Apr 7, 2012

Transcript of doorstop interview – Marrickville

SUBJECTS: Federal Liberal MPs support for second airport for Sydney; Greens opposition to any airport for Sydney

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I commissioned a joint report from the New South Wales Government and the Australian federal department into the aviation capacity needs for Sydney. What that report showed in 3,200 pages is that there’s an absolute need for a second Sydney airport sooner rather than later. It outlined the consequences of not acting. The consequences mean loss of jobs, loss of economic activity and loss of amenity and quality of life for those people who live around Sydney Airport as aircraft noise is concentrated.

What I’ve ensured is that there is bipartisanship at the federal level. We had a briefing of all Federal Members, and more than 25 New South Wales Members turned up to hear that briefing, including senior members of the Shadow Ministry. Now, today reveals that senior members of the Coalition have had a meeting and discussed having a constructive response to this report. That’s not surprising, because they know what the consequences are for Sydney.

This has got to be an issue that’s above party politics, and that’s why it’s important that Barry O’Farrell listen to his own Coalition members, listen to what the Federal Government is saying, but most importantly listen to what his own departments are saying about the need for a second Sydney airport.

For too long, politics has intervened to stop a second Sydney airport. What we need is to act in the national interest, act in the interest of jobs, act in the interest of our tourism industry, act in the interest of the quality of life in Sydney to make sure that we have a second Sydney airport sooner rather than later and these reports just confirm this.

Anyone who has read this report has to conclude that we need a second airport sooner rather than later. That’s what federal Coalition members have concluded, that’s what the Federal Government has concluded, that’s what Qantas and Virgin have concluded, that’s what the business community have concluded. It’s time for Barry O’Farrell to actually read his own report and to get on board.

REPORTER: It’s true that this debate has been going for a very long time, probably almost since Methuselah one was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. I mean, will this ever be resolved, or won’t there always be some political consideration that means that Sydney won’t get a second airport?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Any infrastructure project creates issues, none more so than a second Sydney airport. But governments are elected to make tough decisions, to act in the interests of those who we represent; and there’s no issue which has been more put off than a second Sydney airport.

What this report says is the time for action is now. There aren’t any easy solutions. It identifies two potential sites. The Government’s view is that Wilton should be further examined as the site for the second Sydney airport. That’s got support from the business community, from the airline industry, from the tourism industry and across the political spectrum. What we need to do is to make sure we get this planning right, now, and that we act.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There was a very constructive briefing held by my Department, which was attended by senior members of the Coalition as well as senior members of the Government. Across New South Wales, those people who use Sydney Airport know that every time they go to Sydney Airport, as the months go on the delays get longer.

They know also that a delay at Sydney Airport has knock-on effects right around the aviation system because Sydney is the hub. And they know that this is a handbrake on our productivity. So very clearly, the fact that you’ve seen the comments from people such as Joe Hockey and other senior members of the Coalition themselves indicates that there’s a recognition across the political spectrum.

What I want to do is work with people across the political spectrum with goodwill to make sure that we get this done. I think that the delays have been going on now for far too long. There is an opportunity now. We know that it won’t get easier. We know the consequences are there for an end to noise-sharing around Sydney Airport, for a reduction in our jobs growth and economic productivity for Sydney as well as nationally. So this is in the national economic interest. Members of the Coalition know that. Members of the Government know that. That’s why we should get on with acting.

REPORTER: Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison have certainly said that themselves about Sydney, but who else do you imagine that could put pressure on Barry O’Farrell?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the business community themselves.  There’s been a number of briefings made for the business community, particularly here in Sydney, but nationally as well.  If you look at the comments of the Business Council of Australia, what they know is that if Sydney has a ‘closed for business’ sign up at the airport, then that means a loss of jobs and economic productivity for Australia. They know that it simply isn’t good enough to pretend that this problem will solve itself.

It requires political will.  It requires decisions to be made, and can I also say, in terms of that, it’s just the opportunity now. We’re very lucky in that we live in the fastest growing region on earth. It’s one where the middle-class is growing in China, in India, in Vietnam, in Indonesia – one in which there’s a great deal of opportunity for us to expand the economic benefit of that growth in our region. If we lose that, if we lose access to the gateway to Australia, that has a real consequence.

But there’s another impact as well. We know that National Party members know that if nothing is done for a second Sydney airport, then regional access to Sydney will be under threat. We know that a range of people – up to 50 per cent of passengers – who fly from places like Dubbo and Tamworth and other places to Sydney do so en route to somewhere else, to another capital city or to international destinations.

The consequences for regional New South Wales of the existing system, whereby there are right now, no regional slots available for people in regional New South Wales, is a real handbrake on those regional communities. Access to Sydney Airport is under threat if something isn’t done to get a second airport.

We know that the owners of Sydney Airport would quite like to get rid of the smaller regional aircraft and just concentrate on the large international craft, but there is a real consequence of that for regional New South Wales.

REPORTER: [Inaudible re distance to city from Wilton]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. Wilton is very doable. The report examines the land transport links. It would require of course, a proper scoping study and then an environmental impact statement. But let’s make the next step. Let’s get cooperation between the Federal Government and the State Government because we know that this report looked at more than 20 possible sites. It came down to only two being possible, that at Badgerys Creek and Wilton. So we know that they’re the only two sites that are available.

The Government believes that Wilton is very worthy of further exploration. We believe that that will have some bipartisan support across the spectrum, and the New South Wales Government know as well the consequences that are outlined in this report for congestion at the airport. The report identifies traffic gridlock around Sydney Airport by 2015. And this is a report not from the Federal Government, this is a report co-authored by the New South Wales Secretary of the Department of Transport and the New South Wales Secretary of the Department of Planning.

The New South Wales Government needs to listen to its own evidence that has been provided. This has been a great example of evidence-based policy. Two years in the making, full submissions, community consultation, getting it right in this 3,200-page report. The evidence is in. It’s now up to politicians to act on that evidence.

REPORTER: The state Greens have thrown a spanner in the works. They’re pushing for a relocation of Mascot Airport out to the outer suburbs. What do you make of that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: To where? I read that report, and it’s the usual guff from Lee Rhiannon from the Greens, who says, in that report, criticises Wilton as a site. They’re against Badgerys Creek; they’re against Wilton and they want to close Kingsford Smith Airport.

The Greens solution is people parachuting out of planes to get into Sydney. You can get into Sydney that way; I don’t know how you get out. In a modern economy aviation is important. It can’t be just wished away. What we need is real solutions, not populist nonsense from the Greens.

REPORTER: [Inaudible question re taxi queues and road congestion at the airport]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The owners of Sydney Airport have an absolute responsibility to deal with the issues that are raised in the report. The report also raises the issue of the charges that are made in terms of rail travel to and from the airport, and the issue of public transport access. The report also raises the issue of car parking at the airport. There are a range of land-transport issues raised in this study. This isn’t just a study into aviation capacity; it’s a study into land transport access as it relates to the inter-relationship and integration of aviation with land transport modes for the whole of the Sydney region.

That’s why it can’t simply be dismissed by the Premier without even reading the report. There is a range of recommendations in this report that require the response of the State Government. The Federal Government remains willing to cooperate in a constructive way with the State Government, but the State Government can’t simply dismiss those issues that are raised about gridlock around the airport.

REPORTER: [Inaudible question re Budget funding for airport study]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. We’ll raise those announcements when the Government’s made its decisions. What we have said is that the Government will consider the recommendations that are in the report, and respond once the Government has made those decisions. But we have said very clearly that the idea of ‘do nothing’ has consequences. The idea of do nothing and the issue will just stay the same is a nonsense.

If we do nothing, as Barry O’Farrell has said – he’s said we shouldn’t have a second airport for Sydney, we shouldn’t change the curfew, or the cap, or change any of the arrangements around Sydney either – the consequences of that are severe for the operation of Sydney Airport. We need to actually respond to the report. The Government will respond to the report. We want to respond in a cooperative way with New South Wales.  That’s why I wrote to Barry O’Farrell as the Premier of New South Wales on the day that I received the report. That was also delivered of course – because it was a joint report – to the New South Wales Government.

We’ve written to him and suggested that my department, his department; Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure NSW need to progress on to the next step in progressing the implementation of the outcome of this report.

REPORTER: And you haven’t heard from him on that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we haven’t. We’ve heard public statements from the Premier dismissing the report without reading it. With due respect to the Premier, this is a 3200-page report. Officials in New South Wales from Transport as well as from Planning worked very hard on producing what is the most comprehensive study ever produced. The first time there’s a joint study between the national government and the state government. The first time that aviation is looked at in the context of land transport issues, planning issues, job-creation for Sydney, economic activity for Sydney.

To simply dismiss it without even reading it is, in my view, simply not good enough from the Premier of New South Wales. Particularly given that the Premier has said he wants to be known as the ‘Infrastructure Premier’. This is the most important piece of infrastructure in New South Wales. The report identifies that. His own New South Wales Transport Department and Planning Department say that.

But the reason why this is a national issue is that, as the peak grows at Sydney Airport, as the delays occur, a 15, 30-minute, 1-hour delay at Sydney Airport due to a weather event, or due to a security concern, or any other issue, will have a knock-on right throughout the whole system and won’t be able to be fixed throughout the whole day, because Sydney Airport will be at peak capacity.

Because half of the aircraft that fly around Australia in terms of regular passenger transport services fly through Sydney, a knock-on effect is a handbrake on productivity for the whole nation. That’s why it’s a national issue.

REPORTER: Is Barry O’Farrell threatening to send us all to Armageddon?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’re words that have been used by members of Barry O’Farrell’s own party – they have spoken about Armageddon. Certainly anyone who looks at this report cannot help but feel a responsibility to act in order to support jobs, in order to support economic activity, in order to ensure that Sydney doesn’t just put up a ‘We’re closed for business’ sign.  That is not good enough in the 21st century.

Thanks very much.