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Wednesday, 10 March 1999
Page: 3693


Mr RUDD (12:36 PM) —In this cognate debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1998-99 and related bills, I wish to reflect at length on the appropriations provided to one instrument of the Commonwealth, namely, Airservices Australia. Airservices Australia, as we would all know, is that agency of the government which is responsible for the monitoring of air traffic and the impact of air traffic on surrounding communities across the country. This, in turn, causes me to reflect on the impact of the proposed master plan for Brisbane airport which has been developed recently by the Brisbane Airport Corporation.

Airport master plans are a source of controversy across the nation. They become a basis of conflict between communities on the one hand and between airport corporations on the other. However, I believe there can be a rational way through these debates. They need not simply degenerate into the sort of polarisation that we see around the country.

There can be a way through which takes into account, on the one hand, the legitimate interests and concerns of airport corporations trying to facilitate not only the interests of their shareholders but also the economic development of their region and their state, while on the other hand not simply regarding communities which are affected by those developments as some sort of minor afterthought which can bear the consequences of developments without recourse.

In Brisbane, the process which we have been embarked upon for the last 12 months has been a difficult one. In March 1998 the Brisbane Airport Corporation, consistent with its requirements under the Airports Act, developed a draft Brisbane Airport Corporation master plan. It recommended a new runway, the so-called western parallel runway. There then was a three-month public consultation process. That, in turn, elicited some 4,000 formal written objections from the Brisbane community. As well, 10,000 people signed formal petitions of objection, which I have subsequently presented to the parliament. These facts of themselves demonstrate that there is a groundswell of community concern and opposition to the proposed runway which is incorporated in the Brisbane Airport Corporation master plan.

There then developed a process whereby, after the conclusion of the public consultation process, the Brisbane Airport Corporation submitted its draft master plan to the then transport minister, Mark Vaile, for approval. Minister Vaile, on the eve of the federal election last year, made a statement that, on technical grounds, he proposed to reject that master plan. I suspect, and many in my community suspect, that the reason for that technical rejection at that stage, just a month or so before the federal election, was to provide a political breathing space so that the then Liberal member for the seat of Griffith could hopefully be re-elected. That did not occur. The community had a different point of view.

What then ensued, once the election was resolved and the Brisbane Airport Corporation undertook the technical revisions to their master plan required of them by Minister Vaile's letter, was a resubmission of their proposal to the current transport minister, Mr Anderson, in November of last year. Minister Anderson considered that report for some two months and then in February this year announced that he had approved the Brisbane Airport Corporation master plan. He did so with a proviso that the Brisbane Airport Corporation undertake further analysis of alternative runway options and provide the flight path impact of each of those options to surrounding communities.

The problem with that decision is that it puts the community of Brisbane just one step away from this runway being built. Furthermore, its inherent flaw is that it requires the Brisbane Airport Corporation, strong proponents of a particular runway option, to somehow honestly and objectively undertake an impartial analysis of alternative runway options. It is a classic Dracula in the blood bank situation whereby you have a strong proponent of a view being asked by government to go through the motions and look at some other alternatives as well as come up with some flight path impacts of those various alternatives before the minister makes his final decision. From the perspective of the community which I represent, this is not a credible process.

Where it leaves us is that the final stage in the approval process for the Brisbane airport, and the proposed parallel runway, is one in which the major development plan must be developed by the Brisbane Airport Corporation on the basis of the minister's approval of the master plan. The major development plan, if approved, then becomes the final approval document for construction to commence.

This raises the basic question: how long is that going to take? This is a concern which my community has legitimately expressed to me through many public forums and on many occasions. The Brisbane Airport Corporation's public response has constantly been, `Don't worry, it's off in the never-never,' the problem being that in the published documents of the Brisbane Airport Corporation they say that new runway capacity is required at Brisbane airport by the year 2006. Most engineers will tell you that to construct a runway from the beginning, the predesign phase through to completion, requires about four years. That brings us back to about 2002.

If you look at the approval process yet to be gone through with the development and approval of the major development plan, and an associated environmental impact study, we are looking at a process of perhaps a year or two. Add those four years for construction to those two years of submitting and gaining approval for the major development plan and that brings us back about to where we are at the moment. In other words, the decision making process is an imminent one. It is not far removed. You can understand why the corporate interests of a corporation like the Brisbane Airport Corporation may wish, somewhat deceivingly, to tell a local community that this is so far removed that it is not worthy of current concern. That might make for a smart public relations strategy. However, it is not honest dealings with the local community.

The Brisbane Airport Corporation have said that the parallel runway must proceed. Their chief executive, Mr Rooijmans, said publicly in a speech in Brisbane last week, having received a letter from Minister Anderson approving his master plan and requiring him to develop and look at alternative runway options, that the parallel runway must be built; otherwise there will be economic disaster for Brisbane and south-east Queensland.

I simply ask the question: how could the public have faith in an organisation whose chief executive on the one hand receives a communication from the minister saying, `We are about to go out there and be required to look impartially at a range of alternative runway options,' and then leaps into the media and says, `Listen, unless this one happens, civilisation as we know it will collapse, the economy will fall in a heap and it is all over, Red Rover'? I would say that his comments on this matter fundamentally lack credibility in terms of the instruction or direction he has been given by the minister.

The other line of defence used by the Brisbane Airport Corporation to the likes of me in this public debate is that opposition to the proposed parallel runway is entirely `politically generated'. Politics is about the business of representing your community, it is about the business of taking into account the views of your local residents in this place, and the decision of where to locate runways and how you develop airports is a federal matter. It is a power provided to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services under the Airports Act 1996, therefore it is necessarily and by definition a political debate.

The fact that there are 4,000 people who have objected, the fact that there are 12,000 petitions presented to this parliament, the fact that only two to three weeks ago in Brisbane we had 4,000 mums and dads take to the streets in the suburb of Bulimba in a public protest saying that they did not want this thing, to me suggests that they represent a degree of community concern which transcends the political divide about the impact of this proposal way beyond the interests or the aspirations of any political candidate or member.

On that point of politics and party politics, it is interesting to note in passing that it was revealed in the Courier-Mail last week that the General Manager of the Brisbane Airport Corporation is, shock and horror, a member of the Liberal Party and, on top of that, a member and delegate to the state conference of the Liberal Party.


Ms Hall —What's that?


Mr RUDD —My colleague correctly asks the question, `What is that?' What does it mean? It means that on the one hand you have the Brisbane Airport Corporation saying to elected representatives such as me that we are egregiously participating in party politics on this matter, while on the other hand for the last 12 months not telling us that the general manager of the corporation is in fact a member of the supreme governing body of the Liberal Party of Queensland. I would think that was a matter in the public interest.

The general manager concerned, Mr Cameron Spencer, has said that he has never hidden his politics. In the many public meetings that I have attended with Mr Spencer present and in private briefings that I have had with him, this matter of obvious public knowledge has not been imparted to the likes of me so that we could all have, shall we say, equal ground rules on which to prosecute this debate.

No, politics from Mr Spencer's and from the Brisbane Airport Corporation's perspective is something that the Labor Party does but is, of course, nothing that the Liberal Party does. It begs the question as to what channels of communication the General Manager of the Brisbane Airport Corporation has used with the current Howard government in order to advance the interests of his corporation other than those channels which are prescribed in the Airports Act 1996.

This brings us to the question of a proposal for a Senate inquiry into this whole saga. A week or two ago the Labor Party in the Senate of the Commonwealth placed on the Notice Paper its intention to establish a Senate inquiry into the Brisbane Airport Corporation master plan process. It seeks to examine all facets of the construction of this master plan, why it was approved and the methodologies underpinning the decision to go for the one runway option rather than to embrace or examine others.

One would think if the government had nothing to hide on this particular matter it would have no problems with the transparent processes associated with a Senate inquiry. Regrettably, yesterday I learnt from colleagues in the Senate that the government indeed has some problems with this approach and does not wish this Senate inquiry to proceed. The matter will be determined in the Senate either later this week or in the next Senate sitting week. It will be interesting from the perspective of the community which I represent and the Brisbane communities which are represented by many members of the House as to whether this inquiry proceeds.

Again, we are forced into this position of resorting to a Senate inquiry to get to the truth of what has actually transpired in this whole process. Why, for example, in the first place did the Brisbane Airport Corporation say, `We are going to have a western parallel runway,' and in one or two pages dismiss every other conceivable runway option with no arguments advanced? Why was it that the Brisbane Airport Corporation, despite repeated requests from the community, including from me, refused to provide people with flight path impacts of the proposed parallel runway or of alternative runways so that people living in the suburbs of Brisbane—tens of thousands of people—would know which suburbs, which streets, which communities, which schools and which nursing homes were going to be affected? I do not think this is the unreasonable request of a demagogue. It is a basic question if you are going to embark on a major development project of any description in any city or in any community of the country. Surely it is a basic right to know whether one is going to be affected and how and by how much.

I looked with interest at the recent release of the draft environmental impact study done for Badgerys Creek. I take no particular position in terms of whether Badgerys Creek is a good thing or a bad thing. But, looking at the actual document, I would say this: it actually provides residents with a clear indication as to where the flight path impact of particular runway configurations for Badgerys Creek would occur. If it is good enough for Badgerys Creek—and I know we are different north of the Tweed—surely it is good enough for those of us in Brisbane as well, and I am sure my colleague sitting opposite would share exactly the same view, as he nods—if not articulates—a comment of endorsement.


Mr Neville —Quite!


Mr RUDD —I thank the honourable member for his interjection of support. Therefore, when we are faced with a process which is simply ignored, with the effect on the community of the runway options that have been advocated, and with the refusal to tell us what methodology this decision has been based on, regrettably there is no alternative for us but to resort to the Senate option to find out why this has been done, what the alternatives were, on what basis the decision was made and which communities would be affected. On our side of politics it is our hope that the Senate inquiry can proceed so that we can get to the truth of this matter.

This is not your classic nimby issue; this is not an intention to export a prospective noise problem from one part of a community to another. I know the community which I represent very well; I have lived there for at least 10 years. I know the suburbs; I know the streets; I know the schools; I know the houses; I know the nursing homes; and I know which parts of that community were going to be affected and likely to be affected most.

What we simply ask for as a community is a fair process, one which says, `If there are five runway alternatives, let's look at the five. Let's look at the economic impact of each one; let's look at the social impact of each one; let's look at the environmental impact of each one; let's look at the public safety impact of each one; and let's look at the public health impact of each one and then, on an objective and comparative basis, say, "On the balance of the arguments, this seems to be the best way to go."' The community I represent does not oppose the expansion of Brisbane airport. It is not a collection of residential Luddites seeking to arrest development in south-east Queensland. That is not our position at all. Our position is that there should be a transparent and comparative process on which a fair decision can be based, and we do not think that is an unreasonable point of view.

In the long term, what also needs to be considered as part of this overall debate on the future aviation requirements of south-east Queensland is to begin to reserve a second airport site. The reality is that, as we speak today, Brisbane airport is one half the size of Sydney airport in terms of annual aircraft movements. Brisbane airport today is larger than Melbourne airport in terms of annual aircraft movements. Based on growth projections provided by the Brisbane Airport Corporation, by the year 2006 when this proposed new parallel runway is to be built, Brisbane airport will have as much traffic volume as Sydney airport has today. So, if we think we have a problem with Sydney airport today, I would simply say, looking down the tunnel of time: why not ensure that we get our planning processes right for the future, rather than finding ourselves in six, seven or eight years time sitting in a forum such as this saying, `Would that they had done it differently; would that they had considered properly the alternatives; would that they had shown some foresight about the impacts on communities and schools.' That is why I believe we need to consider properly and at an early stage—not at a late stage, as I think has occurred in Sydney—a second airport site.

This extends beyond my expertise in terms of where it should be, but I would canvass the possibility that, given the existing infrastructure which exists at Amberley, near Ipswich, that would provide one possibility which could be examined. It is my understanding that the local authorities in the area have a degree of interest in this proposal. There is already a degree of securing of associated land sites around Amberley because of the historical use of that site by the RAAF. Furthermore, given the RAAF's long-term interests, and also to defray some of its costs for the upkeep of significant infrastructure like purpose-built RAAF airstrips such as those needed at present to accommodate our F111 fleet, it would not be an unreasonable idea to begin to consider dual use of a facility such as that, as occurs currently in Townsville.

Therefore, I would place that on the table for the parliament and for the community in south-east Queensland to consider. Beyond consideration, it would be worth while for the state government, the Commonwealth and the relevant local authorities to elevate this to a point of considered decision making whereby we have a task force with a time frame and an outcome in terms of whether this is an appropriate, long-term second airport site for south-east Queensland.

South-east Queensland's long-term growth potential is huge. We all know—those of us who live in Queensland—that, simply through our redistribution process involved with state and federal seats, it is a state of enormous population growth. As a consequence, it is important to get these long-term planning decisions right.

In conclusion, it is surely not beyond our wit and intelligence on the eve of the 21st century to not simply fall into the trap of believing that, whenever you need to build an airport or whenever you need to build a new runway, the people who should pay the cost of that are the poor mugs who live in the suburbs within 10, 15 or 20 kilometres of an existing airport site. I do not speak of just the odd person. We are speaking here of at least 30,000 residences—that is homes—and up to 100,000 individuals both on the north side and the south side of Brisbane. It is not beyond our wit surely to come up with airport and runway designs which minimise social impact while still delivering the necessary economic objectives for which airports exist.

I conclude on this point: what will happen one day if and when an aircraft ditches into the suburbs of one of our cities? What will happen, in the case of Brisbane, if that occurs in the absence of a proper planning decision and procedure which may have been able to locate a runway in a direction where taking further aircraft over the suburbs would not have been necessary? (Time expired)