ISSUES: Second Sydney airport
ALAN JONES: Look many of you have written to me about this next question of a second airport such that I thought we’d at least try and speak to the minister and get some answers if there are any. Earlier this month there was a joint state and federal report on aviation capacity in the Sydney region, released by the Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese. But it only told us, really, what we already know, that Kingsford Smith Airport is close to capacity, and that its absolute limit will soon be reached at the present rate of growth. Now a curfew is not going to be eased. And you can fiddle around with flight frequencies and train services and so on, but once maximum capacity is reached, then you are seriously affecting economic growth in this extraordinary city, and you may also be affecting, I’m sure you would be, public health. The New South Wales Government which collaborated on the study declined to be associated with the final report. One thing the report made clear was that urban sprawl has made all the sites in the Sydney basin more or less difficult if not impossible for it to be sited – for a second airport to be sited. Barry O’Farrell has spoken of the value of a high speed rail link between Sydney and Canberra, extending perhaps to Melbourne and Brisbane which would then serve a second airport somewhere along the way. But there’s the same story – high speed rail means high cost. And whether it’s high speed rail or second airports, no one’s most probably got the money.
This is a serious political issue because way back in the 1990s the Hawke and Keating governments planned to build the second airport at Badgerys Creek. The land was bought, it was thought to be a sparsely populated area anyway. Millions were spent and then the Howard government said Sydney would never need a second airport, and that land has been sold. That judgement of course was a fair way off the mark. So the second airport was abandoned in favour of a third runway at Mascot. Then the Howard government, as I said, cancelled Badgerys Creek altogether, and Anthony Albanese has now ruled out that site. Now it seems attention has been turned to Wilton, south west of Sydney, that’s not ideal. Its position is close to the catchments of Sydney water supply dams, and it’s a very hilly area. Barry O’Farrell is saying a second airport shouldn’t be built in the Sydney basin, and as I said, that comes back to the alternative – a high speed rail link connecting Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, to reduce domestic air traffic and to provide a link to a distant second airport if and when it’s built. This is not easy – independent of the politics of it, it doesn’t matter whether they’re Labor, Liberal or what they are. This is a very, very difficult issue to resolve.
Anthony Albanese is the Infrastructure Minister and he’s on the line. Minister, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Thank you for your time. Whichever way you look at it, this is a nightmare, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, this is the ultimate tough issue but it’s one that does have to be faced. What the report says is that it’s really an economic issue, it’s an issue of jobs, and we’ll lose something like…
ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] Have you been coaching football teams?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve been crook, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Oh.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And the problem with this Parliament House down here is if you get the flu it’s very hard with the air conditioning to get out of it, so I’m channelling Darren Lockyer. [Laughter]
ALAN JONES: I hope you’re sleeping in a different room from the bride.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well she’s in Sydney, so I certainly am. [Laughter]
ALAN JONES: Oh, dear me. Well my thoughts are with you, that’s not pleasant. But people are tired, I mean people are writing to me, they’ve been through this debate over and over again, aren’t they – where is it going to end?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, what it shows is that we do need to act. The consequences are just extraordinary. Some $6 billion dollar cost to economic activity in Sydney by 2035 alone.
ALAN JONES: But how do you find an area that’s not going to end up causing enormous grief to people who currently live around it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the truth is that there will be difficulties wherever you have infrastructure, you’ll have some difficulties created.
ALAN JONES: Do the experts think a high speed rail line is an answer? Say, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No they don’t, they looked at international examples, and essentially they come down to Badgerys Creek or Wilton, as the two possible sites that are there. Just a slight correction, Alan, the land has still been preserved at Badgerys Creek. We have said at two elections that we had ruled it out, so we’re having a good look at Wilton.
ALAN JONES: But my understanding is there’s only 770 hectares at Badgerys Creek, and that would be too small to be developed as a major airport to take the planes that Kingsford Smith can now accommodate.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No the report indicates that that would be possible, and that also Wilton is a big enough – could be a big enough site as well. They looked everywhere.
ALAN JONES: But if you put an airport at Wilton or Badgerys Creek, you’d have to – for example – when people land there, we don’t have the infrastructure road or rail to get them to Sydney.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well one of the reasons why the report favoured Badgerys Creek was of course, you have the M7. And you also have the South West Rail extension…
ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] Right.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: To Leppington.
ALAN JONES: But then you’d need half a million litres of fuel a day, we’ve got no means of getting that kind of fuel to Badgerys Creek or to Wilton.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, it looked at those issues, and it found that they weren’t insurmountable. Wilton is also a site that would create real economic activity and jobs in the Illawarra, not just for south-west Sydney. It looked at land transport issues, and what they are, where Sydney will grow, and of course there’s a limit to Sydney growing to the north-west, but it will continue to grow to the south-west, it was jointly chaired by Sam Haddad, the head of…
ALAN JONES: Planning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …the New South Wales Planning Department, and the good thing about this was that you had NSW and the Commonwealth bureaucrats as well as significant people from the private sector, Jennifer Westacott, the head of the Business Council of Australia and others coming up with a unanimous report and it’s a serious body of work. I released it the day that I got it rather than come and put spin on it, just put it all out there for community discussion.
ALAN JONES: So you’re saying basically, if we were to say where are we today, on a second airport, we could answer that question by saying, it’s Badgerys Creek, or Wilton?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s right, that’s what the report indicates, and it also indicates the enormous cost to the whole national economy, because Sydney’s essentially the hub, if you have a delay at Sydney, and those people who travel regularly will know that the delays have been growing as the capacity is reached at Sydney Airport, it has an impact on the whole system. And I think just one figure, Alan, that stunned me, was that in 1965 they used to schedule 65 minutes to go from Sydney to Melbourne, today, in spite of the better technology, better aircraft, they schedule 90 minutes. Why? Because of that congestion.
ALAN JONES: Yes. I’m just thinking, as you were speaking there, about Badgerys Creek, I mean there will be very significant concern about say the Warragamba and Prospect Dams, and the potential for water pollution, I mean these are very significant issues in terms of Sydney’s interests…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, absolutely, Alan, which is why nothing can be approved, and we’re looking towards having a scoping study at Wilton, but nothing can be approved without a full Environmental Impact Statement. I’ve had meetings including with the Coalition here in Canberra yesterday, all MPs have been fully briefed on it, we’re hoping to get cooperation from the NSW Government to examine this because it is such a serious economic issue…
ALAN JONES: Yes, it is, I’ll just come back to that point, I mean okay, if you say Badgerys Creek or Wilton, I’ll just come back to that point, I mean my understanding is you would need, as I said, about half a million litres of fuel a day, so do we have dozens of tankers on the road? How do we get – or do we move the fuel by rail, or do we build a pipeline? These are massive supporting infrastructure costs, aren’t they?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, they are and they all need to be examined fully. What we know from this report though is the consequences, and we know that people are more and more flying domestically, but also internationally, the cost to tourism and jobs. we know that the demand, as the middle class grows in China and India and Indonesia in our region, there’ll be huge opportunities for us to benefit from that incoming traffic. Sydney’s full, Melbourne Airport grew in terms of international flights by more than four times that of Sydney last year. Sydney is missing out right now.
ALAN JONES: So where does the authority lie, can this only be done on an agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales, or can this be done independently by the Commonwealth? You don’t own land at Wilton, I understand, you’re saying we still do own the 1770 hectares at Badgerys Creek?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s correct.
ALAN JONES: Has none of that been sold?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, that’s right.
ALAN JONES: Right, but we don’t own any land at Wilton?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What it needs essentially is cooperation from the NSW Government, they control planning, I received the report jointly from Mike Mrdak, who’s the secretary of my department, and Mr Haddad, from New South Wales Planning, certainly there’ve been discussions at official levels, but what it needs is the politicians to acknowledge yes, it will be hard, this is a tough issue, like all infrastructure issues, I mean high speed rail, wait till we get to that, that requires a 200 metre wide corridor…
ALAN JONES: Yeah.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …that’s going to create all sorts of issues, but it’s nonetheless not something that should be just dismissed.
ALAN JONES: Well, it’s all part of the infrastructure deficit, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, and we need to address it.
ALAN JONES: You’re the boss, you’re the Minister for Infrastructure, how many notches will there be on your belt before you go, and leave this world of active politics?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’m pretty pleased with how we are going. I spoke last night at the Bus Industry Confederation Conference and one of the figures I’m particularly proud of is we’ve committed more to urban public transport since 2007, than was committed by all governments from Federation right up, the previous 107 years. As well, we’ve doubled the roads budget, we’ve increased the rail freight budget by more than 10 times.
ALAN JONES: So when do you think – I mean this goes on and on, doesn’t it, when do you reckon, just take all the politics out of it, just suppose you left politics tomorrow, when, on the knowledge that you have gathered, do you believe we would have a concrete decision on the site of a second airport?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I think we’ve got to make one this term, is my objective, to go through the processes. It takes a year to have a proper Environmental Impact Statement at least…
ALAN JONES: And is that land at Wilton available, or will you have to buy people out?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We will – there will have to be purchase of land, if it gets the go-ahead.
ALAN JONES: Okay. Well, thank you, that’s clarified a lot of issues, it is a big issue, and a continuing issue, and as I said to you, no matter where it goes, there are always going to be people along the way, who are going to be injured by the decision that’s taken, aren’t there?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is indeed, Alan. Something else that’s happening in Federal Parliament today, if I could mention, because I know it’s an issue that you’ve campaigned long and hard on, is safe rates for truck drivers…
ALAN JONES: Yes.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …that will be…
ALAN JONES: Yes, I hope…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …hopefully going through the Parliament today.
ALAN JONES: Thank you, I’m interested in looking at the detail of all of that, and I thank you for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, Alan.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.