House debates

Monday, 25 October 2010

Airports Amendment Bill 2010

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 20 October, on motion by Mr Albanese:

That this bill be now read a second time.

upon which Mr Truss moved by way of amendment:

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “the House declines to give the bill a second reading until the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee has reported to the Senate on its inquiry into the bill”.

5:47 pm

Photo of Kelvin ThomsonKelvin Thomson (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate the member for McPherson on her first speech and wish her every success in making the most of the opportunities that arise from election to this place. As I was saying before proceedings were suspended last week on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010, the proposed upgrading of the emergency services base at Essendon airport did not raise many eyebrows back in 2008. This was mainly because the services had been historically based along the western perimeter on the Tullamarine Freeway side of the airport well away from residential back fences along the Strathmore perimeter. The draft master plan had no detail on exactly where the new hangars and base would be situated on the airport. It was not until concrete slabs and metal frames started to be erected in the vicinity of Strathaird Street and Mascoma Street in Strathmore that local residents became aware of a new building being constructed literally over their back fence. Upon making relevant inquiries, I was advised this was the new location for the new emergency services air wing. So a major new aviation facility, which the Victorian government has invested over $20 million into constructing, has been built and is now in operation around the clock only metres away from residential homes.

Let me make it clear that people are not opposed to providing up-to-date facilities for our emergency service personnel. They do a fantastic job under a great deal of pressure. What people are opposed to is having no say or right of appeal on the biggest aviation hangar ever being constructed at Essendon airport being built close to their backyards. This new hangar could easily have been constructed away from residential homes, and the decision by airport management to relocate the new hangar to the current site was a very poor one indeed. I have requested a meeting with representatives from the emergency service air wing to discuss the impact of aircraft noise and disturbances on local residents.

Residents have also raised concern with me over the construction and operation of a car-holding and predelivery facility along the airport’s eastern perimeter. Residents were given a general overview of this proposal at the March 2007 public meeting and, as I reported to the House in March 2007, were advised that landscaping works would be undertaken to help minimise the facility’s effect on local amenity and noise. Again, as with the emergency services hangar, there were no specific plans or proposals put out for public comment and consideration. Residents now have a fully operational car-holding facility on their doorstep which they had no say in, and no landscaping works have taken place as initially airport management indicated would happen. Residents have reported noise and disturbances from the facility at very early and late hours from freight and delivery vehicles. Some residents have also reported that excessive light spillage takes place during the night into their properties because of the way lights face the streetscape. These are just a couple of examples of the many issues residents could have provided invaluable feedback on regarding this facility had an effective planning process been in place at the time of the building’s design.

The Australia Post mail-sorting facility is also a significant building which has been constructed close to residential homes along the eastern perimeter. The initial plans regarding this facility were generally outlined by airport management at the 2007 public meetings, but again residents had no formal process to have a say in the building’s final design. Residents have reported that the late night and early morning operating hours generate noise. The facility has a path which connects to Mascoma Street to allow for postie motorbike access to and from the facility. Residents have reported to me that the building’s colour and design do not fit in with the local streetscape and that, despite their request for landscaping around the Australia Post facility to help it better integrate into the existing built community, it has not occurred.

Residents were very supportive of the idea of landscaping works along the eastern perimeter. This was a suggestion put forward at the 2007 public meetings and an idea that I have supported in my representations to airport management and in various formal submissions. The fact is that there have been beautification and landscaping works undertaken throughout the commercial precincts—English Street and the western perimeter. These works have helped lift the look and feel of the site through the installation of young trees, plants and shrubs. However, we have not had this along the residential eastern perimeter, and management state that such work would attract birds and affect flights. It seems odd that you can have landscaping works being carried out throughout the commercial precincts without having a similar effect. I think that residents deserve the landscaping work they have been requesting and were promised back in 2007.

During the last master plan process, Essendon Airport proposed and has since constructed a new entrance to the north of the site—the Wirraway Road entrance from the Tullamarine Freeway. This entrance was constructed between five and seven metres high above the ground. It was constructed with no sound barriers. Residents living in the immediate vicinity of this entrance, in Palagia Court and other surrounding streets, have expressed to me great concern that this new connection from the freeway has dramatically increased the noise levels in the area, and they would like noise walls installed. There is currently a 30- to 50-metre gap between the end of the nearest noise walls and this new entrance. I do not think it is too much to ask for the noise walls to be simply extended. I have made numerous representations to the Victorian Minister for Roads and Ports on this issue, and I am now working with local resident Denis James to help the noise walls campaign. The point is, if residents had had adequate notification and opportunity to comment on the proposed new entrance at the time, airport management and VicRoads would have been much more aware that residents wanted the installation of noise walls.

The Essendon Airport Noise Management Working Group, which was established by the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government following the approval of the master plan in 2008, presented a report to the minister which contained 16 recommendations on how to better manage and monitor noise and airport related issues. A couple of those issues related to a proposed shortening of the north-south runway, investigating the impacts on the community and analysing and assessing the impacts of closing the entire north-south runway. I believe that residents to the east and west of the airport must not be adversely affected by this possible change. I welcome the fact that this bill will formalise that community consultation must take place on any significant alterations to airport runways that change flight paths.

Local residents have to live with developments in their neighbourhoods for a lifetime. It is important that their views are sought and adhered to during the planning of any new development on Essendon Airport land. The changes to the act to ensure the community is better consulted on proposed airport developments are supported by me. Bringing the airport planning and master plan process into line with local and state planning guidelines will help achieve this and help make Essendon Airport a better neighbour. I commend the bill to the House.

5:57 pm

Photo of Judi MoylanJudi Moylan (Pearce, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I certainly echo some of the sentiments expressed by the member for Wills about public consultation, given the difficulties we have experienced in the electorate of Pearce over the lack of public consultation. I am pleased therefore to have the opportunity to speak on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. I note that in the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport’s second reading speech he said the amendments contained in this bill underscore the objectives of the Airports Act, including: to promote the sound development of civil aviation in Australia; to establish a system for the regulation of airports that has due regard to the interests of airport users and the general community; and to promote the efficient economic development and operation of airports.

On these points we are in agreement. However, in the minister’s second reading speech, he said:

I introduced this bill into the last parliament but the bill lapsed when it was prorogued. At the time, the bill was referred to the Senate Standing Legislation Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. The committee commenced an inquiry into the bill. However, it did not have the opportunity to fully examine the bill before the caretaker period began.

We are therefore entitled to ask the minister and the government why the undue haste in bringing this bill to the House before the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee has had a chance to fully canvass the serious matters such a bill raises, as the shadow minister, the member for Wide Bay, outlined in his contribution to this debate last Wednesday. There have been some legitimate concerns raised by local governments and community groups and yet the Senate inquiry is not able to complete its work until 16 November. Surely in the interests of getting this legislation right it would have been prudent to await the outcome of that inquiry.

Unfortunately, the minister and his government have a track record of hastily made decisions and not following their own protocols. I am sure this is why we have seen so many of the government’s programs get into difficulties. We saw evidence of that in the decision to appoint an air noise ombudsman during the election campaign, as I will outline shortly. Yet in the case where the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport completed a full inquiry into the effectiveness of Airservices Australia to manage aircraft noise in June 2010, there has been no response except the appointment of an ombudsman while the government was in caretaker mode. So from this minister we get either decisions made in undue haste or no decisions at all where full inquiries have been conducted and recommendations made. That particular report does need acting upon, as it is damning of Airservices in their failure to consult all stakeholders directly in the matter of Perth Airport and changes made there. It is clear that the public, particularly those who live in the hills area of Pearce, have lost faith in Airservices and the government’s ability to manage the issue of aircraft noise. For the people of Pearce, Hasluck, Swan and Canning, changes to flight paths were made in 2008 without proper consultation or referral to the department of environment. In fact, the lack of process was shameful. It has negatively impacted the lives of many and yet the minister has not seen fit to respond to the committee report.

Consistently, evidence collected during the course of that inquiry demonstrates a lack of organisational openness and transparency. Among the 10 recommendations of the report were the establishment of an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, independent of Airservices Australia, to ensure greater transparency, openness and accountability and public confidence in the noise complaints process; an independent review of Airservices Australia’s communications and consultation protocols, the strengthening of the community consultation process and funding of community advocates where there are significant changes proposed; the referral of changes to Perth airspace under WARRP to the minister for environment, as Airservices Australia did not seek advice on whether it triggered an environmental assessment; and a review of the aircraft noise exposure forecast process to ensure the accuracy of forecasts with a view of offering Perth residents a noise insulation scheme similar to that already operating in other capital cities in Australia.

I wrote to the minister on 14 July asking him to fully implement the recommendations of the report. I received no response from this letter until 27 September, after directing a second letter to the minister. However, without reference to the Senate report and its different recommendations, Minister Albanese issued a media release on 27 July 2010 regarding the establishment of an aircraft noise ombudsman. That was hardly an appointment at arm’s length, as the suggestion of the minister was that this be paid for by Airservices Australia and originally to be located within Airservices Australia. I came to Canberra immediately after the election to speak to the then Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, about my concerns as to the lack of arm’s length operation of the ombudsman appointment. It is a matter of concern that that is the only recommendation that was acted on and it was acted on during a time when the parliament was in caretaker mode. We did not have a chance to comment about that particular matter and the need to have a completely independent ombudsman if there is to be any public confidence in that appointment.

Nevertheless, given that there had been no response from the Gillard government to the Senate inquiry, I think it scandalous that an ombudsman could be appointed during an election when the government is in caretaker mode. Not only does this go against the guidelines of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet but also it attempts to circumvent the real issues with Airservices Australia and aircraft noise. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet guidelines for caretaker mode indicate that governments should defer making significant appointments during the caretaker period, and I put it to you that this is a significant appointment, certainly in the eyes of constituents in Pearce and in many other parts of Australia where people have been adversely impacted by changes to flight paths and other matters.

This appointment qualifies as ‘significant’ and, given the controversy of the announcement, I would have thought the Prime Minister and the minister, the member for Grayndler, would have opted against making such an announcement during an election campaign. I can only presume that this decision was made during the election in an attempt to save the then member for Hasluck from defeat.

My experiences in the electorate of Pearce and the stories related to me by constituents have shown, as the shadow minister rightly acknowledged last week, sometimes complaints have not been handled as well as they should—and that is an understatement. Sometimes communities have not been appropriately consulted about changes to flight plans and alterations to noise levels. Airports must also be conscious of ensuring they develop, maintain and nurture a good relationship with the people who live around them.

In regard to this legislation, though, the Senate committee has not had a chance to complete the new review following referral in this new parliament. In my experience the Senate does an excellent job of reviewing legislation, often ironing out serious problems, and it would have been preferable to have had this debate after the Senate committee had completed its deliberations.

As there does appear to be a lack of clarity and definition to aspects of this bill, I hope those interested in the legislation will present to the Senate committee in time for the finalisation of its inquiry by 16 November. A full and complete inquiry may uncover defects in the bill or ways in which it can be improved. Given the contribution that airports make as critical parts of our national infrastructure, we would be remiss if we did not take the time to get this legislation right.

Airports do play a vital part in contemporary society in the movement of people and goods. While it is important that they are not unduly hindered by excessive regulation and onerous costs, we must always make sure in this place that we balance that against the interests of the community surrounding the airports. While airports play a valuable role in supporting the economy and connecting Australians, aviation also imposes burdens on local communities that surround them through increased noise, traffic and pollution.

With so many people and industries relying on air transport today, it is unlikely that traffic will diminish any time soon, but given the power of Airservices to change the flight paths and impact on people’s quiet enjoyment of their property it is absolutely necessary to have a proper, open and accountable public process and consultation process before the changes take place, not after. In the case of the 2008 changes, this public consultation simply did not happen. It is vital that the public has absolute confidence in the process that we ultimately preside over.

Airservices should, though, take a leaf out of Perth Airport’s book in regard to the open and accountable public consultation process. Perth Airport set an excellent example earlier this year when it delivered its community information program when it had plans to resurface its major runway. Those communities which may have been affected by temporary changes to flight paths were fully briefed of the airport’s schedule of works and the importance of these works to take place at this particular time. Clearly, it is vital that in planning airports there is cooperation between all tiers of government and effective communication and consultation with the general public. The outcome of those works in Perth has been for the most part quite acceptable to the public. They knew exactly what was happening, when it was happening and how long they would have to put up with the disruption.

Airport master plans are important to local communities as they set out development plans over a 20-year period and are updated usually every five years. Master plans and major developments are subject to periods of public consultation and this bill changes the manner in which these consultations are to be conducted. There have been reservations about aspects of those changes which need greater public airing. The Senate inquiry would have fully explored these issues so that we could have had a more informed debate in this chamber before being asked to approve this particular legislation.

I conclude by repeating the remarks of the shadow minister, the member for Wide Bay, when at the conclusion of his contribution—and a very sound contribution it was to this place—he said:

Whether or not amendments are required, and what those amendments should be, is not yet clear—

because we have not obviously gone through that process—

but we will take the appropriate action to ensure that Australia’s airports are well and efficiently regulated.

6:10 pm

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. I know the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, has an even longer history with Sydney Airport than I do due to the impact of the aviation industry and associated aircraft noise and the other airport operations on the people that we represent in this place. The bill being discussed tonight relates to proposed changes to the Airports Act 1996. The Airports Act establishes a regulatory framework for the Commonwealth airports that have been leased to private companies. The Australian government has applied a national regulatory regime on these airports as set out in the Airports Act and its amending regulations.

I note that the current planning regulatory framework applies to both Bankstown and Kingsford Smith airports, which are both located near my electorate of Reid and not that far from the electorate of the member for Grayndler, the minister. It is pertinent to also note that these airports are two of the busiest in Australia. Bankstown Airport is, I think, the busiest in the Southern Hemisphere. There has been a significant impact from those airports on my local economy, the environment and the community that I represent.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you would think that, given the significant impact that such a large and important industry has for so many cities and regions, the previous Howard government would have undertaken to provide comprehensive long-term policy objectives to ensure efficient and effective oversight of the airports. But you would be wrong, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you thought that. It was not until 16 December last year that the Labor government released a national aviation white paper, Flight path to the future. That white paper is the first aviation white paper in Australia’s history. It outlines the government’s long-term policy approach to the very important Australian aviation industry. The white paper is the first comprehensive long-term aviation policy framework for Australia, outlining the government’s long-term policy objectives for the industry, including the importance of minimising aviation’s negative impacts on the environment and communities. The paper was a product of extensive consultation with key stakeholders, including, naturally, the aviation industry, the community as well as state and territory and local governments. The government’s significant reforms, as pointed out by the minister, needed to make sure that we got the balance right.

Airports are important for our economy, but we must ensure that we support sustainable growth and provide mechanisms for sufficient community consultation. The white paper was able to identify several areas that needed improvement. One key area highlighted in the white paper was the need for improved consultation between the airports, their neighbouring communities, planning authorities and interested parties.

The government, however, also recognises the importance of continuing to promote the development of civil aviation in Australia; of establishing a system for the regulation of airports, taking into account the interests of the general community and airport users; and of encouraging the efficient and economic development and operation of airports. In essence, this bill will underscore the objectives of the Airports Act and give effect to the legislative reforms outlined in the white paper.

The bill will amend the act to strengthen the requirements for airport master plans and major development plans to support more effective airport planning and to better align with state, territory and local planning. If there are any inconsistencies between the master plan and the plans of state and local authorities, the airports must provide justification for such inconsistencies. Further, the bill will require the first five years of an airport master plan to include detailed information on the proposed use of land, including developments that are not related to airport services. Airport master plans will also need to include information on a ground transport plan, demonstrating how the airport’s facilities connect with the surrounding road and public transport system.

Under the amendments, likely employment levels and effects will need to be included in plans, including a report on how well the proposed development will fit in with the planning schemes for other commercial and retail development in the areas near the airport—in other words, an assessment of the potential impacts on the local economy and community. The minister made a very good point in his second reading speech: airports are not islands. Better integration of on- and off-airport planning is in everyone’s interests, from passengers, to airline companies, to businesses, to local communities.

This bill will also restructure the criteria for major development plans to capture projects with a significant community impact, irrespective of the size and the cost. In addition, the amendments will prohibit specified types of developments that are incompatible with the operation of an airport site. An ‘incompatible development’ includes residential dwellings; community care facilities; preschools; primary, secondary, tertiary or other educational institutions; and hospitals. The bill also defines the redevelopment of any of the named facilities as an incompatible development if it increases the capacity of the development, except in exceptional circumstances. The environment strategy for an airport will now be included in airport master plans, instead of being a stand-alone document, to better reflect the context of the strategy.

Another key element proposed in this bill is increased and strengthened consultation and guidelines on any proposed changes to runways, including changes that are likely to alter flight paths or aircraft arrangements. Any alterations that change flight paths or patterns of levels of aircraft noise will now be required to go through the major development plan approval process, providing for public consultation.

The last amendment contained in this bill is particularly welcomed by my electorate and the constituents that I represent in this place, given the long history of unfair aircraft noise distribution over the inner west of Sydney. My community is very well aware of the gap in the current act, which resulted in the closure of the east-west runway at Sydney airport for upgrades, without an ounce of community consultation, under the Howard government. Unfortunately, constituents of the former electorate of Lowe, which I represented for 12 years, suffered for many years under the former coalition government’s indifference to consultation about aircraft noise and associated environmental issues. Moreover, as I have mentioned many times in this House, the former Howard government sold Sydney airport without any genuine community consultation or real concern about properly addressing aircraft noise.

Further, prior to the 2007 election the Howard government concealed its negotiations with Sydney airport to close the east-west runway for safety upgrades. The people I represent were outraged by the temporary closure of the runway, as this altered flight paths to the detriment of many neighbouring residents in my electorate and in the minister’s electorate. Due to the closure of the east-west runway, flight paths as prescribed in the Long Term Operating Plan for Sydney airport were necessarily restricted.

Once elected, the Labor government moved immediately to impose 22 stringent conditions on the runway end safety area—RESA, as it is known—project to minimise the impact of the east-west closure on our communities. These included a requirement that work be undertaken for 22 hours a day, seven days a week. I commend the minister and member for Grayndler for his initiative in that regard. I am pleased to say that the east-west runway is now fully operational following the completion of the RESA project.

The outrage about the lack of consultation prior to the closure of the east-west runway was very loud and very clear in my electorate and in the electorate of the minister, the member for Grayndler. Once again, this example highlighted the very different approaches taken by the former Howard government and our government. Unlike the former Howard government, the Gillard government is making changes to improve transparency and consultation. The Labor government, under the leadership of the minister, has demonstrated this through many areas of government and again here tonight through these amendments to the Airports Act.

These amendments will affect not only the communities in my electorate but communities neighbouring all leased federal airports around Australia. The changes proposed in this bill are supported by other reforms outlined in the white paper, including the requirements for leased federal airports to host community consultation groups with independent chairs and for capital city airports to have a high-level planning forum with the state government and the Department of Infrastructure and Transport. This bill is part of a broad range of measures the transport minister and the Labor government have undertaken for airports and the aviation industry.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, as someone who comes from an electorate in Adelaide that is also affected by aircraft noise, we have all championed fairer aircraft noise sharing for our constituents. I have done that ever since I arrived in this place 12 years ago and I am certainly not going to let up on it. Since the election of the Labor government in 2007, we have reaffirmed our commitment to maintain the curfew and cap on aircraft movements—another initiative of the member for Grayndler—ensuring respite for noise affected residents. Further, the minister has announced that older and noisier jet freight aircraft will be banned from flying over thousands of Sydney homes, particularly late on weeknights.

The minister has also established an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman to assist with the dissemination of information and complaints handling. My local community campaigned on this very issue and I thank the minister for listening to our call. I note that I have already contacted the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, on behalf of my constituents and I trust that we will receive his full assistance with those matters. I take the opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment.

I could talk all night about the initiatives of our government and the minister, but time has beaten me. We are actually doing something to get some fairness and equity in relation to the issues associated with the expansion of Sydney airport, and I commend the minister and the government for these initiatives. They are greatly appreciated by my electorate.

6:24 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank members of the House for their comments and contributions to the debate on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. I know that a number of members will contribute to the ongoing debate on these issues, including the member for Hindmarsh and the member for Makin.

I will keep my remarks tight, given the time frame. The opposition has moved an amendment to defer voting on this bill until the Senate committee inquiry has concluded. This is nothing more than a delaying tactic. Let us be clear about a few things. Firstly, the Senate and the House are separate chambers and have separate purposes. If the Senate wishes to consider this bill through an inquiry it can do so, and the House will be able to consider any amendments in due course. The idea that the House should be held hostage to the Senate is ludicrous. Secondly, this deferral tactic has been tried by the opposition before, with the health amendment bill. Simply, the parliament must be allowed to function.

It is important to recognise that the Airports Amendment Bill has already been introduced into this House before. This current course of action is as a result of an extensive consultation process, leading up to the aviation white paper Flight path to the future. We had a discussion paper, then a green paper, then a white paper—so there has been full community consultation on this issue. This bill is about getting the balance right between ongoing investment in aviation infrastructure, community consultation and the integration of airport planning with local, state and territory planning regimes. With our airports becoming busier and our major cities growing, airport planning is more important than it has ever been before. The government is committed to bringing national leadership to planning our major cities, and the reforms contained in this bill support that broader agenda. The public rightly demand better information and consultation when it comes to airport development and especially the impacts of aviation on local communities.

I thank members for their contributions. The Senate is having an inquiry, and if there are any recommendations coming from that inquiry they will be considered as is appropriate. That is not a reason to delay the passage of this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Truss’s amendment) stand part of the question.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.