Monday, 21 February 2011
Tonight I raise a grievance on behalf of the people of Port Stephens in relation to aircraft noise. They have been promised so much by Gillard Labor, but it has failed to deliver time and time again. When the Australian government decided to deliver the new Joint Strike Fighter to RAAF Williamtown, planning was started to test the impact on nearby residents and the Australian Noise Exposure Forecast 2025 was promulgated. This noise map had major implications for residents of Port Stephens who live within proximity of the air base. Not only did it show that noise levels would increase, it placed many properties within restrictive zones that would affect their ability to build. Because of the ANEF 2025, many people will not be able to build on their own blocks without insulation, which costs tens of thousands of dollars. Many will not be able to extend. Some will not be able to build at all, which means that if their house burns down they will be left with a property they can never live on again. So when I talk about the impact of the ANEF I am talking about people’s livelihoods. A house is the most valuable asset most people own. To have its value stripped is devastating. It is even more devastating when the government just does not seem to care that there are other options available. This currently seems to be the case with Gillard Labor.
I do not say this without just cause. In fact, the Gillard Labor government has such a long list of failures on this issue that it would be laughable if it were not so tragic for those affected. Allow me to illustrate. Firstly, the ANEF 2025 was released. This is a binding document used for planning decisions, which means it is affecting people’s properties now even though the Joint Strike Fighter will not be delivered for at least three years. Soon after, the 2010 federal election campaign began. Jim Arneman, Labor candidate for Paterson, issued a joint press release on 2 August with then Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support, Dr Mike Kelly. It pledged that a re-elected Gillard government would ‘review and replace the current 2025 ANEF with a new ANEF to be issued before the end of the year’. Julia Gillard stood on the floor of parliament and recommitted to that promise on 24 November, saying, ‘I am very happy to stand by local promises we made.’
The Prime Minister also visited Lakeside Tavern in my electorate and told journalists she would honour her promises for Paterson. She enjoyed a beer at the tavern with the defence minister himself, while close to a thousand people gathered at the Raymond Terrace Bowling Club for a public meeting on this issue literally down the street. That meeting and many before it was attended by hundreds of people, and I thank Paul LeMottee and the SAFE-EARS group for organising the forum. Despite repeated assurances from the endorsed Labor candidate, the parliamentary secretary and the Prime Minister herself, the ANEF 2025 has not been lifted to this day. That means that, not only has Labor misled my constituents, it has misled the parliament. That is broken promise number one. I will move on to number two.
In early October we were advised that a new Australian Noise Exposure Concept had been generated. The new ANEC took into account more flights over the ocean rather than homes, as a direct result of a different instrument landing system. Labor had not even suggested that Defence examine the viability of such an ILS before I suggested it to them after consultation with local experts. I was advised at the Williamtown Consultative Forum that the ANEC would be released by 15 October, but when October came and went, Labor still had not released the map. It sat on someone’s desk until the 12 November. But that is not even the worst part. Next, Senator David Feeney, who has been placed in charge of this issue, told media that the release of the ANEC fulfilled Labor’s pre-election promise to replace the ANEF. The Newcastle Herald reported on 1 January:
A spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, said the concept map fulfilled the Prime Minister’s promise.
That is simply not the case. To clarify: the crucial difference between an ANEC and an ANEF is that an ANEC is a scenario based concept draft, while an ANEF is an official forecast of noise exposure patterns on which planning authorities base their controls. An ANEF also affects things such as property valuations and 149 certificates. Therefore, an ANEC is never a suitable substitute for an ANEF. The fact that Senator Feeney thinks so shows that he does not understand the issue at all. Either he cannot understand or he cannot be bothered to understand.
Now to broken promise No. 3. I have been contacted by thousands of constituents over this issue. I have spent countless hours researching, reading, talking to people, making maps, hosting meetings, discussing solutions, making representations and generally doing everything I can to understand the issues. That includes understanding the intricate differences between the impact on Oyster Cove, Medowie, Medowie East, Medowie West, Lakeside, Riverview Ridge, Raymond Terrace, Brandy Hill, Grahamstown and Salt Ash. I believe that is nothing more than my responsibility as the member for Paterson.
As a result, I arranged to meet with Senator Feeney to explain the myriad different issues. At that meeting Senator Feeney pledged to work with me. He has spoken many times since about working in a bipartisan manner to achieve a solution. Yet it is now clear that was another commitment Labor never intended to keep. When Senator Feeney visited my electorate last Thursday, 17 February, to talk about this issue he never even advised me of the meeting, let alone invited me along to the meetings with my constituents. If the senator had contacted me, I would have been able to explain to him the difference between an ANEC and an ANEF and their effect on my constituents. I would also have been able to explain the latest crucial need of my constituents, which is an extended consultation period for the Williamtown RAAF Base environmental impact statement. The EIS affects the future introduction of the JSF and it is therefore crucial that locals get the chance to comment, yet many people found out about it just days before the consultation period was due to close. It was not even advertised in local media. Senator Feeney came, he talked and he left. He did not use the visit to lift the ANEF as promised, nor did he use the visit to extend the EIS consultation period. So much for working together to do what is in the best interests for local people. Labor is fantastic at saying what it thinks people want to hear. Unfortunately, it is not so good at achieving outcomes. Sadly, this is not unique to federal Labor.
The Labor candidate for the state seat of Port Stephens also seems intent on talking up the issue, without actually taking any action. Kate Washington has repeatedly promised to do whatever she can to alleviate the effects of the Joint Strike Fighter. Yet not only has she supported the Kings Hill development, which jeopardises future changes to the flight path, she has also failed to do anything to pressure her own colleagues who are in the government in New South Wales. Those colleagues have the power to change state planning laws to allow grandfathering. The grandfathering rule would allow current property standards to remain in place, even after the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter. It is heavily supported by my constituents. I have seen many press releases from Ms Washington’s camp, based on council issues which she has absolutely no control over whatsoever. Yet I have not seen one in which she asks her own state colleagues to examine planning laws. Clearly, Kate Washington is following the line of her federal colleagues, saying what is popular but not doing anything to actually help people. She is not part of the solution; she is part of the problem.
My intention today is to hold Labor to account and to call on it to take some much-needed action. The people of Port Stephens deserve much more than is currently being offered. Those who have worked tirelessly on this issue also deserve better. In particular, I thank Andrea Pitt of Save our Castle; Paul LeMottee of SAFE-EARS; Scott Broadhead and Sue Hirsh of the West Medowie group; and members of Save Oyster Cove, including Brian Coleman.
It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people in Port Stephens do not want Williamtown RAAF Base moved and they know how important it is to our local economy. They simply want what is fair. After all the hours they have put in on behalf of their neighbours, after hundreds of representations made to the Minister for Defence, they deserve nothing but full commitment from those elected to represent them. At the very least, they deserve to be able to trust their state and federal governments—trust that, when they make a promise, they will follow through on it.
During the first sitting of this parliament, after Julia Gillard was elected Prime Minister, I hand-delivered to her office a letter detailing my four-point plan on aircraft noise. I remain committed to that plan and, despite everything that has happened, I am still more than happy to put politics aside and help resolve this issue that is important to my constituents. Senator Feeney, you are welcome in my office at any time. I look forward to your visit. If that is too much trouble, I am happy to meet with you in your Senate office to resolve this issue for my constituents of Paterson.