Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Airports Amendment Bill 2006

Second Reading

5:18 pm

Photo of David JohnstonDavid Johnston (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice and Customs) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The privatisation of Australia’s 22 federal airports has fostered a vibrant and dynamic industry and enabled these airports to grow as commercial ventures offering improved services with minimal call for public investment or intervention.

There has been significant investment and improvement in the management of Australia’s major airports since privatisation. Capital expenditure in the billions of dollars has seen the commissioning of new runway, apron and taxiway infrastructure to cope with increased traffic and new aviation technology such as the A380. It has also seen new, expanded and renovated airport terminals to cope with increased passenger demand and to provide for a more efficient, secure and user friendly experience for passengers.

Airports are not immune from industry fluctuations and external shocks such as September 11, the Bali bombings, or the SARS scare. In order to provide for the future development of Australia’s aviation network, today’s airports need a broader business model that will enable them to weather such shocks and continue to sustain investment in maintenance and upgrading of aeronautical infrastructure expenditure.

The Airports Amendment Bill 2006 does not propose changes to the broad policy framework for privatised airports, but contains measures to fine tune the regulatory scheme in the light of experience during the first ten years of operation.

The Australian Government will continue to control planning and development on the airport sites, which remain Commonwealth land. The airports continue to be an important element of our national infrastructure.

Under the Airports Act, the lessee’s proposals for development on airport land are considered by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. The planning scheme includes consideration at various levels: the broad strategies for land use are considered in the approval of airport master plans and environment strategies, proposals for individual major developments are assessed separately as they arise, and all building work is assessed for compliance with the approved airport plans. Requirements for public consultation are built into the processes for developing master plans, environment strategies and major development plans. Developments have included non-aeronautical development on airport land where that is consistent with the long term development of the airport as an airport.

The Government is mindful that the planning arrangements for Australia’s leased federal airports have been an area of concern for the States and Territories and some local governments, who have responsibilities for planning and infrastructure provision in surrounding areas. Input from State planning authorities, local governments and the community at large are important for the operation of the airport regulatory regime, and the Government is committed to ensuring the consultation processes in the scheme are operated effectively and ensure genuine engagement.

The Australian Government has developed consultation guidelines which complement the amendments proposed in this bill. The guidelines have been developed in order to promote the meaningful exchange of information and views between the operators of the privatised airports and stakeholders on all land use, planning and development proposals. They were developed following extensive consultation with the operators of the leased airports, State and local planning authorities and a variety of Australian Government agencies. The Australian Government takes very seriously the views of the community in relation to airport development and through these guidelines and the amendments being proposed by this bill, expects airport operators to clearly demonstrate how they have had due regard to comments made during the public comment periods on master plans, major development plans and airport environment strategies.

Most of the proposed amendments in the bill arise from a comprehensive review of the Airports Act 1996 undertaken in 2003-04. In addition to public consultation, comprehensive discussions were held with the operators of the leased airports and affected Government agencies in developing these proposals.

A number of the proposed changes centre on improving the workability of the current planning and development approval provisions detailed at Part 5 of the Airports Act.

The bill proposes to reduce the statutory public comment and assessment periods for airport master plans, major development plans and environment strategies, bringing them more into line with State and Territory planning regimes. It also requires airport lessee companies to make their planning and development documents readily available in an electronic format free of charge. This not only provides for timely public access to these important documents but facilitates distribution between interested parties and assists in their analysis for example by allowing the use of electronic search tools to locate particular words and phrases in what are often substantial documents.

The changes to the public consultation periods are consistent with the Government’s commitment to reduce regulatory burdens on business, mirror the streamlining processes embraced by other jurisdictions, and recognise the maturing of both the airports in preparing these documents and the public in assessing them.

The bill also provides for the introduction of a ‘stop-clock’ mechanism where further information is required during the assessment of plans and strategies. This approach not only enhances the already transparent approval process of these important plans but will encourage airport-lessee companies to provide more comprehensive planning documents, in order that they may benefit from the streamlined approval process.

Recognising the significant increase in construction costs over the last decade, the dollar threshold for requiring major development plans is to be increased from $10 million to $20 million. For the purposes of the threshold, the costs of constructing a new building will include the costs of activities associated with the building’s construction (e.g. demolition, excavation, removal and site preparation and remediation). An appropriate cost inflator will be included in supporting regulations so the Airports Act does not have to be amended periodically to adjust the threshold.

Provision is also being made to ensure that public and local planning authorities are provided with improved information regarding aircraft noise exposure levels and indicative data as to the location of close-in flight paths used to develop noise exposure forecasts.

It is also proposed that where a proposed major development has been approved construction must be substantially completed within five years of the approval being given, or else the approval lapses.

Earlier this year the Productivity Commission commenced a public inquiry to examine the effectiveness of the price monitoring regime in place for airport services at the seven price monitored airports. To facilitate the timely introduction of any changes flowing from this review supported by the Government, an amendment is being made to the Airports Act that will provide for future monitoring arrangements to be addressed through amendment to regulations.

With the Federal Court of Australia recognising in February 2005 that contemporary airport developments can include both aviation and non-aviation uses, in the decision in Westfield Management Limited v Brisbane Airport Corporation Limited [2005] FCA 32, the bill clarifies the clear intention of Government to provide for non-aeronautical development on the airports, within the careful regulatory parameters of the Airports Act. Non-aviation developments can only be permitted where consistent with the airport master plan and do not prejudice the future development of the aviation uses at the airport.

The bill includes an amendment relating specifically to planning arrangements at Canberra Airport. Canberra Airport, unlike the other leased airports, has been subject to a dual planning regime involving both the Airports Act scheme and the planning provisions of the National Capital Plan under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988. It is proposed to remove Canberra Airport from the operation of the National Capital Plan and place it on an equal footing with the other privatised airports.

Other minor technical amendments will:

  • enable airport-operator companies to update their respective Airside Vehicle Control Handbooks, thereby allowing them to deal promptly with issues related to the operation of airside vehicles, rather than through the current regulatory amendment process;
  • allow for scope in the future for additional providers of air traffic control and rescue and fire fighting services at the leased airports. Any such future provider would be subject to Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulatory approval and safety licensing; and
  • enable the 5% limit on airline ownership at the non-core regulated airports to be removed to improve the pool of available investment funds.

These amendments and the consultation guidelines implement several recommendations arising from the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Development of the Brisbane Airport Corporation Master Plan.

The bill represents a balanced and measured package of changes which recognise the importance of aviation to national and regional economies while also respecting the rights and interests of those affected by airport development.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.