Airports Amendment Bill 2015 Bills

I want to make a few comments on Sydney Airport and the Western Sydney airport. I commend Senator Xenophon for his great interest and passion around aviation and protecting our aviation assets. He and I have worked quite closely on the rural affairs and transport committee on a number of occasions. I do differ a little with him, in terms of our major airports. The intent of the government when Deputy Prime Minister Anderson, I think it was then, looked at privatising airports—I think with our major airports—has been relatively well met. As I look and travel around the country I see that the privatisation has allowed an injection of capital, which has transformed the major gateways into each of our states around Australia.

Unfortunately, I cannot say I am quite so supportive of our secondary airports, the likes of Bankstown and Archerfield and others around the country. As recently as last weekend, when I was up at Port Augusta speaking with the manager of the unincorporated lands, I was very aware of the fact that airfields owned by local government and particularly those that serve remote communities are constantly under pressure to maintain the airfields to be capable of taking the Royal Flying Doctor Service, mail services and other services they critically need.

There are a couple of aspects to privatisation. Those in secondary and remote areas I am not such a great fan of; we still need to find ways to invest in those and make them viable for the future. With our primary airports privatisation certainly has transformed Australia, particularly when you look at the role of the airports as a hub not only for passenger movements but also for freight. This week I met with people at the Sydney Airport to talk about the Western Sydney airport and understand what their plans are for servicing regional communities and having that connection with international flights. I certainly compare it with South Australia with the advent of international flights—for example, going direct from Adelaide Airport to Asia and places like Hong Kong and therefore China. There is the export industry—for example, our prawn industry, which does not have the volumes to justify a freight aircraft all by itself—and there are other industries in a similar case. Once you have a passenger service, it means that you have the ability to get freight onto an aircraft and into a market and it opens up new markets around the world, but the important part is to have that link.

Certainly a key part of my discussions around the Western Sydney airport was to make clear in my mind that the planning of the airports and the airlines was to have a joined up service where we did not leave regional communities in the situation where, if they had business to conduct, travel to do or, importantly, exports to get to market, they were relegated to a secondary airport and then had to make a connection across Sydney to a major airport. I am pleased to report that that is not the intention that is being proposed at the moment.

Having been in the aviation industry for many years and having watched debates flow to and fro, I am very conscious that people have talked and talked and talked about Sydney airport and where it might be for longer than I think Senator Ian Macdonald has been talking about Traveston dam. By the time we have built the Sydney airport, perhaps we would have float planes on Traveston dam. I am glad to see that finally, after many years, we have a decision on a location and now we have started the process towards creating the airport.

If you look at the number of movements that come through Sydney and particularly if you look at the management of traffic—they have a cap on the number of movements in a period of time—it comes right down to managing the number of aircraft, even within a quarter of an hour block. It makes it very inefficient for the airlines in terms of bringing aircraft in, because, if they have to divert around weather, for example, or volcanic activity in Indonesia or somewhere and they fall outside of their preapproved slot, there are more aircraft programmed in a period and they do not have the fuel to hold, they end up getting diverted. In terms of the reputation of Australia as an international destination, the last thing you want is uncertainty on behalf of the passengers as to whether they are going to end up in Sydney, which is where they wanted to go, or possibly Brisbane or Melbourne, which are the two logical diversion points. Having the extra capacity at a Western Sydney airport means that we would be able to manage in a far more effective way the flow of air traffic and the volume coming in, not only overall but in any given time frame, which means that we will be able to see a great reduction in the number of aircraft that have to divert to other ports. That can only be good in terms of marketing Australia as a reliable destination for business, including tour businesses, as well as for people who wish to import and export goods using the airports.

This is an example of a promise by the government that, coming into government, there were a number of things we would do. There are the promises you have all heard: stopping the boats, which we have done; getting rid of the carbon tax, which we have done. This is one more area where the Prime Minister promised he would be the infrastructure Prime Minister and would drive development and things that would create jobs. I am pleased to see that this is one more area where the Australian people can look at the Abbott government and say, ‘They have actually been prepared to take a decision. It is not popular with everyone, but it is a decision that provides the potential to grow the Australian economy.’ If there is one thing that I firmly believe the coalition is characterised by it is looking at ways not to distribute wealth but to grow wealth—to make the pie bigger, because a rising tide floats all boats and people benefit when there are more jobs and more opportunities.

Certainly, when I look at Badgerys Creek and I look at what it will provide, I see it has significant benefit in terms of both investment and job creation. Ernst and Young did an analysis where they found that an airport at Badgerys Creek has the potential to generate some $24.6 billion in direct expenditure by 2060 and contribute $23.9 billion in gross domestic product to the national economy. It would be the largest job creator in Western Sydney. The construction of both the infrastructure package and the airport itself could create up to 8,000 jobs. Initiatives like this are the reason why we are seeing that the rate of jobs growth under the coalition is higher—in fact, multiples higher than at any time under your government, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle. That is something the Australian community can look to with hope.

In terms of the value of the infrastructure that we are putting in, there is a large infrastructure project particularly around roads to make sure that the access is there. There is some $3.6 billion for a 10-year road investment package for Western Sydney. The Commonwealth is going to contribute some $2.9 billion to that. You can look up the detail of the roads that are laid out. What it says to me is that planning has gone on to create an asset in terms of the airport, but, more importantly, to integrate it with the infrastructure in Sydney. It is that long-term planning that I would like to turn to now.

I give credit to the former government for their aviation green paper and the white paper and the NASAG process that came out of that, which is the safeguarding of our airports process. It is the whole idea of trying to get co-operation between the federal government, state governments and local governments around planning permissions to safeguard airports. I am a little disappointed that it seems to have plateaued and the hard work of taking the policy concept and implementing it appears to have stalled. That may not all be the federal government’s fault. It takes cooperation from states and local governments as well to make those things happen. We are seeing a lot of discussion with the Federation white paper and the COAG processes. I think both sides of politics suffer the frustration of our three levels of government and sometimes not being able to drive very good common sense ideas through. But can I say that NASAG and the process of protecting our airports and the airspace that goes with them are things that we do need in the national interest to get some alignment between the federal government, of whichever political persuasion, and the state and local governments. Why? Because it is important to our economy and it is important to lots of social functions—things like banking, mail services and medical services. Where we do not protect airports and the airspace, we will see a degradation in the ability of the aviation industry to service Australia in the manner in which we have become accustomed. The reason it is important for this process to be in place is that I frequently come across people at both local and state government levels who are interested in developing their communities, and I fully understand and appreciate that. Whether it is housing close to airports or large high-rise buildings in a capital city that infringe into the airspace,—the PANS-OPS criteria—those things have a direct impact on the viability of airlines to carry the kind of loads they look at.

In South Australia, for example, there was a great deal of contention a year or so back when people looked at the height of the city buildings and complained about what they called the archaic regulations that stopped us having even higher buildings. There was quite some discussion in the media about that and a bit of a head of steam developing in that these were really archaic rules, we should change them and we should have higher buildings. People did not realise that the height limits were actually related to operations out of the airport. If you were taking off from Adelaide Airport on the north-easterly runway and were flying on a cloudy day with a low-cloud base or by night and you had an engine failure in a large transport aircraft with passengers or cargo, then the airspace has to allow for the worst-case in terms of your performance and your climb configuration for you to control the emergency and then return the aircraft to the airfield. If you build higher buildings, then the aircraft has to be able to out-climb the worst-case, which is an intersection with that building. This means that the operators are constrained to carrying less fuel, which means that they go a shorter distance, or they have to off-load passengers or cargo. Eventually, you start constraining the operations to the point where airlines are not prepared to actually service that centre.

The long-term planning that NASAG envisaged is something that is really important for us to get into place. We have seen some benefits with Western Sydney in how the site was originally identified as early as 1969. As a result, the Australian government acquired a site of approximately 1,700 acres over the next decade or so. Land that has been reserved is now having very tangible inputs. For example, around noise and curfew, the fact that those long-term planning restrictions have been associated with that land has largely protected it from incompatible residential development. That means that the typical noise footprint for aircraft does not affect the same number of people it would if unencumbered building had been allowed in those areas. It is going to affect only around 3,900 residents, whereas a similar noise footprint at Kingsford Smith affects nearly 130,000 residents.

Technology for aircraft is getting better, particularly with precision vertical navigation options. Australia is now one of the greatest users, particularly at Kingsford Smith airport. That and new generation aircraft with high-bypass ratio engines, with a low-noise signature, means that we can get higher volumes of traffic into airports. The point I am trying to make here is that long-term planning that allowed us to set aside that land is now going to have a very tangible benefit. That means Western Sydney Airport will be capable of having 24-hour operations. It will not necessarily have to have a curfew. The planning, combined with advancing technology, gives great capability which will benefit our economy and the number of jobs that can grow at Western Sydney Airport.

As we look at these kinds of developments and the threats enveloping other airports—and in your own state, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, you would have seen media recently about Perth Airport and concerns about residential development—there are great concerns around incompatible development. Certainly, there are great concerns as I look at places like Archerfield, Bankstown and Jandakot in Western Australia. I just want to lay out, again, for both sides of politics that, for all levels of government, whether we do it through the Reform of the federation white paper or through the COAG process, we need to get on top of the NASAG concepts. I would argue that we even need to extend it to include what the Queensland government has, which are areas set aside in the approach and take-off paths of runway which allow for the fact that many secondary airports service single-engine aircraft with trainees. There is a danger that, if you have a failure, then, obviously, aircraft can come down in the area. Queensland has done a very good job of quarantining, if you like, a splay at the end of a runway. That is something we should be looking at more on a national basis.

So it is an important process, and I would certainly encourage state and local government associations to look at how they can work constructively with the federal government and realise that this is not just about a loss of rates they may suffer if they cannot build a particular subdivision of housing right next to an airport. If they look at the broader impact, the direct jobs associated with an airport and, also, what the airport enables in terms of tourism, in terms of business travel and, particularly, in terms of export for so many of our small- to medium-sized businesses, the economic impact on the state of having a reduced capability in that airport would be extreme. We really do need to take a long-term view around the issues of airport planning.

This all brings me back to Western Sydney. It is a good news story in that it is going to provide Australia and Sydney—I know Victorians do not like to hear this but Sydney still remains, for many people internationally, the place to see when they come to Australia—with a more reliable and consistent opportunity to arrive without needing to divert and to provide the of kind capacity that will increase the flow of business travel, tourism and trade, which will be good.

The infrastructure side alone is a policy commitment by the coalition which has been fulfilled in terms of saying, ‘We are prepared to take the decisions that, for many years, other people have not taken.’ We have seen Prime Minister Abbott and his team take that decision. It is welcome. It will help grow, not only Western Sydney’s, but Australia’s national economy. The more the economy grows, the more we can invest in all the other things that people are legitimately concerned to see us invest in, so we can continue to make the investments in health and education and things like overseas aid and defence, which are important to the nation. I welcome the initiatives of this government, the decisions around Badgerys Creek and the development of Western Sydney’s airport.