Feb 21, 2013

Transcript of Doorstop – Terminal 3, Sydney Airport – 21 February 2013

SUBJECTS: Second Sydney Airport; $1 billion Plan for Australian Jobs; Qantas results 

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for joining us here. Today the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics is releasing a paper. What that paper does is identify on-time performance at Australia’s airports, and identifies Sydney as the worst-performing mainland airport in Australia.

One in five planes going into or leaving Sydney are late, and that is expected to double by 2025. This is a problem for Sydney, but it’s also a problem for the nation, because four out of every 10 aircraft go through Sydney. A delay in Sydney has a knock-on effect right throughout the aviation network, causing a handbrake on productivity for the national economy.

This report, once again, highlights why Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later, and it highlights why governments need to work together – both the National Government and the New South Wales Government – to achieve that end.

Can I also make a point about infrastructure? I note that yesterday, once again, Tony Abbott was shown up when it comes to the detail of economic policy, where he spoke about his plan to deal with the private health insurance rebate.

He again repeated a thought bubble on infrastructure, where he hasn’t done proper costings, hasn’t done proper plans, and hasn’t said where the money that he’s saying he’ll commit to road projects will come from. Importantly, his own Shadow Transport Minister, Warren Truss said last year that the timelines that Tony Abbott had put on these projects weren’t achievable.

And of course, we know that the WestConnex project here in Sydney is very much at an early stage of development without a business case having been developed. So the idea that funding can immediately begin and construction can begin before the proper planning has been done – it simply isn’t the case.

It again highlights that Tony Abbott is a policy lightweight when it comes to details, and that’s why, between now and September 14, he needs to be held to account for his policy commitments. Happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Will you nominate where you would like to build a second airport for Sydney before the next election?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve often said to journalists, if they ask the same question, they shouldn’t be surprised that they get the same answer. The Government is yet to receive the report on Wilton. We’ll consider the report – we’ll then deal with it as a Government. We will also release the report publicly.

And in addition, what I’ve made very clear – and indeed I have had some bipartisan support for this – is that Sydney Airport needs to be not a political football – and there needs to be discussions across party lines as well, given the long-term nature of the project. Those discussions have taken place and are taking place. But let’s receive the report first, before we determine the outcome of the report.

QUESTION: But you will receive the report before the election, so…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: As I’ve said before, when you’ve asked the same question, you’ll get the same answer. We’ll receive the report, we’re not going to pre-empt the report. We’ll receive it, analyse it, release it publicly, then make a decision as a government after proper government processes have taken place. We will release the report publicly.

It’s also important, on this issue, that there be bipartisanship. If this becomes a political football, as it has in the past, we won’t see progress. I’m about achieving outcomes, I’m about advancing the second airport for Sydney. I believe it’s a vital infrastructure project for Sydney, and the report today reinforces that.

QUESTION: Is there not more scope to try and improve services here at Kingsford Smith before going and building a second airport?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve seen another report or piece of spin from Sydney Airport today that suggests that, when the 747s are phased out, as they might be some time into the future, and replaced by A380s, that somehow, that will result in no aircraft noise around Sydney.

Now, these are the facts – under four per cent of aircraft that leave Sydney Airport are 747s. So what we’re talking about is an impact of less than one in every 25 aircraft. What we know now from the report is that the idea that Sydney can cope with more aircraft than 80 an hour is contradicted by what is actually happening on the ground and in the sky.

I’ve just arrived on a plane – it was delayed coming into Sydney in the middle of the day – a plane that was due in at 11:55 a.m. The peak hour performances are far worse, and we’re seeing the increased congestion.

The idea that the airport can cope with the growth that will occur is simply defied by the facts, defied by the joint report between the Australian Government and the New South Wales Government – defied by every regular passenger who uses this airport.

Sydney is very much constrained by where it is. Sydney is two-and-a-half times smaller than Melbourne, and three times smaller than Brisbane. There’s a problem with its ability to grow.

You know, you have a situation whereby increasingly, people who arrive at the airport sit on the plane, on the tarmac, waiting for a plane to push back from a gate so that they can actually get access to the terminal. These are occurrences that happen every single day.

Sydney is a physically constrained airport – both physically constrained in terms of the site of the airport and the size of it, but also physically constrained in terms of the traffic gridlock that occurs – particularly during peak hours on the roads around Sydney Airport. As the report has also indicated, increasingly during peak periods people won’t be able to get on the train because the trains will be full before they reach the stations here at Kingsford Smith Airport.

So you can try and argue that you can fiddle, but the reality is, what you need to do is build a second airport for Sydney. It’s vital for jobs, it’s vital for economic growth, it’s vital for Sydney’s position as a global city into the future, but it’s also vital in terms of the national economy, because Sydney is the hub of aviation activity.

We have seen massive expansion of aviation activity in our region. We have a great opportunity to benefit from the growth in the middle class in China, Indonesia, India in our region. We can take advantage of that opportunity, or we can miss out.

And when we miss out, what analysis shows is that some planes might go to Melbourne, some might go to Brisbane, but some will choose another destination entirely. And that means a loss of national economic growth. And that is why these issues have to be dealt with.

I think the spin from Sydney Airport today highlights how desperate they have become to pretend that this place (Sydney Airport) is not approaching full capacity.

It’s quite frankly just absurd to go out there and argue that A380s are going to replace, or give an impression that A380s are going to replace every plane that operates domestic and international from this airport.

People in the aviation sector know that that’s the case.

QUESTION: It looks like for the first time in 30 years WSROC will vote tonight on the possibility of not opposing a second airport at Badgerys Creek. How do you feel about that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a matter for WSROC. One of the things that we know, is that a second airport for Sydney will bring jobs and economic growth. If you were thinking about what you could do to stimulate jobs, there are two things that you can do that excel beyond all other activity.

They’re a university and an airport, because what you have is not just the direct jobs that are created, but you have also the indirect jobs. And they’re high value jobs – in the logistics sector, in the tourism sector, in the business community, and it can be a real driver of economic activity.

There are of course people in the Illawarra, in the Central Coast, in the Hunter who are all campaigning and arguing for increased aviation activity. Unlike the Greens Political Party, they don’t argue that this place should be shut. The Greens Political Party argue against Wilton, against Badgerys, against any airport for Sydney.

I can understand how you can get out of Sydney in terms of driving or catching a train. I don’t quite understand how you get to go overseas or get to engage in economic activity. I mean that’s really consigning – forgetting about Sydney as a global city, saying Sydney should have no airport at all, which is what the Greens political party’s position is.

QUESTION: What about increase the hourly cap – the suggestion that it could move up to 85. It was recommended by a report last year. You said something needs to be done sooner rather than later, and you believe in [indistinct]. Why not do that? That’s a simpler measure.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because at the moment, with the airport cap of 80 movements per hour, a cap put in by the Howard Government, which has bipartisan support – when there’s a delay, there is already a knock-on effect, and it takes an increased amount of time to catch up. If there’s a delay at 7:30 in the morning, it takes until about eleven o’clock before planes are back on time.

If you increase the cap, it will make a marginal difference. The report showed that perhaps you might be able to get a few extra aircraft in every hour, but any time there was a delay, the delay would be pushed out even further.

I think anyone who uses this airport knows that the cap of 80 movements per hour is sensible. It’s struggling, and today’s report shows one in five aircraft being delayed with a restriction of 80 movements per hour being scheduled.

If you tried to squeeze more in, the delays would be longer, and you would end up with a worse situation in terms of congestion. And delays have an impact right around the system. Four out of 10 aircraft come through Sydney at some stage during the day.

A delay in Sydney – the plane I was just on that was delayed – when it goes to its next destination, it will leave late because of the turnaround time. Then, at its next destination, wherever that is, it will be delayed – whether it be Brisbane or Melbourne or Adelaide. So you have this knock-on impact.

And the idea that you can squeeze more out of this airport is just not borne out by the facts. I think this rather silly argument that all planes from Sydney Airport are going to be A380s, really fails to stack up.

I asked Sydney Airport, after they had a big splash on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald about their new plan to deal with increased capacity – in December of two years ago. They said it was ready. They said they had a grand plan to be able to deal with growth.

I said, well show us the plan. Sydney Airport took the Government to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and said they weren’t ready to show people what that plan was. And indeed that plan is now due in December of this year. It’s pretty clear that the constraints that are here at Sydney Airport can’t be dealt with because of where it is.

And plans like building a runway across the bay so the planes crash into each other, or other so-called plans, are really just a ploy to delay action, pretend that this place can survive as Sydney’s sole airport and to essentially defend the monopoly interests of the owners of Sydney Airport. Well, so be it.

Monopolies will tend to defend monopoly interests. But there is an interest of Sydney and New South Wales and the national economy that goes beyond those monopoly interests and politicians across the political spectrum need to acknowledge that and not be captives of those monopoly interests.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t want to pre-empt the processes of the Council. I’ll await their determinations. That is a matter for them. I’m not a member of the Western Sydney Region of Councils. I wasn’t aware that they were meeting tonight, to be frank. But they will have those discussions.

But it doesn’t surprise me that when people look at economic opportunities that come from aviation activity that there is some support for that.

QUESTION: Surely you have an opinion. I mean, you’re just waiting for the outcome. Why can’t you [indistinct] it could go your way. [Indistinct].

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it’s a pretty good idea to not tell other political representatives in other tiers of government, of which I’m not an elected member, how to represent their local community’s interests.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Wilton is a preferred site for the Government. We have made that determination, but we’re examining what the issues are around Wilton. We know what the issues are in terms of Badgerys Creek because we went through a full EIS process and had a lot more detail around it.

Wilton hasn’t had that. That’s why it’s important in terms of coming up with evidence-based policy solutions that we get the evidence out there for all to see.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’ll wait and see what they determine tonight with some interest.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] It’s a pretty big policy. Shouldn’t it at least be up for discussion in the coming election?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m here discussing it. This is a press conference. I don’t think that I’ve been shy about discussing the need for Sydney to have a second airport. Indeed, I commissioned the report. I made the most comprehensive report that’s ever been done on these issues public. I’ve commissioned further work in terms of Wilton.

As part of that as well, there is work being done on Richmond – on whether Richmond RAAF base can be opened up to a limited number of commercial passenger aircraft. And that is part of the study that’s taking place as well. Obviously as part of that we need to have discussions with the Royal Australian Air Force and Defence about those issues.

But I don’t think it can be argued that I’ve been shy about discussing these issues.

QUESTION: Minister, you haven’t been shy about [indistinct].

ANTHONY ALBANESE: You are right that it has waited a long time. But what we need is actually a decision that sticks. There has been lots of discussions and lots of talks. We need a decision that sticks and a decision that sticks will be one that sticks over a long period of time.

In between a decision being made and an airport opened is a period, not of a month or a year, it’s a period of a number of terms of federal and state governments. That’s why we need to engage in this debate. That’s why I’ve reached out and ensured that the Opposition have had proper briefings on these issues. Both the Opposition spokesperson and also with Opposition members who have requested it.

That’s why we’re engaged with industry, including Qantas and Virgin, but also other players in terms of the international airlines, including BARA. That’s why we’ve engaged in this consultative process. Because the community needs to go forward as one with a solution if it’s going to go from an idea in a policy announcement into a reality with planes flying at a second airport for Sydney.

What is increasingly becoming clear is that there is growing support for the idea – the simple idea that this airport here is constrained and Sydney needs a second airport for jobs, for economic growth and for maintaining our position as a global city.

QUESTION: So you’ve basically taken five and a bit years to get this far?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, that’s not right. We commissioned the study two and a bit years ago. You know, this is a complex area. You can’t just go into an area such as Wilton, for example, the study is examining the topography of the site. It’s examining the environmental issues. It’s examining water catchment issues. It’s examining planning.

And we’re doing this, you might have noticed, with the New South Wales Government saying the second Sydney airport should be somewhere not in New South Wales. If the New South Wales Government were a part of this process, it would obviously be easier.

QUESTION: So is this an election promise? Once that report is in and any other reports, the Labor Party will build [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: You’ve asked the same question that was asked before. This isn’t about elections. This is about Sydney’s future in terms of as a global city and this is about national economic productivity and about national infrastructure that is required.

QUESTION: You’ve been the Transport Minister for over five years. Would you have expected to nominate a site by now?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I was appointed Transport Minister on day one and I’m very proud of the record that we’ve got. Your paper wasn’t running stories about the need for a second Sydney airport five years ago when I was appointed. It was writing stores about other issues, including rezoning of land around Badgerys Creek.

You know, the fact is that this issue does need to be resolved. It needs to be resolved in a way that is proper. We’re getting the evidence in. This is evidence-based policy. I make no apologies for that. It’s about getting it right and getting the solutions right, rather than coming up with a simple slogan.

There are also constraints because of the Howard Government’s legislation, which privatised airports. I note that Max Moore-Wilton was in a position at that time over a range of issues that impact on Sydney Airport. But the leasing arrangements, of course, require notice to be given. They require a whole series of procedures to take place.

The Government isn’t going to break the law. The Government will comply with that legislation and that law. That requires notice to the owners of Sydney Airport Corporation Limited, to Macquarie Airport, to be given and for them to be involved in the process.

We began that in terms of the notification that we gave the airport pretty soon after March of last year. That’s one of the reasons why also we called for the master plan process to be brought forward.

QUESTION: Is legislation to – is legislation needed to undo the research and development tax that will fund the [indistinct]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We stand for jobs. I’m amazed, frankly, that there’s a suggestion that the other political parties don’t stand for jobs. Our position’s very clear on that.

Can I say just finally in terms of Qantas, Qantas have had a very good announcement today with regard to their figures. I want to see a successful Qantas, as well as a successful Virgin, here in Australia, operating as major airlines.

Qantas, as our national carrier, plays a particularly important role in the psyche of Australian national life, as well as in the national economy. And it’s good to see a positive result today from Qantas.

Thanks very much.