Issues: Need for a second Sydney airport; Badgerys Creek site; NSW Government position
FRAN KELLY: Plans to build a second international airport for Sydney have been on the drawing board, as I mentioned, for almost 50 years now, and the latest top level review of the aviation needs of Australia’s biggest city is still in limbo as the federal and state governments squabble over a location.
The Commonwealth is now pushing for Wilton, 80 kilometres south-west of Sydney, but the New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell is sticking by an election promise not to build another airport inside the Sydney Basin. You might notice there I haven’t made any mention of Badgerys Creek. Critics warn inaction could cost the Australian economy up to $60 billion in foregone expenditure and GDP by 2060. That’s along with 80,000 jobs.
Anthony Albanese is the Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister.
Minister, welcome to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Building an airport is not that hard in the sense that we know how to do it. This particular airport in the Sydney Basin has been on the drawing board for almost 50 years. Why is there no second airport for Sydney which carries almost half of all domestic and international passengers in this country?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a difficult issue, Fran, and we’re seeing some of that played out at the moment. That’s why to get a result, you need a mature bipartisan approach. That’s why I set up for the first time a joint study, joint with federal and state. So you had the New South Wales Department of Transport, the New South Wales Department of Planning, both those heads, on the committee as well as my Department, and then four people from the private sector including the CEO of the Business Council of Australia; Warwick Smith, a former Howard Government minister; Chris Brown, the former head of the Tourism and Transport Forum; and Warren Mundy, the Deputy Chair of Airservices Australia.
They’ve come up with a very strong and comprehensive report. It indicates that Sydney Airport is essentially full. We know that it’s a very small site. Melbourne is two and a half times bigger. Brisbane is three times larger than Kingsford Smith Airport. We know there are constraints there.
Essentially if we don’t do something about this now then we will be saying no to future productivity, no to future jobs, no to economic activity, and really put under threat Sydney’s position as a global city.
FRAN KELLY: Okay, but this joint study and all those wise heads that you gathered together there, that you just ran through, they came up with the number one recommendation for building an airport at Badgerys Creek. Quote, “It’s located to growing markets in the western regions of Sydney, close to road and rail transport links.” That was their top pick. Yet the Commonwealth has said no to their top pick. Why?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Commonwealth had already ruled out Badgerys Creek as the site for a second airport. That was the position that Labor took back in 2003.
FRAN KELLY: But your expert committee has just told you that was the wrong decision.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right but it then went on to say that if Badgerys Creek was ruled out, which it has been by both Federal Labor and the Federal Coalition, then Wilton was the other site where this issue could be progressed, but that they were the only two sites that were available. The critical thing about this issue is that they said in this report – they looked at more than 20 sites – they came down to look at 10 in quite considerable detail and the report is there for all to see.
So that is why the Government has a view of progressing the work that’s required for the Wilton site as a next step. That has received some bipartisan support from members of the federal Liberal Party and I think that is a constructive approach because this is an issue that needs to be above politics if it’s going to be progressed. I mean, what has endangered this issue time and time again is political game-playing and therefore we need to rise above it. I think that the Australian people expect that.
FRAN KELLY: Well, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who almost started the build of the second airport at Badgerys Creek, says that political game-playing continues. He said, inaction on Badgerys Creek – he actually said, in this race there is only one Black Caviar and it’s Badgerys Creek. And says, inaction on Badgerys Creek would only be for base political purposes. Do you accept that politics have led you to rule out Badgerys Creek?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I, of course, accept that politics has been enshrined in the issue of a second airport for Sydney. Since Chifley first mentioned it in 1948 it has interfered. The fact is that the government of which Paul Keating was Treasurer had a choice of building a third runway in Kingsford Smith Airport or building Badgerys Creek. They chose to build the third runway and delayed the building of Badgerys Creek airport. They then went on to purchase the land and to act in terms of prepare it for readiness. And had Paul Keating been elected as Prime Minister in 1996, at that election, it was a bipartisan issue, the issue of Badgerys Creek airport.
FRAN KELLY: So why is Badgerys Creek no longer the best – issue… can you explain why Wilton is your preferred option?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Wilton has been identified as an option that is…
FRAN KELLY: Why do you like it best?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: If you look at the report, Wilton has less people who would be affected by aircraft noise. Wilton is a site that’s close to transport linkages. It could be a major generator of jobs for the Illawarra as well as for south-west Sydney. We need to ensure that we progress this issue.
The report clearly says that they are the two options that should be considered by government and I’m determined to progress this issue. I’m doing what I can to ensure there’s a bipartisan approach to it. That’s why I set up this joint committee and ensured that it reported well into the term of the O’Farrell government to try to get that bipartisan approach. The head of New South Wales…
FRAN KELLY: But what if you can’t get it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …Planning was the chair.
FRAN KELLY: What if you can’t get it? Does the Commonwealth have jurisdiction here and will you push this through?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Commonwealth has jurisdiction over the airport itself. What we need state cooperation on is issues such as the utilities for the airport, the planning issues that go in with dealing with an airport. Obviously it would need land transport links and we’d need cooperation of the State Government on those issues.
So I’m certainly still pushing for the State Government to adopt a mature approach to this. This is…
FRAN KELLY: Well, Barry O’Farrell won’t. I mean, he said he’s not going to break an election promise. He says it’s too expensive. It will cost seven to eleven billion dollars.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: If anyone thinks Barry O’Farrell was elected Premier of New South Wales because of something he said about the second airport, I think that is a very hard argument to sustain.
Indeed journalists have asked Mr O’Farrell where is commitment is that he’s talking about and he has sent them a pretty vague response from a Q&A session from Quentin Dempster at one stage. That’s the only thing that he can point to.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, just anyone listening to this interview I think would come away with the feeling that it’s still just as bogged down as ever and it’s unlikely we’re any closer to getting a second airport. It’s not going to happen in this term of government, that’s for sure.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The evidence is there. The evidence is in. We want to act on that evidence. International experience shows that airports create 1,000 jobs for every million passengers. Everyone who uses Sydney Airport knows about the congestion that’s there both on the ground getting to and from the airport, but also – I sat on the tarmac for 40 minutes yesterday. That’s an experience that many business travellers will have. In terms of our economic productivity we simply cannot afford to not act on this issue. I’m determined to do so. The Government is determined to do so. I’m pleased that people of significance in the Opposition, including Joe Hockey the Shadow Treasurer, Scott Morrison and others, are prepared to do so.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.