world’s best practice in terms of environmental impact and that the impact on residents in its vicinity is minimised.

None of this will be easy.

But if we get it right, the possibilities are substantial.


The case for the construction of the Western Sydney Airport has been established beyond doubt.

We know that Kingsford Smith Airport is near full capacity.

According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Western Sydney Airport is expected to handle five million passengers in its first year of operation, rising to 10 million passengers a year within five years, 37 million a year by 2050 and 82 million a year by 2063.

It is also estimated that if we fail to build the airport, the NSW economy will lose $17.5 billion a year in gross state product by 2060.

In the process, we would forgo the creation of 57,000 jobs in NSW and nearly 78,000 nationally by 2060.

When I was younger, air travel was the province of the rich.

Working people travelled by air only to attend weddings or funerals, or to do their one off backpacking trip to Europe, the USA or Asia.

But in the 21st century, relatively low airfares and increasing disposable incomes have combined to drive huge demand for air travel.

In 1988 I saved up for the big trip to Europe.

The airfare was $1900 return to London with Qantas. Today, almost three decades later, it is possible to get a cheaper fare.

If only house prices had a similar story.

Patronage nationally is expected to double in the next two decades. Then double again by 2060.

Today, national sporting codes are thriving as a direct result of the reduction in the cost of air travel.

Western Sydney is home to 2.2 million people or almost 10% of Australia’s population. This will grow to over 3 million by the 2030’s.

Without a Western Sydney Airport, residents will continue to have to travel to Kingsford Smith Airport for their aviation needs, clogging roads that are already heavily congested, particularly around peak hours.

It can take longer for commuters to get to Mascot than they spend in the air travelling to Melbourne or Brisbane – and the taxi fare can be more than the airfare.

Anyone who has cause to use the existing airport would know it is already frequently subject to gridlock.

That’s bad for commuters and bad for the economy.

The case for the Airport is further strengthened by the research into its anticipated effects on the economy of Western Sydney.

It will create 11,000 construction jobs in the building stage. There will be 9000 direct jobs associated with the completed airport, plus thousands of indirect jobs to be created in the region.

In terms of enhancing aviation and giving Western Sydney a significant economic injection, this project is vital.


Often, public consultation about major projects goes no further than addressing contentious issues like noise and traffic.

While we must understand and engage with community concern on these issues, the employment opportunities at Badgerys Creek also demand genuine and intense community engagement.

The conversation must begin now about how we can ensure that as many of the new jobs as possible can be filled by people from Western Sydney.

It’s not just jobs building the airport; it’s jobs building the associated road and rail infrastructure and then it’s ongoing jobs created by the airport as a catalyst.

Some of those jobs are underway with the associated road construction. Others are some time off when skills and apprenticeships will look different from today’s training and employment pathways.

These jobs should have a training component which provide transferable skills for local young people and re-skilling opportunities for mature age workers.

We need to collaborate on a jobs and skills plan that provides a skilled workforce capable of contributing on this and future projects.

This effort should engage the entire community including councils, business groups, schools and universities, TAFE, unions and others.

For example, we know that during the construction stage, there will be strong demand for builders, electricians and the full range of tradespeople required to deliver such a large project.

We need to act now to consider how we can maximise access to these jobs for people from Western Sydney.

The project should result in hundreds of young people from Western Sydney being engaged on the construction site as apprentices, learning the skills that will set them up for long-term careers.

At his speech at the National Press Club Labor Leader Bill Shorten pointed the way, committing a future Labor Government to ensuring 10 per cent of the workforce on Commonwealth-funded infrastructure projects should be apprentices.

The Western Sydney Airport is the perfect opportunity to apply this principle.

We need to think now about the extent to which schools and TAFEs in Western Sydney are equipped to prepare today’s young people for the apprenticeship opportunities that beckon.

Likewise, we must think now about what industries have potential to flourish once the airport begins operations and the skills required to ensure their long-term profitability and competitiveness.

Given the changing nature of work, we must ask ourselves what skills will be required to fill those jobs.

We must collaborate with TAFE colleges and the University of Western Sydney to encourage them to focus more heavily on those skills.

I want to see the establishment of a Centre for Aviation Excellence near the airport.

It could involve government and private sector investment in innovation and skills development. Science, technology, engineering and maths should be integrated into the centre, including into the apprenticeships of the future.

That’s just one idea.

But it’s a reminder of the core proposition that must be our guiding light over the next two decades.

We are not just building an airport, but building a better future for Western Sydney.

I see many people here today who are already thinking in this direction.

On Tuesday I spent time with western suburbs-based company Celestino and Penrith Mayor John Thain and his team to discuss the 2500 hectare Sydney Science Park in Luddenham just north of the Airport site.

This is an exciting development which is encouraged by the Airport that will provide 12,000 jobs for the region.

It is a visionary project as a centre for innovation, education and research that will also have 3400 dwellings on site.

It goes beyond the concept of simply providing jobs, to being a whole-of-community-approach that will be productive, liveable and sustainable.

It will encompass the smartest buildings in Australia with the highest green star rating possible.

A deal has already been done with Catholic education to provide for Australia’s first K-12 STEM school in the country, which will accommodate 2000 students.

This is exactly the sort of project that exemplifies the multitude of business opportunities associated with the Airport.

Given that 300,000 people commute away from Western Sydney for work and the youth of Western Sydney have aspirations to live and work locally, the Sydney Science Park is precisely the sort of development driven by rail access and the airport that will shift economic activity and employment closer to where people live.


Delivering the Western Sydney Airport project has been needlessly complicated by the former Howard Government’s decision to give the Sydney Airports Corporation the first right of refusal over construction and operation of the airport.

This was part of the deal to lease Kingsford Smith Airport.

It was not a part of the original consideration, and it is up to others to justify this provision.

Nonetheless, the current Coalition Government is delivering on its contractual obligation to negotiate with SACL, as it should.

This is a commercial negotiation.

Having been involved in commercial negotiations while in government, I know it will be unhelpful for me to provide commentary on what should happen at this point.

Instead, let me be crystal clear.

Federal Labor strongly supports the Government securing maximum public benefit on price, design and operating parameters.

I note that the Government said in December that SACL had four months to decide whether to exercise its option over this project.

I urge the Government to press on and resolve this matter as soon as possible.

If SACL chooses not to exercise its option, Labor would support the Government pursuing other options, such as forming a company to build the airport itself.

That company could later be sold to a private operator.

This model is similar to that is being used to deliver the Moorebank Intermodal project established by the former Labor Government.


While Federal Labor supports the development of the new airport, bipartisanship should not preclude differences of opinion, particularly on planning issues that are critical to the airport’s success.

Labor welcomes the Government’s 2014 decision to begin upgrading roads around the site.

However, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Government is unwilling to guarantee the airport will be connected to Sydney passenger rail network from the day it opens.

On current planning, construction of the Western Sydney Airport would include provision for the retrofitting of a passenger rail link at some unspecified time in the future.

We’ve heard vague plans about a rail connection, but no details or firm commitments.

That’s not good enough.

This lack of resolve threatens to limit the potential of the project.

If we expect people to use this airport, it should be accessible by public transport.

But there are strong economic reasons for a rail link.

It would allow us to maximise opportunities to access value capture to help pay for construction.

The airport operator will have an opportunity to develop a world-class piece of infrastructure.

Frankly even if the Airport was not being built, north-south connections for Western Sydney make sense.

The station to the north of the Airport would be located at the Science Park I have mentioned.

If the Airport is connected to rail from day one, the benefit of that connection can be reflected in the operator’s lease negotiations with other businesses.

There is no time for delay.

We need to commit to rail now, so that these economic benefits are factored into negotiations at the earliest possible stage.

The most obvious option of a rail link is an extension of the existing passenger line from Leppington through to the western line near St Marys via Badgerys Creek.

This would allow passengers as well as workers at the airport and associated businesses easier access and complete a loop line around Sydney, improving public transport services throughout the region.

Indeed, completion of the loop would be necessary even without the development of the airport.

The existence of the rail link would also increase land values of the nearby state-owned employment lands.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about value capture recently.

But there have been few examples of its utilisation.

The Western Sydney Airport looms as a perfect candidate.

It simple. The amount of value captured – and the benefit to the public purse and the quality of the project – will be higher with a rail connection than without one.

Beyond the contractual implications that come with a rail connection, the experts tell us that the development of an aerotropolis is all but impossible without public transport.

John Kasarda is the Director of the Business School at the University of North Carolina.

In some circles he is known as the Father of the Aerotropolis because of his extensive work in the economics of airport development.

In a report published for the NSW Business Council published in 2015, Dr Kasarda insisted that the success of an aerotropolis depended on good surface transport.

Dr Kasarda describes surface transport as the “the skeleton’’ upon which muscle can attach and grow around airports.

He also links the quality of surface transport to the willingness of private sector to invest, noting that airports which successfully minimise last-mile costs are more attractive to investors looking to minimise risk.

Similarly, a report by David Klingberg, the CEO of David Lock Associates, also describes improved rail capacity as critical to the development of the aerotropolis model.

Mr Klingberg points out that the lack of a rail connection to the Western Sydney Airport would make it difficult for people to move between it and the Sydney CBD and the existing Kingsford Smith airport.

Mr Klingberg’s advice is simple: “It needs to be done once – and done properly’’.

Building a Western Sydney Airport that is ready for connection to rail some time far off into the future will limit the success of this important project.

It will limit job creation.

Western Sydney needs a world-class airport – not a second-rate facility that fails to realise its potential because governments lacked the vision to invest in the infrastructure required to support its growth.


While there is substantial road construction taking place associated with the Airport, there is a need to plan for future economic growth.

The construction of the M9 or outer ring road has been identified by planners as necessary infrastructure for Western Sydney.

It would connect the region directly with the Central Coast and Illawarra and allow for productivity benefits by being located outside the existing M7 motorway.

Infrastructure Australia identified its importance as a national project.

The planning and pre-construction work should be progressed in the 2017 Budget.


Thanks to the vision of the Hawke Labor Government in securing the Badgerys Creek site in 1986 and limiting surrounding development, the airport will be located well away from residential development.

However, aircraft still make noise.

It is important we engage very closely with surrounding communities to develop a world-class noise mitigation plan, including the creation of a night time no-fly zone.

Last year, Bill Shorten and I announced Labor’s plan for a no-fly zone between 11pm and 6am.

It will be possible to ensure simultaneous operations for take offs and landings to the south-west of the runway, stopping flights over residential communities at night.

I’m pleased to say the Government, after initially rejecting this idea, has embraced it.

That’s another example of bi-partisanship in the public interest. This project is simply too important to be compromised by political posturing.

We can also reduce noise through innovative design.

In 2003 sound engineers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport noticed a significant reduction in aircraft noise each autumn, when farmers began ploughing their fields.

Convinced the furrows were absorbing noise, the airport hired a landscaper to replicate the effect all year round by digging 150 symmetrical furrows in a nearby 32ha site green belt known as the Buitenschot Land Park.

It looks not unlike the design of a radio or recording studio.

Since the park opened a few years ago, aircraft noise has dropped by half, with noise hitting the furrows and then being bounced toward the sky.

And in a double pay-off for the community, the park has become a popular recreational area, featuring bikeways and walking tracks.

That’s the kind of thinking we need at Badgerys Creek.

We are working with a Greenfields site here. There will be no excuse not to embrace world-class design principles.

Equally, the process of consulting the local community must also be world-class.


Let me leave you today by pointing out a significant challenge related to the airport that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Aircraft need aviation fuel. A Boeing 747, for example, requires 12 litres of fuel per kilometer travelled.

There are only two possible ways to get aviation fuel to Western Sydney.

One is by using trucks, which will add to traffic congestion. The other is by building a pipeline.

This is a serious issue and it needs to be confronted now, in consultation with the community.


There’s an old saying that if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

It reminds me of a concept put forward by the US time management expert Alan Lakein, who once wrote:
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

In 2017, we owe it to future Australians get the planning right for the Western Sydney Airport.

We have bipartisanship.

We have the vision.

What we need now is the resolve to turn that vision into reality.