Thursday, 28 June 2018
Airports Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Airports Amendment Bill 2016. I indicate my support for the amendments that will be moved by the member for Grayndler. I do so because, as you would probably be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have Adelaide Airport in the middle of my electorate—it is situated at West Beach, six kilometres from the Adelaide CBD, in the heart of the electorate of Hindmarsh, and it is surrounded by housing density all the way around, on every side. Like all members in this place, I recognise that aviation is a significant creator of jobs, and economic activity as well. It is one of the largest employers in the electorate of Hindmarsh. It employs more people than most other industries in the airport precinct.
For example, the South Australian tourism industry supports more than 36,000 direct jobs and is worth more than $6 billion annually to my state of South Australia. Direct tourism jobs have increased by 13.8 per cent to 35,700. That is the data from the tourist research that was revealed. This growth rate is significantly higher than the national average of approximately five per cent. We've beaten every other state in that area.
The Airports Amendment Bill 2016 before us seeks to amend the Airports Act 1996, which sets out the conditions that airport lessees operate under. In South Australia, Adelaide Airport Ltd took over the airport back in 2000. Once upon a time it was operated by the federal government of Australia, and gradually we have seen the privatisation of airports around the country. While this act may spell out the legal conditions, it's important that our airports also operate under a social licence—particularly an airport like Adelaide Airport in my electorate, as it is surrounded by housing on all sides six kilometres from the CBD. This is a licence granted when the community is properly engaged and appreciates the benefits an airport brings, but this is also a licence that is maintained through consultation and dialogue.
I have to say that, because there were so many issues with the airport in my electorate years ago and because we do continue to have the odd issue here and there, we set up a consultative group which included residents, resident organisations, industries, airlines and airport workers. We would meet continually every few months to nut out the issues and problems under the guidance of Phil Baker, who was then the CEO of Adelaide Airport. It created a structure and atmosphere of working together and getting through issues.
I'm pleased to say that, when we on this side of the House were in government, the member for Grayndler looked at our consultative committee in South Australia and how well it worked and decided to ensure that there were consultative committees all around Australia where airports existed. I'm proud to say that the model that we put together with residents groups in my electorate became the model which is currently being used for all of Australia. This was a good and important way to find a good balance between aircraft travel and the thousands of residents who live directly under the flight path like in my electorate. We estimate approximately 25,000 residents are directly under the flight path. I'm one of them. I've lived under the flight path my entire life. My dogs jump up and try to bite the aeroplanes; that's how low they fly over my house.
During my time in this place I've raised this issue many times and I've been proud to represent the interests of my local community when it comes to matters of aviation. I'm very proud of our achievements when we were in the Rudd-Gillard government, through the National aviation policy white paper and having worked with the member for Grayndler to ensure that the community and stakeholder voices were heard and protected, as I said, through a formalised consultative process that airports have.
Also through the national aviation white paper we had greater safeguards for residents living in areas adjacent to airports and flight paths. We had mechanisms for the protection of their interests. For example, we have a curfew in Adelaide Airport between 11 pm and 6 am. I think it's important we maintain that curfew and I've always been a staunch defender of that curfew because, when you have an airport six kilometres from the CBD and surrounded by 25,000 households, it is an issue. You have shiftworkers. You have mothers and fathers with young children. You have people that need some form of peace and quiet between those hours.
The upside for the airport is that it is so close to the CBD. That is a special position to be in when you look at airports around the world, where airports are placed miles and miles—sometimes up to two hours—out of the CBD. We know also that having a curfew is not an unusual thing. We know that major airports around the world have curfews. For example, Hong Kong has a curfew of a sort where planes are not allowed to fly in over residential properties or over land between, I think, 11 pm and 7 am. They have flights that come in but only over the sea. Those are the regulations they have in place. LaGuardia Airport in New York has a curfew, as do many other airports around the world. It's not unusual. We hear of people that want to get rid of the curfew and open it up 24 hours a day. I think that curfew is protecting the interests of the residents that live around the airport. I pushed for that for a long time.
We also saw the creation of the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman to receive and resolve complaints from the general public that relate to aircraft noise. Previously, constituents or residents would ring the airport, me, Aviation Australia et cetera for their complaints. There was no independent body to investigate their complaints and come up with findings. In the history of Australia there have been ombudsmen whenever we have privatised our banks or our telecommunications. There have been ombudsmen in those areas because we need an independent umpire to ensure that, when issues were raised by the public, someone would look at it in a completely independent way. I pushed for the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman and spoke to the minister when we were in government, and the member for Grayndler received those issues and came up with a great policy, where we now have the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, an independent body that can look at those complaints and queries from residents and can resolve them. This was a great innovation and is continuing to be a terrific success.
We also developed a major development plan trigger—this goes to the body of this particular bill—to ensure that the community has the opportunity to scrutinise developments and their impact, so that the local area is not adversely affected. This bill seeks to increase the current threshold from $20 million to $35 million. The rationale presented to us by the government is that the construction CPI has increased since the threshold was put in place. While we on this side of the House accept that the construction CPI may have increased by about 20 per cent since 2007, the bill proposes to increase the threshold by 75 per cent. This would mean a large-scale project could proceed without consultation, local input or public scrutiny from those affected. This could adversely affect a whole area or suburb, and we have seen this happen when there hasn't been good consultation.
The bill also provides that if the minister decides to do nothing with a major development plan within 15 days then it is deemed approved with reduced consultation. We know the history of this government with this parliament. They couldn't even get their act together to keep this parliament under control at the beginning of the parliamentary three-year term. They lost control of this parliament twice. Those opposite have an aversion to turning up and doing their job. This parliament nearly collapsed because they couldn't even get their act together. If you give the minister only 15 days, how can you trust that they will properly consider major development proposals and their impacts, especially on communities such as mine?
The issue of the curfew, as I said, has been particularly important to my electorate. I'm proud that our government continued to protect the curfew, which from time to time enjoyed bipartisan support. I have to give due credit to one of the former members for Hindmarsh, Ms Chris Gallus, who was a Liberal member but fought very hard for the curfew. I was then chair of the Adelaide Airport residents group, which was a group with over 200 members that lived around the airport, and she worked very closely with us. I was neither a member of parliament nor a candidate at that time, but we worked so closely together that the curfew was enshrined in law.
On the eve of the 2013 election, the former candidate for the Liberal Party put out leaflets saying that the curfew would remain with the bipartisan support of both political parties. It's a pity. They put their hands on their hearts and promised that there'd be no changes. We had promises from the Liberal candidate and from the Liberal opposition about undertaking and maintaining the Adelaide Airport curfew. Guess what? Less than two months after the Liberal candidate won the seat of Hindmarsh and the Liberal government came to power, that commitment disappeared. That broken election commitment allowed aircraft to come in before 6 am, even though we had a promise by the Liberal opposition and the Liberal candidate at the time that this would not happen. They broke their promise less than two months after they formed government—and after they had put out leaflets in the entire electorate promising that this would not be happening.
I'd also like to raise the importance of keeping Australians safe. I have raised a series of questions in writing with the Minister for Home Affairs. I'm yet to hear back from him, but it was only a couple of weeks ago, so I've given him some time. I look forward to hearing back from the minister regarding these important questions about security at Adelaide Airport and airports around Australia.
There were reports in newspapers and on radio about workers in our airports. We know they play a tremendously important role, and it's important we provide them with the resources they require and the support they need to carry out their work. I'm very proud of the work I've done with many workers at the airports, through the collapse of Ansett and more recently, with the Australian Services Union. It's so important to ensure that we make workers feel safe at work—and not just make them feel safe but also ensure that they are safe. Our emergency service workers, our security officers, our AFP—they are all hardworking, dedicated people. We have seen recently in media reports that weapons have passed through security screening undetected at Adelaide Airport on multiple occasions. This is deeply concerning, and I've called on the Minister for Home Affairs to investigate these matters.
Labour strongly support investment in aviation and we are committed to growing the sector, but the simple fact is this investment must be underpinned by a social compact between airports and the communities that live around them. We do a pretty good job in Adelaide, through the auspices of Phil Baker, the former CEO of Adelaide Airport, and now Mark Young. We have a good consultation committee. When issues arise I ring them or they ring me. We brief one another, and we are able to work through the issues. But, as I said, this is so important, especially in Adelaide, where we have a trade-off involving an airport that is six kilometres from the CBD and is surrounded by housing and an urban environment.
This is why these amendments will be put forward by the member for Grayndler, and I encourage this parliament to support them. I encourage them to do so because what we see in the amendments is that the proposed monetary trigger for requiring major development plans is to be reduced from $35 million to $25 million. A trigger of $35 million means that bigger projects, projects that have a bigger impact on the community, would be able to go through without any consultation. We are told we need this to 'align better with the recent cost escalations', but, in effect, our amendments mean that more projects at airports will require a formal development application process, which means that there could be better consultation and better input from those communities that are adversely affected.
Aviation brings people and cultures together like no other form of transport. Air travel reunites Australian families and friends within and beyond our Australian borders. It can also be a lifeline for Australians in remote and regional areas who rely on aviation to receive critical aeromedical services.
The aviation sector is central to Australia's economy. It is a significant creator of jobs and contributes in excess of $30 billion per annum to the Australian economy. It also plays a vital role in supporting international tourism, which is a key part of Queensland's economy, with over half the international tourists travelling to their destination by air. In particular, Australia's airports are critical pieces of economic infrastructure which support our aviation sector.
Archerfield Airport is a key part of my electorate of Moreton, with a history dating back to the early 1930s. In fact, Archerfield was originally set up in the late 1920s and it actually replaced Eagle Farm as Brisbane's domestic airport in 1931. During World War II, Archerfield became a hive of activity. My grandfather worked there as a grader driver. During World War II, Archerfield was used by the Royal Australian Air Force, obviously, but it was also used by the Royal Netherlands Air Force because the Dutch East Indies government-in-exile was actually just down the road at Wacol. So there was actually another crown operating in Australia at that time in Wacol. Not many people realise that. It is a tale worth telling, especially when it comes to Indonesian independence. Much of their equipment—naval equipment, aeroplanes and the like—wasn't able to go back to fight the Indonesian independence movement because the Australian union movement black-banned the movement of those vehicles. But that's a story for another time; we're talking about airports. Archerfield was also used by the United States Army Air Forces and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. In fact, they were almost at the end of my street in Moorooka. Many of the houses in my electorate were built by military forces that were there during World War II. Especially after MacArthur moved his headquarters to Brisbane, the use of the rather waterlogged Eagle Farm declined and the focus went to Archerfield. Then, obviously, Brisbane has taken off as the airport, incorporating part of Eagle Farm. If you have flown into Brisbane, you would have seen that they had to put a lot of fill there because it is very swampy territory. That is a little bit of the history.
Archerfield Airport and Brisbane Airport have changed over the years. Obviously, the Archerfield Airport has faced numerous ups and downs. Currently, the airport operates as a general aviation airport under the Airports Act, and, like most, but not all, airports, it's on Commonwealth land with a 99-year lease. Likewise, Brisbane Airport is on Commonwealth land with a 99-year lease, renewed after 50 years. The Archerfield Airport employs the equivalent of 13 full-time staff and has approximately 140,000 aircraft movements per year. As such, Archerfield Airport operates at a much smaller scale than major airports like Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney or Perth. Currently, however, the Airports Act does not appropriately distinguish between the major airports and smaller airports like Archerfield when it comes to planning and development. This has become a significant problem for Archerfield Airport and prevents the airport from realising its full potential—something its neighbours are probably okay with because, obviously, planes flying overhead cause some disturbance to people in my electorate. It is therefore necessary for the viable management and operation of Archerfield Airport that a more appropriate regulatory framework is applied to it. The proposed Airports Amendment Bill changes multiple aspects of the act in order to achieve a more suitable regulatory framework for general aviation airports like Archerfield. Therefore, I support this bill. However, I believe some amendments are needed to achieve a more appropriate balance in the regulatory framework.
Firstly, the bill seeks to make changes to airport master plan requirements in the Airports Act. The Airports Act provides for the establishment of much-needed airport master plans for federally leased airports. A master plan operates as a 20-year strategic vision for an airport site. The master plan addresses future land uses, types of permitted development and noise and environmental impacts that involve consultation with neighbours. It also includes an environmental strategy which sets out the airport's plan to manage environmental issues. This is vitally important, as airports, if not managed correctly, can have many negative environmental impacts on local communities, such as poorer air quality, poorer water quality and high waste production. I know, Deputy Speaker Claydon, you are well aware of the consequences of PFAS getting into the environment.
Under the act, a new master plan must be prepared every five years for all federally leased airports except the Tennant Creek and Mount Isa airports. Preparing a master plan can be potentially a very laborious and expensive process for smaller general aviation airports like Archerfield, which often do not have the internal resources to carry out this entire process in house, as many of the major airports do. As a result, much of this work is farmed out to external consultants and advisers. The plans themselves take nearly two years to develop, and a significant burden is placed on the staff at the airport during such processes. There is also the prospect of administrative review, which an airport's neighbours are obviously entitled to consider.
Such difficulties are demonstrated by the process undertaken by the Archerfield Airport Corporation in relation to their previous master plan. Consultation for that plan began in December 2008; however, because the plan was subject to a three-year Administrative Appeals Tribunal review, it was not completed until July 2015. Just six months later the process had to start again for the current master plan. This has come at significant distraction to the effective management and operation of the airport by staff.
The Airports Amendment Bill is a significant step towards addressing this issue. Under the proposed changes new master plans will be required only every eight years, instead of every five years, for federally leased airports like Archerfield, with the exception of the major airports—Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The changes enable an improved balance to be struck between the regulation of airports and effective airport management and operation. This amendment will help to ensure that master plans continue to provide an updated, comprehensive vision for the sustainable use and development of airports, yet the plans will not be produced so frequently as to substantially infringe on the day-to-day operation of airports like Archerfield.
Further, the Airports Act currently requires master plans to include an Australian noise exposure forecast, which forecasts future aircraft noise patterns for the areas surrounding the airport. Such forecasts are very important, as aircraft noise can substantially affect the liveability of Australian homes and neighbourhoods. However, the act currently does not specify that the forecast must be renewed for each plan. I certainly know this as I'm right under the path of the emergency helicopters that are based at Archerfield. Obviously, I know that someone is in a lot of trouble whenever the emergency helicopters go over, so, whilst it might wake me up, I always figure that it's better that I'm in my bed than in that helicopter.
The Airports Amendment Bill proposes to make it a requirement to obtain and include a new Australian noise exposure forecast when preparing a new draft master plan. This ensures that each master plan will include up-to-date information regarding the potential impacts of airport noise in local areas. This is important as these up-to-date forecasts can help to ascertain whether future changes in airport noise will substantially infringe upon local residents and businesses. This has been a concern of some residents in Moreton, particularly for residents close to Archerfield and Acacia Ridge. It's a concern that I take very seriously. It is often aired at the community meetings, thus I support the proposal to require a new forecast for each master plan.
This bill also proposes a number of changes to planning processes for major airport developments, some of which I'm committed to supporting. The Airports Act provides for the establishment of major development plans. A major airport development generally includes any significant building work or any development associated with a substantial environmental impact on the airport site. Major development plans must provide details about these major developments and their likely effects on, for example, noise, flight paths, traffic flows and the environment. These plans must be approved by the minister before any such developments can go ahead.
The act outlines that developments must be completed within five years after major development plans are approved by the minister, unless the approval states otherwise. The minister may also extend that period by up to two years. Whilst a majority of these major developments are completed within the relevant time frame, larger and more complex development projects may be unable to achieve completion within such a time period due to unforeseen delays and exceptional circumstances.
The Airports Amendment Bill proposes to remove the limitation on the number of times an airport can apply to extend the planned completion period. This allows for greater flexibility for developments—such as a new runway, which is currently occurring in Brisbane—and allows for such projects to adapt to changing circumstances. However, by using a two-year extension the necessary control is maintained. Therefore, I support this proposed change to the Airports Act.
This bill also proposes amending the act to allow an airport to withdraw an approved major development plan by giving notice to the minister of its intention not to proceed with the development. This can apply if the project has not yet commenced and the airport considers that exceptional circumstances beyond its control have made it unviable to proceed with the development. The plan ceases to be in force the day after the minister has given the airport written notice acknowledging receipt of the withdrawal notice. 'Exceptional circumstances' is not defined further by the bill, and the explanatory memorandum does not give any further explanation or examples. Whilst more clarity is needed as to what constitutes exceptional circumstances, it is clear that resources should not be wasted on unviable projects, thus, provided the proper oversight occurs in the withdrawal process, I support allowing such withdrawals.
However, this bill also proposes a number of changes to airport development planning processes that I find very problematic. Labor will be proposing two amendments to this bill to address these concerns. One such change includes increasing the trigger for major development plans to $35 million. In 2007 it was determined that a major development plan would only be required for major developments where construction costs exceeded $20 million. However, over time, rising construction costs and inflation have resulted in a larger number of projects triggering the requirement of a major development plan, perhaps sometimes unnecessarily. As such, I support increasing the trigger for major development plans. However, we need to ensure that this increase accurately reflects changes to development costs so that appropriate amount of developments will be subject to a major development plan.
The government's amendment seeks to increase the major development plan trigger to $35 million. However, this increase is too great. It is larger than the increase in the ABS construction CPI, since the trigger was last adjusted in 2007, and is inconsistent with observations of a currently soft market in civil construction activity in most parts of the nation. Increasing the trigger to $35 million would inevitably mean that many more major projects would go ahead without any public consultation or independent assessments concerning the impact of these developments on local communities. I want people in my electorate to understand what is going on at the airport they live around. I believe that residents in Moreton are entitled to have a say on plans for major airport developments that could significantly affect them. I therefore support amending the bill to change the proposed trigger from $35 million down to $20 million.
Another problem change to the Airports Act proposed in this bill concerns consultation periods for major development plans. A key part of the major development plans process is, of course, public consultation. Under the act, a draft major development plan must be published for public consultation. The public consultation period is 60 business days, although the minister may approve a shorter period of no less than 15 business days. These shorter consultation periods can only be approved if requested in writing by the airport company and if the minister is satisfied that the proposed development is consistent with the airport master plan and that it 'does not raise any issues that have a significant impact on the local or regional community'.
However, this bill proposes to insert a new provision whereby if the airport makes a request for a shorter consultation period and the minister does not make a decision on the request within 15 business days, then the minister is deemed to have approved that shorter period. This amendment raises the possibility that the minister could simply not decide on the request and then be deemed to have approved the shorter consultation period, even if the development is inconsistent with the airport master plan or raises issues that have a significant impact on local communities. In other words, it appears that this provision could potentially be used to circumvent the requirements and purpose of public consultation. Obviously, this is deeply problematic. Once again, it is vital that people in Moreton and every community surrounding an airport, all around Australia, can voice their opinions about airport developments that might affect the value of their homes, that might affect their amenity or that might affect the places that they work in. I'm therefore opposed to this provision. The current act already provides adequate scope for reduced consultation and the further relaxation of these rules not justified.
It is important for Moreton that we achieve necessary reforms to the Airports Act. It is important for airports like Archerfield Airport and, to a lesser extent, Brisbane Airport. There are low points in Moreton that are affected by the runway, particularly in Tarragindi and Annerley. When the second runway comes in, people living Chelmer, Sherwood and Graceville will be further affected by planes flying overhead. It's important that we get the change in the regulatory framework right. The Airports Amendment Bill takes important steps towards achieving a more sustainable balance. As I pointed out, some changes are necessary to strike an even better balance.
The attention given to the Airports Amendment Bill 2016 and the reliance on putting some more consultation measures in it are admirable. We know that, from this government on the opposite side, that's absolutely what's required. After you have seen their consultation over the Western Sydney Airport, you know that they would need to strengthen those provisions in this bill. That is because there has been no consultation on Western Sydney Airport with my community.
This was evident at the very first meeting that I attended with Minister Fletcher, who couldn't even name the electorate in which the airport was actually going to be built. He sat there and argued with me: 'What on earth could a backbencher from Western Sydney tell me about her own community? What on earth would she know? She is not only a backbencher but also a woman.' After he got into an argument with me over where this airport was actually located, and he conceded that I was actually right, he then gave me maybe five or 10 more minutes to discuss the airport. That was at four o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, with about 24 hours notice that the meeting was going to take place. That was the way he treated me, regarding where this airport is actually going to be.
We then saw the consultation process, when they were coming out to my community. My community were given just six days notice—