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Wednesday, 28 March 2001
Page: 25897

Mr BAIRD (4:54 PM) —Having listened to the speech by the member for Batman, I want to say that it is a great pity that he did not pay attention to the Sydney Airport Demand Management Amendment Bill 2001 itself. The detail is spelt out in the discussion paper that was released yesterday, the background paper on amendments to the Sydney airport slot management scheme. The details were fully provided for all aspects of the bill, including the aims and objectives. Yet the member for Batman spent the majority of time attacking, in a personal way, the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, who, in my view, has done an outstanding job and has brought this proposal to the House, something that was never achieved during 13 years of Labor. It is a significant achievement for regional Australia and in protecting the rights of those who live in regional Australia. Certainly there is nothing controversial in this bill. It is supported by regional Australia, by the airlines and by the passengers from regional Australia.

The member for Batman wants yet another inquiry so he can grandstand on the issue. The fact is that he had 30 minutes to speak on the bill and to outline the details of it—to say why he saw the inadequacies. He was not able to do it. In fact, the key aspects that he brought forward were about the merger of Ansett and Hazelton and what the implications would be for this measure. The fact is that the provisions of this bill and the outline that was provided in the amendments to the slot system would protect the rights of regional Australia—would ensure that the travelling public would have its rights preserved in travelling to regional centres during peak times.

I also noted that the member opposite did not actually spell out his position. He said that the decision by cabinet was a non-decision. But what about his position on the whole question of the second airport? Is he going to build it at Badgerys Creek if we are unfortunate enough that the Labor Party gets into government? That has not been spelt out. He might like to share his views with the member for Prospect, the member for Chifley and all those who have been protesting about the prospect of a second airport going in at Badgerys Creek. While he might come in here blandly and talk about non-decisions, the fact is that the cabinet made a very good decision in the light of the performance of Sydney airport, the projections of the requirements for traffic coming in and out of Sydney airport and the tourism potential for the airport. The decision is in line with community expectations and the preference of the tourism community, which would like to see the airport close to the CBD.

The decision provides some possibilities that smaller aircraft can be moved out to Bankstown. That is in line with the appropriate use of Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport, to ensure that usage is maximised, that in the future smaller aircraft can be moved out to Bankstown. Of course, the rights of the existing operators who fly into Bankstown—the number of slot times allocated during peak hours—should be preserved. It is appropriate to recognise that. There was not one word on what this bill will mean for regional Australia. Forty per cent of aircraft that come into Sydney in peak times are from regional Australia. What the bill is saying to people in regional Australia is that they are not going to be given second preference and all be forced out of the airport. It means that the rights of those people are going to be preserved. They will not take second place to somebody who comes in from Narita airport or Seoul airport. Rather, the bill is saying that we will preserve those 40 per cent of slots that currently exist for regional aircraft.

The bill goes further than that. It says that in the future additional slots are going to be capped so that we are not going to see a further growth. With deregulation of airline services in New South Wales, there has been a proliferation of new services around New South Wales, meaning smaller aircraft to more destinations. In one way that is a good thing, resulting in greater service to the consumer, but if it goes on at the same rate the ability to service international and interstate aircraft will be restricted. The bill is saying there is going to be a limit on the number of aircraft that will come in in the future. We are going to cap the number where it is and preserve the rights of regional Australia.

More than that, there is a priority given in the way slot times can be moved. If a merger between Ansett and Hazelton is approved, the bill says that, if slot times are swapped around, they cannot be moved more than half an hour. People cannot, by increment, phase out the regional airlines and give preference to interstate or international services. That is very appropriate. If the shadow minister, instead of giving all his rhetoric about the minister, had attempted to get to grips with the detail outlined in the bill on the management of slot times, he would have found that out.

A further part of the proposal encourages larger aircraft to take additional slot times. Preference will be given to larger aircraft. The bill spells out the regime that relates to that. It says that additional slot times will not be accepted for aircraft that are under 18 seats in size. The reason for that, as we go through the different aspects of the bill, is to make sure that we do not see a situation like that at Heathrow airport. Sydney is a major international airport, with 67 per cent of all international visitors coming through Sydney. We recognise that the airport has to be utilised effectively. Aircraft with two or three people fly into Heathrow. It is ensured that there is maximum usage of the airport so that it can be used efficiently to the benefit of all those who live in London and the greater United Kingdom.

It is an appropriate way of going. It is encouraging larger aircraft route rationalisation, it encourages the smaller aircraft to go to Bankstown, but at the same time it preserves the rights of regional Australia. That is only appropriate. This bill in particular reaffirms the cap that currently exists at Sydney airport. No more than 80 movements an hour can be provided at Sydney airport. There is no attempt at increasing the cap; there is no attempt to remove the curfew. The member for Lowe is in the chamber. Like me, he has an electorate which is affected by aircraft noise. We are particularly interested in any attempt to change the curfew or the cap provisions. This bill does not in any way affect those things. In fact, because of this bill, we are going to ensure that regional parts of Australia are looked after both now and in the future.

The document also looks at the current situation and the decisions that were made by cabinet—and appropriately so. It said that Sydney airport has shown itself, through the Olympics, to be performing very well. It reached all-time record highs in the number of passengers and the throughput that we saw during the Olympics, and it handled it extremely well. That is indicating that, from the projections we see, at least for the next 10 years, there is no need for additional capacity, especially if changes are made in relation to the use of Bankstown. That is appropriate.

I was particularly pleased that there was a decision not to proceed with the concept of having an airport at Kurnell. I was pleased on heritage grounds, with the area being the birthplace of modern Australia; on environmental grounds, with it being a Ramsar site, because of the wetlands and the migratory birds from Siberia and Japan; and because of the national park surrounding the proposed site at Kurnell. I was pleased on community grounds: with a community of 2,500 people at Kurnell, it was inappropriate to have that situation. And I was pleased on operational grounds—not having one airport so close to another. The integration of that in the overall Sydney Basin would have been very difficult. On that basis, I was very pleased to see that cabinet decided not to proceed with the Kurnell proposal but, rather, to press on with the maximisation of the use of Kingsford Smith, which is so favoured by the tourism industry, which works so effectively, which is now linked by rail directly into the city, which performs extremely well.

Mr Lee —Your contract!

Mr BAIRD —Certainly it was my contract, and one of which I am very proud. If the New South Wales government had performed in terms of its contract, it would be operating well today—no promotion, no new carriages.

Mr Lee —When did you sign it?

Mr BAIRD —We signed it six months before the election, in about August before the election. That is in this House.

Mr Lee —Was John Fahey happy with that?

Mr BAIRD —He was absolutely happy. It was an excellent contract and, without that, we would not have a railway to the airport. I am very interested that the member for Dobell raises the question of railways and the New South Wales government, because I have seen the state Labor government announce this link from Parramatta across to Chatswood on no less than 10 separate occasions going back to the early 1990s. Here in 2001 what do they have? They have a truncated piece of railway, which again is going to be delayed. All these announcements have come to nought. There is no link between Parramatta and Chatswood at all—once again a failure. We promised we would deliver in terms of a railway to the airport. The New South Wales government did not live up to its contract: it did not provide new carriages and did not provide rolling stock which had baggage facilities and of course did not do any promotion of the service.

Returning to the main theme, Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport operates very well. It has excellent infrastructure. It is close to the CBD. This bill is about maximising the use of Kingsford Smith airport and, at the same time, ensuring that we preserve the rights of regional Australia. The people of regional Australia welcome that. Instead of the shadow minister coming in and congratulating the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, who I believe is doing an excellent job—he is enormously respected around the rural community and in my electorate as well and is a very decent individual—this being the first time we have seen any bill protecting the rights of regional Australia and their access to Kingsford Smith airport, all we have from the shadow minister is a move to refer it off to a committee. There was no investigation at all of the proposals that come under this program.

This bill amends the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997 to make part III of the Trade Practices Act subject to this act. This will ensure that we do not have some other legislation that will override the slot allocation proposal. The slot management scheme guarantees the slots for regional Australia. This bill does not pre-empt the issues raised in yesterday's discussion paper, nor does it make any changes to the slot management scheme. Any changes to the scheme are made by a disallowable instrument permitted by section 40 of the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997. So that will be taken care of separately.

The discussion paper is out. People understand the provisions. The paper gives examples of possible changes if a new airline comes in, in that they can be allocated slots out of those slots that have been returned. It spells out the preferences that are given to larger aircraft. It spells out the requirement that new allocations have to be for aircraft over 18 seats in size. It preserves the rights of the peak time allocation so that airlines cannot marginalise the time at which regional aircraft come in and simply move it to another time which is in a non-peak period by specifying that any swaps with the airline must be in the time frame of one hour. That is, you can swap it only by a margin of half an hour. This is an effective way of solving the problems of our aviation needs.

The government has clearly said that in 2005 it will look again at the growth of airline traffic and the requirements. International traffic to Australia continues to grow significantly. The former Minister for Tourism, who is the shadow minister at the table, would be well aware of the success of tourism to this country, which has been supported on a bipartisan basis. During the time he was minister he saw a growth in tourism numbers to this country. We have come from having half a million international visitors in 1975 to the situation where we had just on five million international visitors in 2000, and we expect some 5.4 million international visitors coming in this year.

So the growth is there, which is very good news. As the number of visitors continues to pick up—from Great Britain, from the USA, again from Korea which has been involved in a slowdown, and from Japan—we can see that in the longer term we will need to look at the requirements of additional capacity. But, in the interim—for at least the next 10 years—Sydney airport will work very well.

This is about the operational requirements of managing Sydney airport, of managing smaller aircraft, of providing a real incentive for the airlines to get larger aircraft, of servicing regional Australia, of rationalising the routes and, of course, about guaranteeing the rights of regional Australia. We are ensuring that the cap is preserved, that the curfew is preserved and that the rights of those who are impacted by noise are preserved. Of course, in an electorate which has, at this stage, 53 per cent of all aircraft takeoffs and landings over it—and in the future it is expected to rise to 55 per cent—we are very conscious of increased aircraft movement. I have not received any complaints about this aspect of the provisions of regional aircraft in and out of Kingsford Smith. It is not an issue on which the members of my electorate have expressed concern, but they recognise the rights of their rural brethren and that we need to be cognisant of their needs and that we need to give them parity with those who come from international ports. It is appropriate that we recognise the benefits of international tourism and that we do our best to make sure that Sydney operates at its maximum potential so that we can enjoy the economic benefits of international tourism. As part of that and as part of maximising Kingsford Smith's usage, the way in which slot times are to be managed is highly appropriate.

I personally support this bill very highly. I commend the minister for the effort that has been put into it and the people involved in its administration. It is an effective way of managing it; it is an innovative way of handling it. I cannot understand why the shadow minister would want an inquiry since it has already been canvassed with the airlines and with consumer groups. It ensures the rights and the existing slot times of the regional aircraft that are using the airport and it looks for new entrants into the market and looks to how their rights can be preserved, at the same time ensuring that we see larger aircraft used for rationalisation on regional services. That is also appropriate.

In the absence of the shadow minister's plan of how he would solve the problem, it is very difficult to see that he has much credibility. He says that we have no plan but he comes into this House with no plans of his own in terms of a second airport, despite the fact that he criticises the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. If he does not plan to build Badgerys Creek, he should come out and say so; if he does, he should let the people who are in the seats around the Badgerys Creek location know what his plans are. He should not try to play one off against the other. Criticising the minister when he is trying to maximise Kingsford Smith airport and preserve the rights of regional Australia at the same time does not indicate how he plans to solve the problem. He can have an inquiry but that does not solve it. The minister for transport has come up with a realistic proposal. I commend the minister and I commend the bill to the House.