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Wednesday, 1 November 2000
Page: 21916


Ms GILLARD (9:46 AM) —I rise today to refer to an announcement that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services made in the course of question time yesterday. It relates to the Essendon Airport. The Deputy Prime Minister said:

So, in the face of this—

that is, lobbying from country Victorians—

the government has decided that Essendon Airport will remain open as an operational airport. We will sell our shares in Essendon Airport Ltd. EAL, the company, has a 50-year lease over the airport, and the purchaser will be required to continue operating the site as an airport.

I would have to say that one would hope that, in making major decisions of this kind, the government was engaged in pursuing a rational strategy that had been the subject of widespread community consultation. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of the decision announced yesterday.

Let us just be clear about the process here. It is an issue that is of particular concern to me because the Point Cook Air Base in my electorate has been caught up in the same process. That process was that the Minister for Finance and Administration wrote to the Premier of Victoria in January this year and indicated that the Commonwealth intended to dispose of both sites—that is, the Essendon airport site and the Point Cook site—and sought the Victorian government's views about the disposition of those sites. Indeed, so keen was the Commonwealth to sell these sites that the Minister for Finance and Administration came and had a look at the two sites in autumn this year, obviously appraising them as he wandered around, for their potential value if sold for residential development or whatever. The Victorian government was responding to the Commonwealth's inquiry about its views by developing an aviation strategy for Victoria, because it had taken the very rational view that one would not deal with the closure or maintenance of airports outside having a comprehensive strategy for Victoria in relation to aviation.

Out of the blue, whilst the Victorian government is still involved in that process, the minister made the announcement yesterday. We are entitled to ask against this background: is this the final announcement from the Howard government about the Essendon Airport or is there going to be another change of heart? What is the Howard government's aviation strategy for Victoria, or is there none? Is it not a fact that, in reality, this decision was just about a desperate attempt to save votes in the countryvotes it knows it is losing because of the petrol price crisis?

Finally, let me say that, if decisions of this magnitude are made solely on the basis of community pressure, I trust the Howard government is aware of the very many groups that are lobbying to save Point Cook and keep it open and in the hands of a not-for-profit company as an educational, tourist and aviation precinct. I suggest to the Howard government that it take some interest in what stakeholders in the Point Cook site are saying and respond to our calls to keep the site open. (Time expired)