Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Airports Amendment Bill 2006
Debate resumed from 1 March, on motion by Mr Vaile:
That this bill be now read a second time.
upon which Mr Martin Ferguson moved by way of amendment:
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for undermining public confidence in the Airports Act through approval decisions such as that relating to the Perth brickworks site, located opposite a residential area, and the Essendon direct factory outlet, proposed without regard to the impact on local road infrastructure”.
As I resume my speech on the Airports Amendment Bill 2006, I note the condolence motion earlier today when the House was reflecting on the tragic circumstances of the terrible accident of Garuda flight 200 in which a number of Australians, some well known to people in this House, lost their lives. I add my condolences on this very sad occasion.
In respect of the legislation before us, the amendment that has been moved by the member for the Batman and the concerns that Labor has about this bill, I should say that we support the recommendations of the Senate inquiry which considered this matter. One of the recommendations was that airport lessee companies advise relevant state and territory governments, as well as local councils, of the commencement of public consultation processes. This would ensure that they are fully aware of opportunities to engage in the consultation process. It would also mean that the relevant state and territory governments and others—in particular, local councils—did not find out about proposed developments in the newspaper.
In relation to the government’s airport development consultation guidelines, whilst it is better to have guidelines than not, the issue that the guidelines are non-binding on airport lessee companies remains. As a consequence, they actually cannot be enforced. When the guidelines were released by the minister late last year, the point was made that communities have an expectation that they will be consulted effectively on such intensely local issues. That is an absolutely legitimate expectation that communities have. But, if the guidelines themselves are non-binding, there would be a lack of public confidence as to the consultation processes of any kind having any weight, strength or force.
If we are talking about having effective consultation, the opportunity for community views to be heard does not mean simply hearing them and then doing nothing else. When we consider the nature of the amendments proposed in the legislation and when we note in particular our objection concerning the reduction in the amount of consultation time for airport master plans, major development plans and environmental strategies, that consideration raises yet again the very serious issue of the actual quality and nature of the consultations that are envisaged when proposals of any kind come here.
Whilst it is clear that the primary purpose of federally leased airports must be for aviation activity, and Labor does recognise that airport lessees can conduct non-aeronautical activity on airport land, the essential point is that these activities must take into account and consider local community concerns. Take an airport as busy as Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport, Australia’s busiest airport, where any proposed development will have an impact not only on the management of the airport itself but also on the surrounding environment, the amenity of the area and the provision of infrastructure, particularly transport, in one of the busiest parts of Australia. Additionally, there are the likely consequences of threats to security from terrorism or accident. There is a range of issues, a plethora of issues, that arise particularly in relation to the proposals for the development of Sydney airport which the Minister for Transport and Regional Services ultimately did not approve. These make it very clear that this bill in its current state is unsatisfactory.
Should Labor’s amendments to be moved in consideration in detail be defeated, in government the Labor Party would revisit the amendments whilst undertaking a broader review of this legislation, taking particular note of its impact on local communities. I know the residents of the electorate of Kingsford Smith, particularly citizens in Botany, Eastlakes, Maroubra and Pagewood, and those in the surrounding areas, including the electorate of the member for Grayndler, would want to hear that we will definitely be taking specific notice of the kinds of impacts that developments that are mooted for airport land would have on local communities. I say, by way of conclusion, that the issue of the conduct of Kingsford Smith airport and the likely intersection of the frequency of aircraft movements and any potential developments that might take place there are matters of some concern, given that residents of the electorate of Kingsford Smith are still subject to a number of unauthorised movements that are clearly happening at the airport.
The Australian National Audit Office report Implementation of the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997 found that there had been a number of failings in relation to the act. They found:
... elements of the legislative scheme are unclear, do not operate in the way intended or are ineffective.
The Audit Office also found evidence that a high number of unauthorised movements—that is, movements without a slot and movements outside the slot tolerances—had occurred at Sydney airport, but that, since the scheme commenced in 1998, no infringement notices had been issued to operators or other penalties applied. Further, ANAO found that the compliance scheme chaired by DOTARS had not effectively applied the compliance scheme’s provision for identifying unauthorised aircraft movements and that there may have been as many as 357 additional breaches of the movement limit not reported to the minister or the parliament.
The pressure on communities living in and around Sydney airport is immense. People’s ability to have a reasonable night’s sleep and be well prepared for the activities of the day is constantly infringed by aircraft movements. Now we find that there is evidence of a high number of unauthorised movements taking place—some 357 additional breaches of the movement limit that have not been reported to the minister or the parliament. That is completely unacceptable to the people of Kingsford Smith. Frankly, the fact that the Australian National Audit Office has found a number of failings in relation to the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act reflects really poorly on the management regime implementing that act.
It is clear that the government is not effectively maintaining and administering the legislation in relation to airports. There are a number of shortcomings that have been identified by Labor. There are a number of amendments to this bill which we believe need to be supported to enable local communities to have some confidence that they will be adequately consulted and have the opportunity for their voices to be heard in relation to developments that are proposed to take place in or around airports. The bill in front of us does not rectify the flaws that have been identified. It needs to be significantly improved. The amendments that we have proposed deserve the support of this House. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on this important bill and to support my colleague the shadow minister for transport. Once again the shadow minister has done an excellent job in analysing this bill and carefully crafting the opposition’s response to ensure a balance between economic and community considerations.
The Airports Amendment Bill 2006 makes a number of changes to airport development arrangements. The bill amends the Airports Act to loosen the restriction on airlines owning smaller non-core regulated airports; incorporates explicitly the right of airport lessees to undertake non-aeronautical development as long as it is consistent with relevant airport master plans; sets out a purpose statement for airport master plans, ensuring a strategic focus, public information about intentions and land use compatibility; requires Australian noise exposure forecasts and flight paths to be included in master plans, and new master plans to be developed if noise forecasts change; allows for noise forecasts to extend beyond the 20-year planning horizon; reduces time lines for public comment on drafts and minor variations of master plans and major development plans; reduces time lines for ministerial approval from just under 13 weeks to between 10 and 11 weeks; requires free availability of information on airport websites; introduces a stop-clock provision in the ministerial approval time line if the minister requires additional information from the airport lessee company; requires the airport lessee company to demonstrate how it has due regard to public comment rather than simply stating that it has due regard; requires the minister to have regard to the extent to which a plan achieves the purpose of a final master plan; lifts the dollar threshold for the definition of ‘major airport development’ from $10 million to $20 million, reflecting both the very substantial escalation in construction costs today compared with 1997 and the new requirement for site works to be included in project costs, includes an appropriate cost inflation index in regulations; allows the minister to determine that the combined cost of consecutive or concurrent projects or extensions be included when deciding whether the cost of a proposal exceeds the threshold for major development projects; sets out a purpose statement for major development plans to ensure they are consistent with the airport lease and master plan, and requires the plan to include information in this regard; requires the impact of a development on flight paths to be stated; brings Canberra airport into line with the governance of other airports and removes it from the jurisdiction of the National Capital Plan; sets out a purpose statement for a final environmental strategy to ensure all operations are carried out in accordance with relevant environmental legislation and standards; establishes a framework for assessing compliance and promotes continual improvement of environmental management; removes the requirement for all core regulated airports to prepare audited accounts and provide quality of service information to the ACCC, and requires this only of airports specified in regulations; broadens the definition of a gambling activity; and allows the Australian Defence Force or persons approved by CASA to supply air traffic and fire and rescue services where currently these are provided by or approved by Airservices Australia. The bill also covers related matters of a minor nature and transitional arrangements.
Airports are vital hubs for business and tourism. They have enjoyed extraordinary growth in the last 10 years. It could be said without exaggeration that having a well-functioning airport catering to the needs of passengers and business alike is vital to the growth of our cities and regional centres. While the privatisation of airports through leasing has occurred, and the benefits of such privatisation have been clear in many cases, it is my view that airport land should remain in Commonwealth ownership and control. This is important to ensure that airport developments are consistent with the long-term growth of airport capacity. For example, while some airport land may be leased today for commercial development, it is inappropriate for it to be sold for that purpose because it may be required in the long term for further aeronautical expansion.
I am sure that none of us could have anticipated the huge growth in commercial development at airports that we have witnessed around Australia over the last decade. In my view, the rapid growth in non-aviation development is much needed to generate funds for future expansion and replacement of aviation infrastructure and improved quality of service at Australian airports. The funds generated from commercial development at airports will certainly remove what would otherwise be an enormous burden on taxpayers to deliver the essential aviation services that underpin our national economy. Nonetheless, airport development is a contentious community issue and nowhere more so than at Perth Airport in my electorate of Swan.
In my comments in this debate, I will focus on two aspects of airport development and management which have particular and significant implications for Perth Airport: firstly, the government’s attitude to airport development, particularly with regard to the development of a brickworks at Perth Airport; and, secondly, the financial relationship between Perth Airport and Belmont City Council. Other members have spoken about the BGC brickworks at Perth Airport. This development is causing considerable concern in the local community because of the proximity of that development to residential housing. In the context of the consideration of this bill, it is difficult to explain to a local community why on earth they should trust the planning regime for airports when the government has delivered a decision to place a significant brickworks facility in Perth on airport land and opposite housing.
The government’s decision to approve the brickworks is made all the more curious when you compare that decision with the decision of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services on 12 February this year to reject an application for a retail development at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport. At that time, the minister stated that he rejected the Sydney airport development because of traffic and safety concerns. I believe the minister made the right call with that development and I commend him for it. But that decision is totally inconsistent with the decision by the minister’s hapless predecessor to approve the brickworks development at Perth Airport. This development needs further and serious consideration, given the local community’s concerns. But this government has thumbed its nose at the concerns of local communities in an arrogant and out-of-touch fashion. In fact, the brickworks construction has already commenced.
The problem is not so much with the planning regime but with the poor judgement of the government in failing to consider surrounding land uses in its decisions about commercial developments at airports. The government’s record on airport development means that we in the Labor Party are not prepared to accept any reductions in consultation or approval time lines. This is because in many respects the government’s management of airport planning issues has provoked significant distrust of the process. I believe that the minister and the government must have due regard to the concerns of local communities and the land use and infrastructure plans of local government authorities. Part of the problem is that a department specialising in transport is trying to make planning decisions when it has no expertise in this area.
I wish to respond in part to some of the remarks made on this very subject in this debate two weeks ago by the members for Hasluck and Canning. First, both members suggested that the state members for Belmont and Midland, the Hon. Eric Ripper and the Hon. Michelle Roberts, were responsible for the brickworks being built on federal land at Perth Airport. I have heard some rubbish in my time from those opposite, but blaming state members who totally opposed the proposal for the brickworks at Perth Airport, who actively campaigned against it and who had no responsibility for its approval or refusal takes the cake. As the members for Hasluck and Canning know, the decision to approve the brickworks lay totally and entirely with the federal minister for transport. In fact, both members have completely failed in their duties to their past and present constituents through their abject failure in preventing the minister for transport from approving inappropriate building applications on land at Perth Airport. This includes the brickworks, in the case of the member for Hasluck, and the building of a bitumen plant in Hazelmere, which the then member for Swan, the current member for Canning, at the time said he actively opposed but strangely now professes to support.
In this debate, the member for Canning raised a number of issues which he professed to have dealt with when he was the member for Swan from 1996 to 1998. The truth is that the then member for Swan failed to address any of them. For example, he referred to the issue of aircraft noise at Perth Airport and made the observation that ‘airport issues are very quiet these days’ and that those raising concerns about the airport were the same old detractors raising the same old issues. On the issue of aircraft noise, I remind the member that this was a very important issue when he was the member for Swan. I vividly remember that a group in Queens Road in South Guildford, which at that time was located in the federal electorate of Perth, was arguing through the member for Perth for assistance with this problem because their homes were very close to the end of the main runway. The now member for Canning claimed that these residents had no claim to anything, that they purchased their homes knowing that they were in the flight path and that the person leading the fight for the residents was a Labor Party apparatchik.
The problem for the member for Canning was that not long after he had made these claims there was a redistribution of federal electoral boundaries around Queens Road and these residents were moved into the electorate of Swan. Oh, how he changed his tune then! In fact, the lady he claimed was a Labor Party apparatchik was not even a member of the Labor Party.
While noise still remains an issue, one of the reasons concerns about noise are not quite as acute as they were is that the Labor Party has made commitments that homes dramatically affected by noise, such as those in Queens Road, would be eligible for assistance under a noise amelioration program such as that which operates in Sydney. Perth Airport has a noise management committee which looks at all noise related issues, including aircraft flight paths. A number of years ago I successfully argued that representatives from local government and the community be included on that committee. I am pleased that the airport included those representatives and that the committee is operating effectively.
During his address on this bill, the now member for Canning also said he disagreed with the member for Hasluck over his opposition to the brickworks as it was located nowhere near houses. In fact, the brickworks are located approximately 150 metres from houses across the Great Eastern Highway bypass road. It should come as no surprise to any member of this House that the member for Canning lost the seat of Swan and then had to relocate to Canning in 2001.
The member for Canning also decided to criticise Senator Glenn Sterle, who has been actively campaigning against the brickworks, about the circumstances of his preselection. People in glass houses should not throw stones. The member for Canning’s own branch-stacking antics in the lead-up to the 1996 election are legendary. In the 1993 election, local Belmont vet Dr Bryan Hilbert ran for Swan for the Liberal Party. He came within some 200 votes of defeating the now member for Brand. But sensing that there could be a change in the Labor Party’s fortunes in 1996, Don Randall, assisted by his mate Noel Crichton-Browne, then decided to stack the branches in the Swan division of the Liberal Party and claim preselection for himself, despite the fact that Dr Hilbert still wanted to contest the seat and had put in the hard yards.
All right, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for that ruling. I will return to the subject. I will just make one statement in relation to preselections which the member for Canning was referring to: he is no stranger to controversy himself in this regard, so if he wants to get up and make comments about preselections he needs to look at exactly where he came from and how he got into this place.
Another aspect of the commercialisation of airports has been the financial relationship between airports and local governments. The government has historically failed to require some airport lessees to meet the terms of their leases in that it has not required lessees to make rate equivalent payments to local government authorities as clearly specified in leases. Perth Airport refused to pay its liability to the City of Belmont in my electorate for some time. I worked hard with the City of Belmont to ensure that Perth Airport coughed up. I am pleased to say that it has and that the council has received its rate equivalent payment both this year and for the outstanding period last year. But I am concerned that this saga will go on unless the government addresses this very real issue into the future. Despite repeated requests to do so, the government has still refused to require the airport to pay its liability. It keeps talking about negotiating with airport owners but, in reality, the lease does not allow for that; it insists on people making their payments.
The government took a deliberate decision not to require the airport to fulfil its obligations under the lease in this particular case; it just said it should negotiate. That needs to be sorted out. I believe that this inaction deserves to be condemned. It is no wonder that local governments have little confidence that the government will uphold the terms of the leases. The minister has the power to take action to redress this situation and he needs to do so. But I am not convinced that the government has done enough to address these sorts of conflicts between airport lessees and local councils when it comes to rate equivalent payments and the interpretation of the obligations in this regard when it comes to airport leases.
In conclusion, I again congratulate the shadow minister for transport on his balanced and sensible approach to this bill. He provides excellent leadership and direction to members of the House on important issues, and he and his staff should be congratulated. I share his view that, while we have some amendments which would act to improve the management of airports, there are many aspects of this bill which should be commended. We do have concerns about the appropriate use of airport land and the government’s approach to planning in this regard, and nowhere is this more strongly felt than in my electorate of Swan.
For members who have airports in their electorates the Airports Amendment Bill 2006 is a very important piece of legislation. In my own instance, Avalon Airport—which is currently hosting the Avalon Air Show 2007, which commenced today; and I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be visiting my electorate to participate with us in that air show—is a significant community asset currently operated privately by the Linfox group. I do not propose to deal in minute detail with the technical amendments enshrined in this legislation but to canvass the more general propositions that, in my view, ought to underpin legislation of this type which governs the operation of the 22 federal airports that have been privatised.
It goes without saying that the domestic and international gateways that are Australia’s capital city and regional airports are crucial to the ongoing performance of the national and regional economies. Not only are these airports important to Australia’s domestic and international tourism industry; they are important to regional economic development and critical to connecting families throughout the length and breadth of this vast continent. They are significant employers in their own right and they are unique in the way they have developed to the important position they now occupy in the social and economic life of the nation. Therefore, the detailed matters contained in the bill are worthy of considerable scrutiny and I hope that the government takes on board the amendments that are being proposed by the opposition in the spirit in which they have been advanced by the shadow minister, the member for Batman. As was noted by the shadow minister in his speech in the second reading debate, this legislation is but another example of sloppy legislating by this tired government. Given the consultation with the industry that has occurred on these matters since 2004, it is somewhat surprisingly that it has taken the government till 2007 to bring this legislation before the parliament. I will leave the industry to draw its own conclusions about the competence of the government in this matter.
As I stated earlier, while the legislation deals with many detailed matters relating to the ongoing development of airports, there are several important propositions that should underpin the detail of the bill. Firstly, airport operators, the industry generally and the community ought not to lose sight of the fact that we are dealing here with community assets that have enormous economic and social impacts in their communities. Secondly, airport operators need to keep in mind that, although commercial and retail developments may be considered desirable for profitability reasons for the owner in the short term, the long-term future of such facilities for aeronautical related development should be paramount in view of the first point I have made. Thirdly, airports are an important part of communities and, as such, there must always be a high level of consultation by those airport operators with local communities and particularly local government authorities in relation to aircraft noise, retail developments, traffic flows and environmental matters. Fourthly, it is absolutely important that airport development master plans are integrated with local government land use and other planning in the airport area. Fifthly, there must be a firm but sensitive framework of regulation from the federal government and other local government bodies to ensure an appropriate balance is always kept between the community’s needs and the owner’s plans to grow. I am sure there are other propositions that might form the basis of discussion, but I am sure that if these ones form the framework for consideration of the technical detail then a measured and balanced outcome can be achieved, given the competing interests.
According to the information provided by the minister in introducing the legislation and the supplementary material accompanying the presentation of the bill to the House, the bill amends the Airports Act to loosen the restriction on airlines owning smaller non-core regulated airports; incorporates explicitly the right of airport lessees to undertake non-aeronautical development as long as it is consistent with relevant airport master plans; sets out a purpose statement for airport master plans, ensuring a strategic focus, public information about intentions and land use compatibility; requires Australian noise exposure forecasts and flight paths to be included in master plans, and new master plans to be developed if noise forecasts change; allows for noise forecasts to extend beyond the 20-year planning horizon; reduces time lines for public comment on drafts and minor variations of master plans, major development plans and environmental strategies, bringing them broadly into line with the planning and environmental approval processes in state, territory and local government jurisdictions; reduces time lines for ministerial approval from just under 13 weeks to between 10 and 11 weeks; requires free availability of information on airport websites; introduces a stop-clock provision in the ministerial approval time line if the minister requires additional information from the airport lessee company; requires the airport lessee company to demonstrate how it has due regard to public comment rather than simply stating that it has due regard; requires the minister to have regard to the extent to which a plan achieves the purpose of a final master plan; lifts the dollar threshold for a major airport development from $10 million to $20 million; allows the minister to determine that the combined cost of consecutive or concurrent projects or extensions be included when deciding whether the cost of a proposal exceeds the threshold for major developments; sets out a purpose statement for major development plans to ensure they are consistent with the airport lease and master plan, and requires the plan to include information in this regard; requires the impact of a development on flight paths to be stated; and sets out a purpose statement for a final environmental strategy to ensure all operations are carried out in accordance with relevant environmental legislation and standards.
I have outlined those amendments because there is much that is being proposed by the government in this bill that we would agree with. However, in our view, the government has not gone far enough in some of these provisions. Indeed, in amending some of the consultative provisions, we here on the floor of this House reflect the concern of our communities that this government is once again using legislation to weaken the process of consultation with local communities, local government and other jurisdictions in matters relating to planning and land use at airports. The shadow minister has already detailed some of our concerns in the amendments that we are proposing, and I would urge the government to consider those amendments in good faith, because they have been made with the interests of improving this legislation.
I note that the technical amendments that are being proposed by the shadow minister are to improve due process under the act and to make the minister more accountable for the decisions that he makes on these matters. Given the high degree of incompetence already displayed by the minister in this portfolio—and, I must say, in previous portfolios where I have had a close association with the minister—I view the amendments by the shadow minister and the opposition as timely and very necessary indeed. The reality is that the minister has failed to adequately consider local government land use plans in making recent decisions about commercial developments at airports. The member for Swan was on his feet previously in this debate and outlined in detail a litany of the minister’s sins in the state of Western Australia in that regard. So this legislation needs considerable tightening of the sort that is being proposed by the shadow minister.
As I stated earlier, airports are community assets and they must be managed by lessees within that framework. In Avalon Airport, in my electorate, the Geelong community has an asset that has the potential to substantially change the economic structure of the region. But I do regret that over the past decade not enough has been made of it in an economic sense for the region. Like all airports, the growth at Avalon has not come without its problems, and it is those matters that this legislation is attempting to address. As the local federal member, my office has at certain times borne the brunt of community concern and aggravation over certain operations at the airport in the past.
Concerns about consultative processes are why this bill is so important to people in my electorate. I commend the Lara community and the Avalon Airport management, ably led by Tim Anderson, for setting up consultative mechanisms that appear in recent years to have mitigated many of those concerns and resolved many issues surrounding the airport’s operations and use. The continued growth of Avalon Airport might be a central focus of the economic development of the region, but no-one must lose sight of the fact that working families live in its environs and they are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their homes as the primary place where they raise their children.
Avalon has grown quite dramatically in recent times, and I refer members to the many speeches I have made in this parliament relating to its potential. When one considers the growth of a community asset such as this airport, one must also balance that with the needs of the residents who live in close proximity to it. Avalon is situated at the juxtaposition of several critical regional infrastructure assets: the Port of Geelong, the national standard gauge railway, the Princes Freeway and other major Victorian road networks into the Western District.
We have seen recent developments at the airport that certainly relate to the provisions of this bill. The aircraft refurbishment and maintenance functions have been restored at Avalon Airport after this government came to power and decimated the workforce at the old AeroSpace Technologies of Australia, when we saw employment decline from about 1,000 until it almost disappeared altogether. The decision by Qantas to locate its maintenance facility there has seen the regrowth of that employment and we now have some 850 people directly employed in aircraft maintenance. That is why we view with some concern the bid by Airline Partners Australia, the consortium for Qantas, and the impacts that it might have on Jetstar and, of course, Qantas’s maintenance facilities at Avalon. These are very important matters of concern to the Geelong community.
The airport maintenance facilities might need to expand in the future. This bill is calling us to take cognisance of the view that airports are largely airport-driven; they are not large commercial developments on which supermarkets and other facilities ought to be built. That is the substance of this particular bill: concern that commercial developments might at some future stage impinge on the potential of an airport facility to grow and to service a community in employment and in a general sense.
We have been fortunate at Avalon in that Jetstar has located at Avalon. Once again, this would be the type of development that one would want at an airport facility, not so much a massive commercial and retail development but an airport related development, one which has already brought over a million people in passenger traffic through that passenger terminal at Avalon. It has placed Jetstar in a very important position in the medium- to low-budget market in the airline industry in Australia and in the region. We have airline pilot training and aerospace developments, with a significant rise in employment in the latter area. There is significant potential for Avalon as an airfreight facility and, of course, we have the Avalon air show, which opened today. This will play host to some 200,000 people and has exhibitors from all around the world coming to Avalon for the trade display and general defence and civil aviation displays at the airport.
It is an extremely important facility and it is one we hope to grow. The growth of that facility has not been according to the timetable I would have liked. Some 10 years ago I was talking about the potential of this facility and its capacity to generate employment and to substantially change the economic structure of the Geelong region from our dependence on textile, clothing and footwear manufacturing as well as car manufacturing. Unfortunately we lost the election in 1996 and with that loss went the plans that we already had in place to develop this facility in the manner which I have briefly outlined. I have visited other airports around the world and it makes logical sense to me that Avalon ought to be the second airport in Victoria. Along with Melbourne Airport and the infrastructure linkages—certainly the highway and the rail linkages—we ought to see the whole economic development of the region in terms of two airports rather than one in Melbourne.
This particular piece of legislation relates very specifically to the master plans that are in place for both Melbourne Airport, I guess, and Avalon Airport and how these airports can grow in consultation with their communities, taking account of their communities’ needs and concerns and the strategic planning that has already gone into land use around those airports. We have a wonderful asset. Very rarely do you have an airport located within some 35 minutes of the CBD of a major world city like Melbourne with many thousands of acres in its environs and with a runway which is—and don’t quote me on this—some 1,750 metres in length. It can certainly take the biggest airfreighters and passenger aircraft known to man. So we are strategically positioned to play our part in the economic growth of the nation. I am very pleased that we have at the moment an enlightened management at Avalon Airport who do take into account the community’s concerns in these matters. We will be supporting the legislation, but I ask the government to take cognisance of the amendment that we have proposed and to support it in the spirit in which it has been presented.
It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Corio, who has always got something interesting and worth while to say. His remarks about Avalon Airport were well chosen. I myself have taken a bit of an interest in the future of Avalon Airport and its prospective role in meeting Melbourne’s aviation needs. I can also attest to the popularity of the air show at Avalon Airport. I remember teaching my son how to drive a manual car; there was such a traffic jam on the way down to Avalon Airport that he had to do several hundred gear changes and he learned how to drive a manual car. The air show continues to be very popular, and with good reason.
I want to support the second reading amendment moved by the member for Batman. I had the opportunity to second the amendment back when this issue was first debated on 1 March. That amendment says:
... whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for undermining public confidence in the Airports Act, through approval decisions such as that relating to the Perth Brickworks site, located opposite a residential area and the Essendon direct factory outlet, proposed without regard to the impact an local road infrastructure.
As member for Wills my own personal interest is in the Essendon Airport site and its future.
By way of background: we have had rapid growth in non-aviation development at Essendon Airport and at other airports in recent years in the wake of the privatisation and leasing-out arrangements which the government has entered into. That development has had some good features—and it is certainly my view that the Essendon Airport site has outlived its aviation usefulness and that its future lies in non-aviation activities—but it has not come without problems, and I think that some of those have been created through essentially poor implementation of the planning and approval process by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. If you look at Essendon, Adelaide and Perth, you will see that local communities have been sensitive to some of the commercial developments at airports, and rightfully so. It is indeed difficult to explain to a local community why they should trust the planning regime for airports—a regime in which they have no effective say—when successive ministers have delivered decisions like that in Perth of placing a brickworks on airport land opposite a residential development.
The government’s record on airport development with things like the Perth brickworks or retail developments at Adelaide and Essendon means that we need to be cautious. Frankly, on this side of the House we are not prepared to accept reductions in consultation or approval time lines. The minister and the government have to have due regard to the concerns of local communities and the land use and infrastructure plans of local government authorities. We hope the minister has learnt from things like Harbour Town in Adelaide and the Direct Factory Outlets, DFOs, at Essendon that he and the government need to take into account the impact of commercial development on surrounding infrastructure such as roads. Local councils, state governments and local communities expect and are entitled to serious consideration of these issues.
To give the House a flavour of how seriously this issue is taken within my electorate: just three weeks ago, on Wednesday, 7 March, I organised a community meeting at the Strathmore Heights Community Centre in Boeing Reserve, Strathmore. I invited local residents to meet with the private operators of Essendon Airport. Tim Anderson, whom the member for Corio referred to, is general manager at Avalon. He is also general manager at Essendon, so he has plenty of work to do. That meeting was attended by 120 local residents. Strathmore has a strong sense of local community, and Strathmore people have always turned out and been engaged in local community affairs. That is a fine thing. The fact that 120 people turned out just to have a discussion about the future of the airport site is testament to how seriously these issues are considered by local people. I take this opportunity through the forums of the House to draw to the attention of Strathmore people more broadly the things that were discussed at that meeting and how they relate to the future of the Essendon Airport site, and to use that as a backdrop for arguing that this second reading amendment we have moved ought to be supported in the House.
Mr Anderson gave a presentation to the meeting stating that the broad aim for the future of the site is to sustain it as an airport while developing a high-end office and shopping precinct. Obviously, local people are concerned that we do not get the worst of both worlds here—having both aviation activities and non-aviation activities being approved over which they have no say or control. Mr Anderson made clear that residential development was at no stage to be considered or proposed. He said that there are new hangars scheduled to be built to replace the old ones, which are well past their use-by date. He said that the old land where the hangars had previously been located would then be used as part of a management plan to attract high-end office facilities. These plans are for boutique office complexes. The central plan will include the development of a boulevard inside the airport where locals and residents from other surrounding areas can come to do their retail shopping, grocery shopping and things like motor vehicle purchase. The design of the shopfront buildings on the boulevard will integrate the site’s aviation history. For example, we were shown where angles of buildings are to be shaped in the form of an aeroplane wing.
Mr Anderson pointed out that the airport currently has only one access point and that management is now looking at introducing another access point. He noted that the car retailers currently located on Keilor Road are being invited to consider moving their dealerships to the airport site. Their current locations pose many customer parking issues, and the Essendon Airport Ltd proposal would see the dealerships located on the boulevard with a storage facility built behind properties located on the eastern border of the airport. The storage facility will also have a service road built off the airport’s existing perimeter road which will allow for efficient access to the storage facility. The proposed service road will be located closer to the backyards of properties on the eastern border, but Mr Anderson said that landscaping would be located between the service road and back fences with the intention of minimising noise and other disturbances.
He also discussed the proposed Australia Post mail-sorting facility, its location and factors associated with it. It is proposed to construct a small lane to go from the facility into Mascoma Street in Strathmore. He emphasised that there is no proposal to build a full-scale road into Mascoma Street and that the proposed lane would be just wide enough to allow the mail bikes to and from the facility. He also talked about a planned bike track to run from existing parkland over Mascoma Street and behind some properties and end up in the airport’s boulevard. The aim of the path is to encourage locals to either walk or ride to the retail facilities. He stated that future upgrade plans to the airport include construction of a new air controller deck, with the old one planned to be reconfigured as an observation deck, and that would be situated towards the end of the observation deck.
He also talked about the issue of the airport security. To date, $2 million has been spent by management on upgrading security through new fencing and new surveillance cameras. He noted that management is interested in pursuing land value creation and expressed the view that the planned developments have the potential to increase the value of surrounding properties. He believes that within four to five years there could be up to 5,000 people working inside the airport, providing jobs and creating a higher demand for housing in the area.
After this presentation there were many questions from residents and a vigorous discussion. That is a good thing. The first question was: are there any plans for an increase in air traffic for the airport? Mr Anderson responded by saying that for many years air movements at Essendon had been averaging around 65,000 per year. The figure has now significantly reduced to 55,000 movements per year. He says that no increase is foreseen because the airport is focused on high-end aviation, meaning that there are lower volumes of movements, and that most training flights have now been transferred to Moorabbin Airport.
There was a question asked as to whether the developments would result in an increase in traffic in Mascoma Street or other surrounding residential streets. Mr Anderson expressed the view that there would be very minimal impact on traffic flows in Mascoma Street and other surrounding residential streets because the airport’s blueprint is looking at introducing a second entrance along with the original entrance. The intention is to encourage individuals to access the airport and its future retail precinct via the freeway.
Mr Anderson was asked whether Essendon Airport management would repair and upgrade Mascoma Street where it passes underneath the Tullamarine Freeway and whether management would extend the sound barriers from the freeway as part of the construction of the new road for the access point. The response was that VicRoads control that particular stretch of road, that they controlled the design and that noise levels have been measured and it was suggested that there was no current need for sound barriers. I should report that there was a considerable concern expressed by the audience to this. Many residents believe that if Essendon Airport management can build all the developments they talked about in their presentation then they ought to be able to build sound barriers and provide better protection from noise for local residents.
The question was raised whether, if Australia Post moves to the new sorting facility inside the airport, this would mean a lot more postie bikes up and down Mascoma Street, seeing as the bike chute is to exit onto it. Mr Anderson’s response was that the number of bikes travelling up and down this passage would vary depending on the time of the year. Obviously Christmas, Easter and other significant days might mean more motorbikes travelling up and down Mascoma Street, but the general advice from Australia Post is that 40 motorbikes will be using the bike entrance onto Mascoma Street each day.
The issue of the emergency services air wing and helicopters residing at the airport was also raised. Concern was expressed about the amount of noise and smoke that they produce, and the question of the helicopter pad being moved closer to homes was raised. The response to this was that management is trying to design the airport so that planes and helicopters are centralised and located in a way which minimises disturbance to the residents. Mr Anderson said that the design incorporates the use of buildings as a sound-shielding device to minimise disturbances. There was quite a lot of concern expressed about the way in which emergency services helicopters conduct themselves. For example, the issue was raised as to why they do not use the flight paths designated for regular aircraft. Helicopters are more technically advanced and they do not have to use the flight paths, but local residents have made clear their view that they should use the flight paths designated for regular aircraft.
Issues were raised about damage to property from flooding and rainwater runoff. Management were asked whether they have any plans for more effective drainage systems and whether they can make an investment to protect the property of residents from runoff. Of course, runoff is a natural phenomenon, but Mr Anderson said that management is spending substantially on the construction of basic infrastructure within the airport, including on things like drainage, and there was a willingness expressed to discuss these issues further. A question was asked as to whether the airport should design a system to collect the rainwater runoff, noting that water these days is a very valuable thing and perhaps ought to be collected and harnessed at source. The response to this was that collecting rainwater above ground might attract waterbirds and the like, and obviously that is undesirable under federal air regulations and in trying to avoid bird strikes at airports, but Mr Anderson stated that underground tanks are being considered.
The issue of the proposed bike path and any implications it might have for the security of locals was raised. That will be followed up, but at present there are no formal proposals to secure the bike track or to prevent users climbing rear fences of residential properties and things like that. The issue was raised of connecting the DFO with the new developments and whether there were any plans to build a road. Mr Anderson said that a connecting path would be considered; however, it would most likely not allow for cars to travel down it and management is interested in encouraging more people to walk and ride rather than travel by car.
Another resident asked whether there would be public transport travelling to and from the airport once these developments were established. Essendon Airport management responded by saying they have been in extensive discussions with the state government and a number of bus services in order to establish a permanent and reliable public transport line to and from the airport, and they are interested in pursuing the idea of those developments and creating greater demand for the site.
The residents also raised the issue of a curfew on aircraft with respect to allowable times for landing and departures. Tim Anderson pointed out that there is currently a curfew on jet engine aircraft between the hours of 6 pm and 10 am and that there is no proposal for this to change. This is another sore point with local residents. People believe that the curfew is ineffectual, that it is frequently broken and that more needs to be done by airport management to ensure the curfew is adhered to.
Other issues raised by residents concerned noise prevention walls in Paljan Court; whether management could introduce double lines going towards Melrose Drive to prevent right-hand turns; and an increase in public transport to minimise potential traffic congestion. The response to those issues was that a lot of them fall within the jurisdiction and responsibility of VicRoads, but airport management is happy to continue talking about those issues.
Airport management were also asked whether they have any plans to build access roads from the Lebanon Street border into the airport. Management responded by saying that they had contributed $100,000 to the upgrading of Lebanon Street, which was previously a dirt road, but that there is not going to be any access into the airport. Moonee Valley City Council will not support that or provide approval for it. They had also given some consideration to building a service tunnel that would run underneath the airport, but they have scrapped that idea due to cost projections.
Residents also asked whether there was a possibility of relocating the helicopter pad to the rear of the existing water tanks. That issue has been looked at previously and there are no present plans to move it to that particular location. These and other issues were raised. The fact that so many people show up and raise so many issues shows just how important the question of proper consultation with local residents is, taking into account their genuine and legitimate concerns. That is why we have not only a second reading amendment but a number of amendments which we will move at the consideration in detail stage and which we believe could improve this bill. We hope that the government will take our amendments seriously and adopt them. (Time expired)
I rise to support the amendment that has been moved by the member for Batman and to indicate that I have a couple of interests in relation to the Airports Amendment Bill 2006firstly, as a local member, because the Moorabbin Airport is within my electorate, and, secondly, as the shadow minister for regional development, understanding the importance of airports in connecting the nation’s great regions.
The privatisation of Australia’s 22 federal airports—which are situated in not just the capital cities but the regional areas as well—has led to improved airport services for the good of the nation and the travelling population. The original act to sell the airports was introduced by Labor in 1995. I was a member of the government that brought in that legislation. At the time the rationale was clear and sensible: it was to enable the 22 airports in question to provide improved services without a significant call on new public investment. Under the arrangements, the Commonwealth would retain control over land use—the building and planning at major airports—so as to ensure a nationally consistent approach to the planning of airports. We considered that it was important that this remain under the Commonwealth minister because of the importance of airports to the national economy.
That has led to a growth in non-aviation developments at those airports which has enabled the replacement of aviation infrastructure and has significantly improved services at Australian airports. As I said, I was part of the government that introduced that legislation. We took the decision because, at the time, if the airports were left to public ownership, the competing pressures for limited resources would not have enabled them to grow in keeping with the demands of the regions, tourism and the travelling Australian population.
Airport infrastructure is vital in a nation our size for the long-term development of our economy. The Commonwealth is best placed to take a long-term view of the national strategic infrastructure. It was the right judgement at the time to introduce the legislation, but it was always dependent on ensuring that future airport development took account of local circumstances and local issues, particularly in dealing with land use. In the legislation that we introduced, we therefore provided for detailed provisions to ensure that such issues were properly considered. For example, we required the development of an airport master plan to provide a long-term land use plan to meet the demands over a 20-year period. We also argued that those development plans for major projects required an environmental impact statement. The legislation required that airport owners undertake public consultation on their master plans and it provided for the recognition of legitimate interests of states and territories in planning issues relating to airports to ensure their orderly planning—still under the control of the Commonwealth but having regard to local planning considerations.
As the federal member for Hotham—which includes, as I said before, the Moorabbin airport—since 1990, I have also had to deal with this issue from a local perspective. I accept the position of Moorabbin Airport which argues that the commercial development of airport sites subsidises the continuation of aviation activities. Moorabbin and most other small airports operate in a competitive environment with limited ability to extract rents from their tenants, in these cases flying schools and smaller commuter airlines. It is only the commercial activities which allow small airports to continue operating as airports, which of course they are required to do under the terms of their leases.
At the same time, Moorabbin is a good example of an airport which has taken the responsibility for consulting with its community. I take the opportunity to note that Mr Phil McConnell, the CEO of Moorabbin Airport Corporation, takes this area of activity very seriously, and I commend him and his staff for the commitment that they have made to their community. I also acknowledge the continuing work of Mr Tom Uren and the Moorabbin Airport Residents Association in representing the interests of residents who live around the airport. Down there we have an active interaction between the residents and the airport authority.
Over the years, many representations have been made to me on issues concerning airport development, in particular on land use. The Moorabbin Airport Corporation has also asked for consideration to be given to the regulatory arrangements for small general aviation airports to be different to those for the main airports in capital cities. I get a lot of representations about airport noise and about the aircraft that can actually use the airport. I have had a number of representations also on land use issues, particularly associated with traffic and the development at Moorabbin. However, in all of those representations I am not getting representations demanding a change in legislation which vests the control in the Commonwealth minister. I am not getting claims for that to change.
Kingston City Council, which is the relevant municipal authority, opposes the proposed reduction in statutory public comment and the assessment period for airport master plans as proposed by the bill, but the Kingston council is not arguing for a change in legislation which vests control with the Commonwealth minister. Neither, I might add, in my discussions with the Local Government Association, does it propose a change to that component. In its submission to the Senate inquiry, prior to this bill being introduced, the LGA expressed concern that non-aviation planning at airports takes place differently from other planning, but it did not propose taking planning power for federal airports away from the Commonwealth minister.
That being said, it is also true that over the past 12 years, since the decision to sell the leaseholds of the 22 federal airports was originally made, non-aviation development has led to a number of issues with land use and planning. Our view is that the issues could and should have been managed with more consultation and, in particular, greater consideration of local concerns and, significantly, greater ministerial accountability. How else does one explain the circumstances of the Perth Airport development which has seen the establishment and building of a brickworks at that airport? Certainly, it would not have been the intention back in 1995, when we were talking about the sorts of expansion envisaged on these leasehold lands, that such a development could have happened. The Minister for Transport and Regional Services should have been more in touch with the public opposition to that development.
Also, closer to home, we have the example where the minister failed to provide in advance for sufficient changes to the roadworks at Essendon Airport consequent upon the important commercial developments which have taken place at that airport. This is another example of the minister not properly considering the totality of the agreement to development plans. All of this means, with the public outrage and outcry, that public confidence in the Airports Act has been undermined. That is not because the original intention was bad but, in essence, because of poor implementation and because of the planning and approval processes overseen or supposedly overseen by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services.
Even government MPs and senators have lobbied for amendments to extend the consultation period for decisions on airport development from 45 to 60 working days. If there had been greater confidence in the process, there may have been less urgency for the minister to move amendments to his own bill. The member for Batman has moved a second reading amendment and he will also be moving detailed amendments at a later stage in this debate. Whilst Labor has indicated its support for this bill, I support the second reading amendment of the member for Batman, which does give expression to Labor’s concerns with some of the ministerial decisions.
The minister must now ensure that public confidence in the system is retained. That will be enhanced, in our view, if he is prepared to adopt the amendments that we are proposing. Whilst not opposing the bill, we will seek to move amendments in the consideration in detail stage to give effect to improvements in the approvals regime. The fact is that we have to revisit the act and ensure it meets the original intention. We must strike that balance again—the proper balance between the conflicting interests of airport owners, airport users and the communities in which those airports are located. What is needed is a more robust framework to ensure that the minister takes the local community’s concerns into account in making decisions on airport developments and to rebuild confidence in the system.
In essence, our amendments will give effect to the recommendations laid out by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport in its report tabled in early March this year. They include, first, the requirement that airport lessee companies advise state, territory and local governments of the commencement of the public consultation processes. This will provide full awareness and the opportunity to comment and be engaged early in the consultation process.
Second, at the moment there is no requirement that all submissions received on master plans be forwarded to the minister. Our amendment will ensure that that happens. Third, Labor has some concerns with the potential problems with deemed approval and will address this by way of amendment. Fourth, Labor would also like to see the act specifically require the department to utilise qualified town planners as one of the many disciplines involved in the assessment of airport development plans. Fifth, at the moment the minister is not required to give an explicit statement of reasons if recommendations from state and local authorities on developments are not accepted. Our amendment will ensure that the minister is required to give such a statement.
Sixth, Labor will also move amendments to require the minister to specify in approval conditions whether a proposal will have any impact on off-airport infrastructure and to take into account rate-equivalent contributions. The minister will also be required to specify whether there is a reasonable requirement for the lessees to negotiate in good faith with state and local government authorities to reach agreements. More should be done to address the conflicts between airport lessees and local councils when it comes to rate-equivalent payments and obligations on airport leases. Seventh, Labor will move an amendment to ensure that it is not optional for the minister to require that consecutive and concurrent developments be included in the total cost, given that the threshold for major developments will be lifted from $10 million to $20 million.
We urge the government to adopt these amendments. They come from the process of inquiry and are about giving greater requirement for consultation and accountability, which was always the intention of the act when we first introduced it. If the amendments are defeated, Labor will not oppose the bill but, in government, will conduct a broader review of the legislation to minimise the impact on local communities. We are already flagging the sorts of directions in which we would be heading.
I would like to take the opportunity to talk about the significance of regional aviation services to their communities. Regional airports and aviation services are vital to the economic and social wellbeing of regional and remote communities. They are an essential part of a region’s transport infrastructure. They provide an opportunity and some guarantee for those communities to remain better connected. Regional airports also serve to promote regional development opportunities, including tourism, to assist the transportation of local products and to improve regional supply chain efficiencies. For remote communities they provide a lifeline in medical emergencies and for access to a range of other services.
Over the past 18 months, as shadow minister for regional development I have had the opportunity to visit a range of airports in our regions. No matter which region I visit, the airport is vital infrastructure for the local community. In the case of Hamilton in Victoria, a major mineral sands processing operation is underway supporting the zircon mining industry in Western Australia, along with an expanding blue-gum forestry industry. The airport enables these important industries to link directly with Melbourne and, in turn, the globe.
Further afield, the airport at Gladstone is providing a vital link to a region of significant growth, with potential for the world’s largest alumina refinery and Australia’s largest aluminium smelter. The region’s industry base also includes tourism, engineering, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The Queensland government has taken significant steps to further develop Gladstone as a world-class major export hub, and ensuring the airport can meet those needs is terribly important.
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services found in its 2003 report into regional commercial aviation services that nearly all communities want to retain their local airport, despite their cost sometimes exceeding their direct income. Larger communities can generally support their airports, but some smaller communities are finding it difficult to support and maintain their airports. Some local airports need upgrading to meet current standards for aircraft and safety. With limited financial resources, these communities have difficult decisions to make on the future of their airports. The committee recommended additional Commonwealth assistance to smaller regional communities as a justifiable expense. While there has been no response from the government to date on this report, I urge all members, particularly those who have an interest in regional development, to consider the report’s recommendations.
In conclusion, whilst Labor support the bill, we believe that the planning and approvals process must provide a more robust framework to enable the minister to take local considerations into account when determining airport developments. That was the original intention of the legislation. In our view, it has not been carried out faithfully by the incumbent government. The original decision to privatise the 22 federal airports was the right one and has led to a vibrant industry meeting the growing needs of the Australian economy, but we have to get the balance right between the conflicting interests of airport owners, airport users, communities and particularly the areas in which the airports are located. We have to get the consultation process right, get greater accountability and require the minister to consult, listen and report on decisions finally taken. He has to act in the interests of local communities and not just be blindsided by a decision-making process in Canberra.
The Airports Amendment Bill 2006 is an extension of the government’s position when it comes to airports, a position that says, ‘Hands off!’ as much as possible, a position which has undermined the community’s support for airports. In the last fortnight we have seen an Audit Office report which indicated that there are hundreds of breaches of the cap at Sydney airport that have not been reported to this parliament and that there is a failure by this government to enforce its own legislation.
Here, just like in its failure to enforce the curfew at Sydney airport, the Airport Amendment Bill 2006 seeks to make a number of changes that are quite frankly of great concern to my constituents and also to me in my role as the shadow minister for infrastructure. The opposition will be moving detailed amendments to this bill in the consideration in detail stage of this debate. We will revisit key issues in government in a broader review of the legislation to make sure that airports act in conjunction with local communities rather than disregarding them.
Although Australia’s significant airports have been privatised, the government continues to control planning and development at airport sites, making our federal airports an important part of Australia’s infrastructure assets. In her second reading speech De-Anne Kelly stated that the government wanted to ensure ‘genuine engagement’. Let us look at what genuine engagement looks like under the Howard government. This bill proposes a streamlined consultation process that allows development materials to be available electronically and free of charge. In its own right, this might appear like a worthy amendment, but the devil is in the detail.
Firstly, the original draft of the bill proposed to reduce the period for which preliminary draft major development plans are placed on public exhibition from the current period of 90 calendar days to 45 days. Following widespread community outrage, the minister announced on 13 February that he would amend the bill such that the consultation period is reduced from 90 days to 60 days. Whether it be 45 or 60, the reduced consultation period creates problems for many community groups and individuals, given the difficulties in examining large documents that make up airport planning proposals.
The second proposed amendment seeks to raise the dollar threshold for construction costs from $10 million to $20 million. The value of construction costs is one of the major considerations for whether a major development plan actually needs to be submitted. So this amendment has the effect of increasing the amount of development that can occur without the need for a major development plan. It is clear that this severely limits the opportunity for the plans to be exhibited publicly and for the public to comment. There is no use streamlining the process and making it free of charge if the process does not apply and, when it does apply, the time for public consultation is reduced from 90 days to 60 days. This is the Howard government’s definition of ‘genuine engagement’.
Other proposed amendments to the act have the effect of reducing opportunities for public comment upon minor variations to major development plans and preliminary environmental strategies. Despite its rhetoric, it is plainly obvious that this government is not serious about community consultation and that it is deaf to expert advice offered by local councils and state governments.
The bill also proposes to make possible development that is not related to the function of the airport provided that such development is consistent with the airport lease and approved master plan. The expansion of non-aviation uses, such as the megamall that was proposed at Sydney airport, has significant consequences for local councils and state governments, local businesses and the community, including many of my constituents. For example, local shops, businesses and communities suffer economically. Also, increased traffic congestion around the airport exacerbates existing traffic problems.
State and local governments’ development and planning laws do not apply to developments at federal airport sites. Yet it is these governments that bear the cost of improved traffic management and provision of public transport. On 12 February the federal Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mark Vaile, finally rejected the draft development plan for Sydney airport. His publicly stated reason for blocking the proposal was that he was not satisfied with the assessment of all public safety issues. Let us be clear: the Australian Labor Party always supports putting safety before profit. But you have to ask why it took so long for the minister to arrive at this conclusion when state and local governments and local communities were all stating that this was the case.
I first objected to the proposal in parliament more than a year ago. It was clear from the outset that this proposed development was never about improving services to travellers. It was all about using a hole in Commonwealth legislation to make money for big developers. The plan, which included a 48,000-square-metre outlet centre, commercial buildings and thousands of parking spaces, would have created chaos for surrounding areas. It would have placed incredible strain on infrastructure, public transport systems, small businesses and residential developments.
Despite the minister’s decision, Sydney airport is unlikely to stop submitting in the future similar plans that would impact adversely on local communities. In fact, the airport company has already drawn up a draft development plan for a retail complex, including a cinema and a supermarket. It is plain that the laws exempting airport land from local and state government planning controls are flawed and that the amendments we are debating today do not take us any closer to fixing the problem. The Commonwealth government’s control of the development of federal airports also characterises the government’s failure when it comes to infrastructure. The proposed amendments simply fail to deal with the major planning issues that arise out of non-aviation development activity. They fail to put in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure that airport operators contribute to financing the development of the infrastructure required to support the proposed level of development. This government has no long-term plan for financing Australia’s infrastructure needs, let alone those short-term infrastructure needs created by federal government decision making. The only plan that the Howard government has to address the $90 billion shortfall in infrastructure, a figure estimated by the Business Council of Australia, is to blame the states.
The Airports Amendment Bill is yet another example of bad policy by a government that wants to seize control of state powers but take no responsibility for the consequences. The Commonwealth government has consistently refused to participate in discussions with state and territory governments over the need for a national policy for urban development. Yet the Commonwealth continues to control the planning and development of airport sites with little regard for the consequences this might have on local communities and how this might impact on surrounding infrastructure. The Howard government simply cannot have it both ways: they either get serious about developing a national policy for urban infrastructure development or get out of controlling non-aviation airport developments that have consequences for the urban areas that surround them.
The government claim in the explanatory memorandum that, to ‘respond to community concern about adequate information concerning flight paths and aircraft noise exposure patterns around airports’, they have proposed amendments requiring that an airport master plan released for public comment specify information such as the Australian noise exposure forecast and flight paths. Here is the clincher: this information must be provided ‘in accordance with any regulations’. This parliament will not see such regulations and therefore cannot make an informed judgement until this bill receives royal assent—when it is too late. If the government were serious about community consultation and ‘genuine engagement’, they would at the very least provide draft regulations so that elected members can assess what sorts of obligations would be imposed.
An equally obscure measure in this bill requires that a new master plan be developed if a new Australian noise exposure forecast is endorsed ‘in the manner approved by the minister’ for the relevant airport. Currently, responsibility for endorsing the technical accuracy of ANEFs lies within the Airspace and Environment Regulatory Unit of Airservices Australia. So exactly what does endorsement of an ANEF ‘in the manner approved by the minister’ mean?
These amendments raise more questions than they answer. But we know that this government is as serious about noise exposure as it is about enforcing its own legislation on curfews and caps, particularly those for Sydney airport. I have continued to express concern to a succession of transport ministers about the government’s failure to provide adequate support to residents around Sydney airport. I give the Deputy Prime Minister credit that when he was previously the transport minister he actually visited the area around Grayndler—unlike the member for Gwydir, who not once in all those years bothered to come to the area and have a look at the issues. The issues are familiar to anyone who goes and has a look at that area; such as, for example, the shadow minister for transport, the member for Batman, who has twice visited Fort Street High School with me. He was immediately convinced by the argument of students, teachers and parents at that school, which is at Taverner’s Hill in Petersham—and ‘hill’ implies that it is up high close to where the planes fly overhead—that those young people’s education was being disrupted by aircraft noise. Common sense tells you that there is nothing more important than people’s education and that it should not be constantly disrupted every 70 or 80 seconds by aircraft noise overhead. We have a noise amelioration project. That could be funded at no cost to the budget, so we could do the right thing if the government were serious about that. But the government is not serious about fulfilling its responsibility to the residents of the communities around Sydney airport.
Recent responses that I have received to questions on notice that I submitted have revealed that up to 25 flights a week arrive outside the curfew hours. This figure exceeds the 24 flights a week cap on landings before 6 am. Residents in my electorate are woken as aircraft arrive at Sydney airport between 5 am and 6 am. Indeed, the duty-free store at Sydney airport now opens at 5 am. They have a curfew between 11 pm and 6 am yet the store opens every day at 5 am.
For arrivals the duty-free store at Sydney airport is open at 5 am. That is what time the flights arrive; they do not leave then. As we have heard many times before, every single day many aircraft are allowed to land—you can log on to the Sydney airport website and see these flights, such as QF2, which arrives from London—in breach of the curfew. When the original legislation was brought in, there was, at the shoulder period, provision for occasional breaches. That was meant to be for an exceptional circumstance. It was not meant to be abused, which is what has occurred in recent years with scheduled flights and scheduled breaches.
We now have a government that is failing to insulate schools and other community buildings, and therefore young people’s educational circumstances are suffering. We have a curfew which is breached each and every day at Sydney airport; we have a cap which is breached. The Audit Office report indicates that the government is not even fulfilling its responsibilities to report to this parliament. The Airports Amendment Bill is totally inadequate in terms of what is required to ensure that proper processes are put in place around airports—in particular Sydney airport. That is why this bill is totally inadequate in so many ways, and that is why the opposition will be moving amendments in the consideration in detail stage of the debate.
We already know that this government is deaf to expert advice offered by local councils and state governments. Many concerns were raised during the Senate inquiry into this bill, but sadly those concerns have fallen on deaf ears too. In the same way, we expect the government will arrogantly ignore our amendments. Despite the rhetoric you are likely to hear from members on the other side, revising the reduced public consultation period from 90 days to 60 days instead of 45 is plainly useless if no public consultation is required by law. Failing to introduce a mechanism to meet infrastructure shortfalls around airport development sites that are created by federal government decision making is Howard government arrogance at its best.
We are dealing with a government that has no intention of working in partnership with state governments to improve community outcomes. We are dealing with a government that constantly resorts to blaming the states—the blame game—rather than taking a cooperative approach to federal-state relations. For the Howard government it is the blame game first and the community interests last.
On this side of the House we believe that the national interest is the same as community interests. We believe that by having proper consultation you can bring the community, who have a rational view about these issues, with you. I regard Sydney airport as a very important infrastructure asset. I resist the lunatic fringe in my electorate who want Sydney airport shut, because that would be a disaster for the economy locally and for jobs. You need infrastructure projects such as Sydney airport. But the support for that infrastructure is undermined if governments do not regulate their behaviour properly. That strengthens the case of those people who would argue an extreme position. The Greens position on these issues is to shut Sydney airport, but they will not say where a replacement airport should go. That might be fine, I say to them, because you could still get into Sydney, but you would have to parachute out of the plane!
The member opposite raises Greens preference deals. I look forward to seeing the Liberal Party for once putting the Labor Party in my electorate before the Greens. If they do, it will be the first time they have ever done it.
They are always, in spite of their rhetoric, determined to undermine the Labor Party in inner Sydney. I conclude my comments there. I commend the second reading amendment to the House.
The privatisation of the 22 leased federal airports has fostered a vibrant industry that has enabled airports to grow, through commercial businesses, with minimal government intervention. The network provided by the leased federal airports regulated under the Airports Act forms the backbone of this country’s aviation transport infrastructure. The Airports Amendment Bill 2006 preserves and enhances the open and transparent regulatory regime for land use planning, protection of the environment and control of on-airport building activity provided for by the Airports Act. However, the government acknowledges that a number of concerns have been raised during debate on this bill and by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport following its inquiry into this bill.
The government fully supports the two key recommendations arising from the committee’s report and will move amendments in the Senate to give effect to them. In addition, as indicated in the minister’s media release of 13 February 2007, the government intends to move an amendment in the Senate in response to specific concerns raised by government members on the proposed reduction in the time for public consultation on airport master plans, major development plans and environment strategies. This amendment will alter the original reduction in consultation from 90 calendar days to 45 business days to allow for a public consultation period of 60 business days.
It is a very good initiative, achieved by the hard work of government members who have lobbied the minister. This ensures that the benchmark for the period of public consultation in the development of statutory planning documents at the leased federal airports is one of the longest, when compared with other jurisdictions.
Further amendments have been mooted during discussions with the opposition spokesman on the bill, which the government will not be supporting. One is a requirement that the Department of Transport and Regional Services employ town planners. The assessment of a major development requires a myriad of skills, including aviation and environment. While the minister’s department does employ some town planners, expert advice is also sought from external sources as and when appropriate.
With regard to issuing a statement of reasons when a local planning authority’s recommendations are overlooked, it should also be noted that there are established appeal mechanisms to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal provided for in the Airports Act and that a request for a statement of reasons can be made under the AAT Act should application be made to the tribunal to review an approval or nonapproval.
With respect to removal of the current deemed approval provision, having the deemed approval provision ensures that a decision will be made which benefits the community, and the proposed stop-the-clock provisions will help ensure that the minister has all the relevant material to make an assessment before the time limit expires.
The opposition have also suggested that the minister address in approval conditions any impact on off-airport infrastructure. In response, I draw their attention to the strict environmental conditions which have been placed on a number of approved developments: for example, the brickworks at Perth Airport and the international terminal gateway upgrade at Brisbane airport, as well as the traffic mitigation measures developed with regard to the Essendon airport outlet centre, Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport international terminal precinct works, the Melbourne Airport Business Park and the brickworks at Perth Airport.
With regard to the brickworks, BGC Australia Pty Ltd and the airport lessee, Westralia Airports Corporation, were also required to negotiate contributions to the cost of road maintenance arising from access to the site by heavy vehicles. It is the minister’s understanding that this agreement has been reached. Further, in response to calls to make sure that airport lessees are meeting their obligations to make rate-equivalent payments, it should be noted that each airport lease, rather than the Airports Act, requires the airport lessee to pay a rate-equivalent amount on certain parts of the airport site to local councils. I have encouraged all parties to seek to put in place long-term agreements. The Department of Transport and Regional Services has been working constructively in recent times with councils and airports to ensure lease obligations are being complied with.
Overall, this balanced package of amendments to the original bill not only promotes the ongoing development of our major airports but ensures that a system is in place that provides for effective stakeholder consultation and communication. I commend the bill to the House.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Martin Ferguson’s amendment) stand part of the question.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.