Issues: Second Sydney airport; regional aviation; Tamworth Airport; Narrabri Airport; Infrastructure planning; Tamworth Hospital redevelopment; North West Cancer Centre
KELLY FULLER: Well, the federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese is in Tamworth today to talk hospital upgrades and airports.
He’s officially opening the new security upgrades, but it’s regional aviation issues that many local councils in the region are asking questions about.
Good morning, Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning. Good to be with you, Kelly.
KELLY FULLER: Thank you for your time.
Now, after the joint study on aviation capacity for the Sydney region, one of the recommendations was for the protection of existing runway slots for current regional passenger services. But from 2015, only planes with 50 seats or more will be given access to Sydney. And then, by 2020, only those with 70 or more seats will be permitted.
Councils in our region are worried that that will mean that smaller airlines like Rex, and Aeropelican and Brindabella, who have no aircraft of more than 50 seats would be in trouble, and that any new routes would be locked out as well. Can you offer country communities more certainty?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I absolutely can. That’s why I’ve rejected those recommendations.
I want to guarantee that regional communities can have access to Sydney Airport. It’s absolutely vital that that occur, and it’s vital that it occur during peak periods.
Country residents want to be able to get to Sydney in the morning and get home in the afternoon. That access is critical for the economy, it’s also critical for accessing services and I’ve guaranteed that, on my watch, that certainty will be there. And what’s more, I’ve put that into practice.
One of my concerns regarding why Sydney needs a second airport relates to the pressure that will be there on communities in terms of access to Sydney. If the owner of Sydney Airport and had a choice between a small aircraft coming in from Tamworth and a large A380 coming in, guess what, they’ll go for the big plane and the larger profit motive every time.
I’m very concerned that some of the duplicity in this debate. Anyone who uses Sydney Airport knows that we need a second option.
KELLY FULLER: What’s the future of regional airports if the State Government doesn’t move on a second option?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I just see a time very soon down the track whereby a government of the day says, oh well, we’re sorry about this, but we don’t really have a choice, because otherwise we won’t be able to get international and the larger interstate aircraft into Sydney. So, we’re sorry, you’ve got to go off to Bankstown or somewhere else in terms of a regional airport.
There have been proposals in the past for Bankstown. The problem there, of course, is if you’re going from Tamworth to Melbourne, you need to land at an airport that can link up with other interstate flights. Something like 40 per cent of the users of Sydney Airport, in terms of some of the regional routes, are travelling to Sydney to then go onto another destination.
KELLY FULLER: So, what kind of – what’s your preferred option then? I mean, with the idea of no new slots opening up and some of our communities being locked out of this – I mean, at the moment, Gunnedah doesn’t have a service, so how would it gain entry back into Sydney?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, what we need to do is expand the capacity of Sydney, and that’s why I’ve been campaigning so strongly. It’s not an easy issue, it’s a tough one. But I’ve been campaigning very strongly for a second airport.
I’ve commissioned the scoping study into Wilton as a site in the south-west of Sydney.
What you could do then is that you’d use it as a secondary airport, so that budget flights, for example, from Sydney to interstate, to holiday destinations, et cetera, would operate from there.
Sydney Airport, in terms of Kingsford Smith, would continue to play an important role obviously, but we need to increase the aviation capacity for the Sydney region.
KELLY FULLER: What’s your understanding of how time critical that is? When does that second airport need to be up and running?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s crunch time now. We already know that the roads around Sydney Airport are congested. In the sky, there’s a cap on movements of 80 per hour. And even if you lifted that, which I’m certainly not in favour of, you could only get between 85 and 87 in, so that would take up about a year’s increase in increased flights. So, it really wouldn’t address the problem.
The problem is there now. Sydney Airport, because of the nature of where it is, is land constrained. It is one-third of the size of Melbourne Airport, and one half the size of Brisbane Airport in geography. So, there’s nowhere for the planes to go. And that’s why we simply need to address these issues and begin the planning right now.
KELLY FULLER: We’re talking to the federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese on ABC New England and North West this morning.
Minister, do you think regional carriers should be asked to make permanent or guaranteed commitments to regional towns that they move into?
Recently, we saw Brindabella pull out of Armidale because it was chasing services in the, sort of, much more lucrative fly-in fly-out market in Queensland, leaving that community without a service from Armidale to Brisbane. How difficult is it going to be to manage continued services in regional areas, when they’re sort of chasing the fly in, fly out market?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a difficult issue because we do have privately-owned airlines. But I think they have a responsibility to their customers, to the consumers, and certainly I was very disappointed by that decision. I was particularly disappointed that the Coalition tried to pretend that was about other issues, other than chasing the profit motive. But Brindabella’s statement made that absolutely very clear.
Our regional airlines are extremely profitable. If you look at an airline such as Rex, it probably has a greater profit per capita than the major airlines of Qantas and Virgin. QantasLink recently won an award as the best regional airline and it has made considerable profit for the company over a period of time.
So it’s a matter of establishing the right regulatory and policy environment and we have certainly done that. We have done that through a range of measures, including providing the sort of financial support that we’ve provided for Tamworth Airport. We’ve provided almost $1 million for the security upgrade and I’ll be opening that upgrade today.
KELLY FULLER: In terms of meeting the needs of communities under the strain of mining expansion, what’s the Federal Government doing to help Narrabri? The council says it’s under intense pressure for upgrades for that airport and it hasn’t had any luck with any RDA grants, but the mining expansion is still sort of speeding ahead and the tarmac needs to be upgraded.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Narrabri put in an application for funding through the Regional Development Australia body. That, of course, is independent from government. They made a recommendation, not that it wasn’t worthy, but that there were other priorities. So that has put real pressure on Narrabri and I’m conscious of that.
Narrabri can, of course, apply to the Department of Regional Development for funding. That’s something that has to be looked at. We have provided enormous funding for regional aviation, of course, right around the country. No government has provided more support than the current government for regional aviation.
But I’m aware of the pressures on Narrabri. I’ve received some representations on it. And I think that’s something that the Department of Regional Development should consider.
KELLY FULLER: Are you able to make any special allowances for Narrabri, given the expected pressures that they’re facing?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not able to make a funding commitment on the run. What I will say is that we recognise that Narrabri is under pressure and that they have a case. We have invested some $75 million into regional airports and $50 million into remote airports over the last few years. This is a government that has stepped up, in terms of providing that support for regional aviation.
KELLY FULLER: Anthony Albanese is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He’s in Tamworth today, talking about airports and hospital upgrades.
Just broadly, before I leave the infrastructure issue, in terms of how the mining expansion is being managed in our region, particularly in the New England and north west, recently the State Government held a public forum in transport. The New South Wales Ministers for Planning and Transport were up here, taking notes and making plans for plans, if you like, while the Department, separately, is pushing ahead with plans for major new mines and major new mining expansions.
So do you think the State Government is adequately addressing or keeping up with the pace of the projects that it’s expanding, especially when it comes to issues like rail transport, when communities like Gunnedah are facing the prospect of kilometre-long, you know, rail trains – or in excess kilometre – cutting their town in half while the State Government still seems to be just making plans?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What the State Government needs to is get far better integration between planning and transport. That has been the major failure. That is not a criticism specifically of the current State Government.
This is a long term issue. It’s something that I’ve tried to ensure occurs, that there’s leadership from the national level. For example, I’ve put together and brought together the Transport Ministers and Planning Ministerial Councils. It seems to me to be absurd that too often – whether it be the outer areas of our major capital cities, or whether it be in regional communities, what you have is the planning i.e. we’ll have this expansion, without working out how the community infrastructure is going to keep up with it i.e. schools and hospitals and services, and how transport is going to keep up with it.
So I think that is disappointing if that occurred at the recent meeting. I think that is a message that the Federal Government has sent very strongly to each of the State and Territory Governments, that they need to do much better when it comes to ensuring that planning goes together with infrastructure.
KELLY FULLER: You’re also up here talking about the Tamworth Hospital upgrade. How’s that progressing?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That is progressing well. The money is there. You have both the hospital upgrade, but also, of course, the new cancer centre of which there’s an enormous investment from the Commonwealth Government in excess of $30 million.
Today I’ll be inspecting those facilities with Tony Windsor, as the Local Member. Tony, of course, is a very strong advocate for his local community. And I look forward to going in and having a look at that today.
KELLY FULLER: That’s the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese. I caught up with him just a little while ago. He’s on a plane on his way to the region this morning.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.