Oct 2, 2012

Transcript of interview – ABC 702 Mornings with Linda Mottram

Issues: Infrastructure NSW report; Second Sydney airport; High speed rail; Alan Jones’ comments; Sydney University Liberal Club function

LINDA MOTTRAM: So Badgerys Creek looks like it’s going to be dredged up again if the reports this morning are correct that the Infrastructure New South Wales report, due tomorrow at 10.00 am on the Government’s desk, led by former New South Wales Premier, Nick Greiner of course, if that delivers what we are reading about this morning.

Nick Greiner’s office wouldn’t confirm the Daily Tele’s report about a second airport in Western Sydney, in a certain location, long debated, but it’s out there, and Andrew Clennell in the Herald has said that it’s being favoured by Mr Greiner and co, we’ll find out for sure tomorrow.

But the man who knows this issue back to front of course, one man who knows it back to front, is Anthony Albanese, the Federal Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, who joins us this morning. Welcome, minister.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Good morning, Linda.

LINDA MOTTRAM:  We know you don’t want it at Badgerys, and we’ve heard that the Premier doesn’t favour it either, he’d prefer Canberra, if Mr Greiner does come out, as expected, as reported in the Tele today, could you ever be swayed to back Badgerys Creek for a second airport?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  What I won’t be surprised by is the fact that Infrastructure New South Wales, with Nick as the chair, when looking at the infrastructure needs of Sydney, will come out supporting a second airport. That’s consistent with the joint study that we released in March of this year.

Sydney Airport is approaching full capacity. There are problems not just with aviation capacity, but of course anyone who tries to get to the airport at peak hour knows that there’s real land transport issues and gridlock around the airport during peak hours. That was part of the report earlier today – that this essentially will lead to a loss of economic activity for Sydney and for New South Wales.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Yes. Well, I mean all of that said, a second airport does, you know, seem to be the view of many people, the second airport is essential, doesn’t it just now have to be taken holus bolus and dealt with? I mean Badgerys Creek, let’s just go for it, if that’s what Mr Greiner is suggesting?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, it does have to be dealt with. The comprehensive plan that we came out with said there are two options: Badgerys Creek and Wilton.

We’ve commenced a study into the Wilton site – to look in greater depth at the environmental issues and the planning issues around Wilton. I’m awaiting that report. Previously Governments of both persuasions had ruled out Badgerys Creek as a site, which is why we’re looking at Wilton.

We want to work with the State Government on a solution. We think the idea of Canberra is pretty absurd. Canberra is not Sydney. The idea that people will buy an airline ticket into Sydney and land in the national capital some 280 kilometres away is not a practical solution. Sydney does need a second airport.

LINDA MOTTRAM:  Okay, you’re looking at Wilton as a possibility, but I mean Nick Greiner, regardless of the fact that he’s from a different side of politics to you, is no slouch on this, I mean this is a…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Absolutely. I await the report. I obviously haven’t seen it yet, so it’s a bit difficult to comment on the detail, given it hasn’t been released. But I’d be surprised if anyone who was serious didn’t have a look at the need for a second airport, and come up with either Badgerys Creek or Wilton.

That’s what we came up with way back in 1984, when the EIS into a second Sydney airport was last seriously looked at.

LINDA MOTTRAM:  Yes. On the other hand, Mr O’Farrell’s comment that he doesn’t want any more aircraft noise dumped on Sydney, that for him was an election promise, is that not a fair position?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   No, it’s not. One, this was some obscure comment made somewhere in Lithgow at some stage to a question. The second airport was not an issue during the last state election.

Sydney does need an airport for economic reasons, for employment and jobs, and for our future as a global city. We are already losing economic capacity to Brisbane and to Melbourne. This is a national issue in terms of the economy, because four out of every 10 flights around Australia, go through Sydney. When you have a delay at Sydney Airport, the knock-on effect is becoming longer and longer.

The report we released earlier this year suggests that by 2020, if you have a delay in the morning, then it will take five hours for that to recover. Now that has a massive impact on the conduct of business in a city such as Sydney. It will mean that events go somewhere else, because people can’t get in and out of Sydney during the day, and it does impact on the economic life of a city.

I live very close to the end of the runway. I have to allow 40 minutes in peak hour to get from South Marrickville, where I live, just down the road to the airport, which is under four kilometres. It’s getting worse and we do need to do something about this.

This does need to be a bipartisan issue if it’s going to be successful, if people play the ‘it’s too hard’ card. It won’t be successful. I don’t argue as much as some people in my electorate might like me to, that Sydney Airport should be closed. I don’t argue that because of the economic consequences.  Politicians have got to be prepared to stand up – that’s what I’m doing – and I hope that the State Government uses this report to at least analyse and think about it. They rejected the joint report that their own department assisted in writing, before they’d even received it, or read it.

Now hopefully Mr Greiner’s report will mark a bit of a line in the sand, and an opportunity for the State Government to really reconsider its position.

LINDA MOTTRAM:  Okay, Anthony Albanese is our guest, Federal Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, of course a New South Wales-based MP. David’s on the line, just quickly, David, hi. What do you think, a second airport?

CALLER DAVID:  Minister, I’ve got to say, I’m just stupefied at the kind of intellectual vacuum that this conversation’s taking place in.

If you have a cursory glance at Wikipedia, you will see that greater than 50 per cent of all passenger movements out of Sydney go to either Melbourne, Canberra or south-east Queensland, the Gold Coast and Brisbane conurbation. Greater than 50 per cent, Minister.

Build a very fast speed train and we will never need to have a conversation about a second airport again because we all know where that conversation is going don’t we?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Let me predict this to you, David, if you think that there’s a noise and environmental impact-free solution in terms of a high-speed rail line, wait and see the reaction.  A study will come out at the end of the year.

If you build a corridor, which is 200 metres wide from Brisbane all the way through Melbourne, including through Sydney, just wait and see the reaction to that.

I support high-speed rail and we have a study investigating it, but it needs to be based upon fact. The idea that aviation has an impact but high-speed rail does not – have a look at the report. We’re retrofitting a high-speed rail line and the proposal includes retrofitting in heavily-densely populated areas.

LINDA MOTTRAM:   Mmm. The high-speed rail option always astonishes me that that – we’re going around the loop with that too for so many years when so many other countries have been able to conquer that one and we just can’t. It se…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   They have a few more people than us and they’re in much more densely populated areas. The challenge is very, very great here compared with China, or Japan, or, indeed, Europe.

LINDA MOTTRAM:   Just quickly, Greg’s on the line. Hi Greg.

CALLER GREG:  Hi, how are you doing?

LINDA MOTTRAM:  All right.

CALLER GREG: I just want to know, what’s wrong with having an airport out in the country, say, past Lithgow where no-one’s there and make a tunnel right through the Blue Mountains, an eight-lane highway. It’d be better for the transport of all produce and stock and everything’s from the – out in the regional areas, and people could just get either a fast bus or a fast train through to the airport, it wouldn’t take too long at all.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Thanks Greg. Minister, something different to contemplate on this issue [laughs].

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed, there’s not an original idea possible on this given it’s been discussed for more than 50 years.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Yeah. Well, obviously, that one’s not going to get a run, but it is interesting.

Anthony Albanese’s with us. Minister, can I just quickly take you back to your comment yesterday about Alan Jones.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Sure.

LINDA MOTTRAM:  You said that you, flat out, would not appear on his show. But why not?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I just think that his comments over the death of the Prime Minister’s father were just beyond the pale, and it’s pretty hard to have a conversation with someone who you lose respect for.

That could have been explained as a spur of the moment thing. But what explains the signing of the chaff bag? That sort of language being introduced into Australian political discourse – that the Prime Minister should be put in a chaff bag, taken out to sea and dumped, and then many months later Alan Jones signing it at a fundraiser for the Sydney Uni Liberal Club, which is a structural part of the Liberal Party of New South Wales – I just find just beyond the pale.

I think his apology, or non-apology, on Sunday where he repeated all of the accusations – I really do express concern for the nature of the discourse in this country that has occurred, particularly since 2010.

LINDA MOTTRAM:  Yeah. But Alan Jones says nasty comments have been made about him as well. One federal MP’s wife commenting about his cancer. And, of course, Greg Hunt this morning, the Opposition environment spokesman, a piece in The Australian saying, look, the ALP’s hypocritical on this. Is it actually, really, just a glib one-liner to get a headline, to say, oh look, you know, I won’t go on Alan Jones’s show? I mean, it’s much more serious than just that isn’t it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I’m the only minister to appear on Andrew Bolt’s TV program, I’ve done it twice. He’s someone you can engage with and put a view too, even though I disagree with his starting point ideologically.

When you go on Alan Jones’s show, it consists of Alan Jones putting his views and saying, ‘do you agree?’ There’s not an opportunity to put a view and it has got more acute over the years. Unless someone calls him on it, then it just continues.

I looked at my Twitter feed this morning and the level of the abuse is extraordinary.

I did the press conference yesterday outside my electorate office. That’s a place where there was an extraordinary demonstration about climate change, where people pushed and shoved, where the AFP had to be there, where the signs were just unbelievable attacking the Prime Minister in a personal manner and attacking myself and others.

Now, I chose to address that demonstration and to engage with them. But it is a level of political debate we haven’t seen before. I’ve been in Parliament since 1996 and since 2010 we’ve seen this call by Tony Abbott for a people’s revolt that has seemingly made nothing out of bounds – nothing is off limits in terms of the discourse that has occurred.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Mmm, well, I mean, it’s interesting Greg Hunt also points out that there’s a bit on your side to be answered for as well. But, I guess, we can…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  If he can point towards something like Alan Jones’s comments, I would be amazed and I would condemn them as well.

The only thing that I’ve seen raised is Bob Ellis, who is associated with the Labor Party and does make completely over-the-top and inappropriate comments from time to time about us, as well as about the Liberal Party.

LINDA MOTTRAM: What about the Prime Minister in question time, as Greg Hunt points out, comparing Tony Abbott to Jack the Ripper, who was a homicidal sexual predator?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The term is a very different – if you think, Linda, that that is the same as what Alan Jones said in terms of a debate then I would be surprised.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Thanks very much for your time.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thanks Linda.