Apr 6, 2012

Transcript of doorstop interview – Sydenham

SUBJECTS: Second airport for Sydney; Duntroon sexual assault case

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later. We need one so that our economy can continue to grow and jobs can continue to be created. It’s simply not good enough for politicians to put their head in the sand and pretend that this is a problem that will just go away.

Last month I received a report, a joint report to the Australian Government and the New South Wales Government. Represented on that committee were the Secretary of my Department, the Secretary of the New South Wales Department of Transport, the Secretary of the New South Wales Department of Planning, the head of the Business Council of Australia and other business representatives. What that found was that there is an absolute need for a second Sydney airport sooner rather than later.            It found that congestion at the airport is increasing.

We know that in 1965, 65 minutes was scheduled by airlines to fly between Sydney and Melbourne, and yet today it’s 90 minutes and it’s growing. Because Sydney is the hub, a delay at Sydney Airport has knock-on effects right around the country. This is a handbrake on the nation’s productivity and it particularly is a handbrake on Sydney.

We know that previously, just 10 years ago, more than half of all international flights came to Sydney. We know now that figure has fallen to below 40 percent. There are, right now, no extra slots available during peak periods for regional airlines at Sydney Airport, and we know that the pressure is there right now. But it will get even worse.

We know also this is an issue from the report, not just about aviation but also about land transport issues.  The traffic congestion that occurs around the airport would be familiar to all those who use the airport and struggle to get to and from Kingsford Smith Airport.

Sydney will need a second airport. What it requires is a mature bipartisan approach from the Australian Government, New South Wales Government, from all political parties to not play politics with this issue but to get a resolution.

QUESTION:  [Indistinct] example recently, we saw Barry O’Farrell [Indistinct] powers to redesign bike paths in the CBD for very [Indistinct] reasons. At what point does the Federal Government wrestle this from the New South Wales Government? A matter that we saw Mr Rudd a few years ago seek to take over the health system. Are you approaching that point now where you’re just going to grab this and run with it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we’re certainly hopeful that Barry O’Farrell and the New South Wales Government will listen to what everyone is saying. This isn’t just the national government, this is members of his government, senior members of the Federal Opposition, Qantas, Virgin Airlines, the major airlines, those people who rely upon Sydney Airport to carry business traffic into and out of, the tourism industry. We right now have a great opportunity where we are in the world – close to the growing middle classes of China, India, Indonesia and other countries in our region – to get great benefit for this country, and for Sydney in particular. And what we need is real solutions. What we don’t need is the idea that the solution to Sydney’s aviation needs is a train. We are an island continent. If we are going to engage with the rest of the world we have historically relied upon aviation. We will continue to do so.

QUESTION:  So at the moment, are you saying the final say rests with the O’Farrell Government about a second airport in Sydney or anywhere in New South Wales? Do they have the ultimate veto?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we’re giving consideration to the report, and the Government is considering next steps forward. I’ve written to the NSW Government asking for cooperation of his department, the Premier’s Department, my department, Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure NSW to progress this. The reality is it’s very hard if the New South Wales Government is saying no, because airports aren’t islands, airports rely upon the land transport linkages around them. And one of the benefits that can be got from a second Sydney airport is improved land transport infrastructure.

This is an opportunity for Sydney. It’s one that shouldn’t be lost.

QUESTION:  So you do have the power to make the final say and force a second airport?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have power over aviation activity, but if you don’t have cooperation about planning and land transport issues around the airport, it becomes very hard to progress this issue.

What I’m saying is that Barry O’Farrell and the NSW Government need to read the report that was written by their own departments, their own Department of Transport, their own Department of Planning.

The reason why, as the Transport Minister, I set up a joint approach to try and get rid of the politics, to try and get rid of the game playing between different tiers of government  and the buck passing, to try and get a cooperative approach.

Now this committee has produced a 3,200 page report.  It is worthy of serious consideration, in my view, it is necessary for governments of all persuasions to support the recommendations that are in that report.  But to just dismiss it and say that we won’t worry about any increase in aviation…

What the report also shows is that unless something is done for Sydney, there will be an end to noise sharing at Sydney Airport. We’ve seen that before, we’ve seen the consequences of that before. We know that there have been pushes to get regional airlines out of Sydney Airport and pushed to Bankstown or another secondary airport. That’s been rejected by the Federal Government, but this is an issue, particularly for regional New South Wales as well, and I think regional members of the NSW Government should give real consideration to what’s in this report…

QUESTION:  [Indistinct] development of new infrastructure in Sydney to accommodate exactly what you’re talking about leads to a second airport.  [Indistinct] a policy of many years of consolidation where railways and roads weren’t being built because the existing infrastructure was being taken advantage of. Would you do a deal with the new State Government to help fund this infrastructure that’s needed?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well look we are prepared to have a cooperative relationship here. The engaging in conflict politics seems to be something that the New South Wales Government can’t quite get over. What the NSW Government have to recognise is that they’re no longer the Opposition, they’ve actually got to achieve outcomes, not just criticise the Federal Government or criticise somebody else for the problems that are there.

Now the quality of the NSW submission to Infrastructure Australia last year was certainly not improved and certainly Infrastructure Australia needs to work with the NSW Government. Certainly, the formation of Infrastructure NSW is a positive sign, in my view, that they’re prepared to examine serious economic issues for infrastructure needs in Sydney. But at the moment it’s simply not good enough for NSW and the great state of NSW, the great global city of Sydney to say this is all too hard. And that seems to be the approach of the New South Wales Government at the moment.

QUESTION:  So what’s your threat – what’s your warning to the Premier if he just fails to consider a second airport?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The consequences are there, and the consequences are there for all those who rely upon aviation to get around this country and to connect with the globe. The warnings are there in terms of the increase in delays which will occur…

People who use Sydney Airport, business people come up to me all the time and say that the delays are getting worse. The news is it will continue to get worse unless something’s done about the infrastructure capacity of aviation for Sydney. It will continue to get worse, and what’s more the concentration of noise will occur over a period of time. The report says that by 2015, essentially there’ll be traffic chaos around Sydney Airport, it also indicates that noise sharing will diminish over a period of time, and we’re seeing that occurring already.

So it’s simply not good enough to pretend that nothing can be done.

It is one thing to do nothing if you are blissfully unaware of the consequences. This report from the State Government as well as the Federal Government  to the Premier and to the Federal Government  makes it very clear what those consequences are.

QUESTION:  So what is the nature of the Commonwealth’s power to ride roughshod, if you like, over the State Government if they continue to be stubborn on this? At what point, just going back to that earlier question, does the Federal Government sort of intervene once and for all and make this happen?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the truth is it will be very difficult. You can’t operate an airport without operating the land transport and planning issues around that airport. We require the cooperation of NSW, we expect to get the cooperation of NSW. If that doesn’t occur, NSW will be saying no to jobs. They’ll be saying to tourists go to Melbourne or go to Gold Coast or go somewhere else. We’re already seeing a lack of flights into Sydney Airport, flights that could go here if the slots were available. We’re already seeing economic loss for NSW.

Over a period of time, over 20 years, this report estimates a $6 billion loss. In just over 20 years’ time. That’s an enormous figure. In terms of jobs we know that for every million passengers it creates 1000 full-time jobs. There’s great benefit in aviation activity. It’s simply extraordinary that any political leader in 2012 would say no to that economic activity.

QUESTION:  The Premier’s put out a release this morning saying that your position on the expansion of Sydney Airport is motivated by your own self interest because your electorate is obviously under the flight path. What do you say to those sorts of arguments?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the Premier needs to act like a Premier and get above personal point scoring. This isn’t about me, this isn’t about Barry O’Farrell. I’m not arguing that Sydney Airport should be shut. There are some in my electorate who argue that. I don’t argue that because I understand how important this piece of national infrastructure is for the national economy.

What Barry O’Farrell should do is look at the substance of the issues. Barry O’Farrell continues to resort to personal points when issues are raised with him. He’s no longer the Opposition Leader, he’s the Premier with a huge mandate and with a very big majority. He should actually use that political mandate to do some good for infrastructure in New South Wales and should act cooperatively.

QUESTION:  Are you saying they need the cooperation of the NSW Government for land transport if a second airport is built? Can’t you take control of that as well, given that it’s so urgent?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  No. There are a range of constitutional issues, with regard to the control of planning in NSW that are there. What I want is a cooperative relationship. This is to the benefit of Sydney and NSW, in particular.  The Premiers of Victoria and the Premiers of Queensland, as well as some of our international competitors, would take great heart from Premier O’Farrell’s statements. But it simply isn’t good enough to say Sydney doesn’t want any further economic activity.

QUESTION:  By way of enticing the Premier to act, what can the Federal Government offer NSW, given it is the gateway to Australian tourists, given that it does have one third of the country’s population? What incentive can you give [indistinct]…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This incentive speaks for itself. NSW can either grow, have tourists come here, spend money, create jobs, have that economic activity that comes with a second airport or that money, economic activity and employment can go somewhere else…

QUESTION:  But the Federal Government [indistinct]…extra infrastructure [indistinct]…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …[Indistinct] and what can also occur, in terms of the operation of Sydney Airport itself. So people can avoid coming through Sydney because of the delays that will blow-out. We know that once it reaches a capacity, in terms of peak periods, the delays are there in the report. Already, there’s a cap at Sydney Airport of 80 movements per hour. What the report indicates is that even if you lifted the cap, what that would do is capture one year of growth. That is all. And you’d be back in the same situation, with more congestion.

The problem, when you have the peak at Sydney Airport growing in the way that it is, so that it’s no longer just from eight o’clock to nine o’clock – it’s now from just after 6.30 growing through to 10.30, and that will grow in the morning and it will grow in the afternoon, so that it essentially runs just about all day – is that once there is a delay due to an unforeseen event – a security issue, a weather issue – that delay and knock-on occurs throughout the day and it can never be caught up. So that every plane running through Sydney – and because most planes on the national network run through Sydney at some time during the day – every plane during the day runs late. That has a huge impact on our ability to conduct business, in terms of productivity, but it also, of course, has an effect in terms of inconvenience of recreational travellers.

The case is very clear. The Premier needs to actually read the report and come up with a mature response, rather than just a response of rejection. What he is rejecting is jobs and economic activity in New South Wales.

QUESTION:  Minister, just a question on another topic. We have tried to get some response from the Government today about another sex scandal involving Defence, with a soldier arrested over an alleged rape at Duntroon. Have you got any response to that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: My understanding is that that is an issue that has been referred to the AFP and therefore, given there’s an investigation, and a criminal investigation underway, it would be quite inappropriate for me to comment.

QUESTION:  Does it point to an inappropriate culture [indistinct]…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It would be inappropriate for me to comment, given the investigations that are underway. Thank you.