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Monday, 31 May 2004
Page: 29504

Mrs GASH (2:48 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the government's policy regarding the future of Sydney airport? Is the minister aware of new evidence in regard to alternative policies?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for her question and note her particular interest in the speculation of the last few days. The government's policy is settled and has not changed. In a nutshell, Sydney does not need a second airport in the foreseeable future and there is no point in looking for one. Indeed, it would be very bad public policy in my view to go and try to find a site now and seek to build one—

Mr Murphy —Nonsense!

Mr ANDERSON —The member for Lowe just said in an aside that they are going to find a site and build it. The reason that it would be bad policy to do so at the moment—and he is nodding—is that we do not know if it will be needed or when it will be needed if it were to be needed. The real danger is that, in making a decision now in the absence of those critical factors as to whether you would need it and where you might build it, the chances are that you would build a complete and absolute white elephant at vast cost to the taxpayer, and one which would not be used by the travelling public.

Despite all of this and the commonsense position that the government has taken up, on the basis of information made public last week the Labor Party are quite intent on finding a site for the second airport that Sydney does not need. It is also the case, we now know, that they have almost certainly chosen the airport site and made up their minds that they want to build it.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —`Not true', we hear, but the member for Lowe says it is true. We now know, thanks to the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales lodging an FOI request, that quite a bit of detailed information has been sought, assembled and put together for the Labor Party. The Leader of the Opposition lodged the freedom of information application, attached the required fee and requested:

... all file notes, emails, reports or other documents relating to discussions regarding possible locations for a second Sydney airport or any planning or future land use issues relating to Wilton, Sutton Forest, Berrima or Wells Creek in Wingecarribee or Wollondilly shires held between the honourable Craig Knowles or his staff and the federal opposition leader and his staff or designated agents.

They have made a lot of talk over there about how they would be consulting with their New South Wales colleagues. Shortly after that, back came the reply from the relevant FOI officer:

I have this day determined—

it says in part—

that full access be granted to the information you requested.

Full access!

Please find attached one document detailing the information pertinent to your application.

As to the one document, what is it? A very detailed exploration of the possibility of Sutton Park is what it is, setting out all of the reasons why it ought to be built at Sutton Park.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr ANDERSON —It is Sutton Forest, I beg your pardon. In response to this, the New South Wales government initially said that it did the work because the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning wanted to know what sites were available—he was curious. But, this morning, there was a report that the work was done because the federal Labor opposition asked for an airport site outside the Sydney basin. Interestingly, of course, this work was done in January, just before that conference where they said they would identify a site and then at the conference said they were not going to. Then we see, at federal level, the opposition transport spokesman admitting that he has been talking to the New South Wales minister about alternative sites but saying that he has not seen the one document that is germane to the whole thing.

The Labor Party cannot possibly expect us to believe all of this nonsense. The people of the Southern Highlands deserve to know whether or not this really is their secret plan for an airport—whether this is what they are going to do. It is not only the people of the Southern Highlands; the taxpayers need to know as well. The estimated cost of an airport like this is around $3 billion—the Treasurer would like to know, I am sure. But not only that: it needs to be recognised that Sutton Forest is 130 kilometres from Sydney. The document makes the claim that New South Wales would need a bit of help with the additional infrastructure—there is a light rail at the cost of about $3 billion and a complete upgrade of the highways. The Treasurer might like to add this to the magic pudding—the lower taxes, the more spending, the better services, the bigger surplus and the intergenerational retirement plan. You can now add around $5 billion or $6 billion for this. And I note this morning mention of the Pacific Highway as well. But, in the end, the Leader of the Opposition has to demonstrate some public policy integrity on all of this. He has to rule out the Sutton site, rule it in and tell us how they will fund it or admit that Labor have no intention of building a second airport and that their policy is just a pretence to the anti-airport lobbies of inner Sydney that Labor are on their side.

As I looked at all of this this morning, it occurred to me that I am one of those Australian parents—I think it is about 96 per cent—who actually read to their children without having to have a government instruction from the nanny state to tell them to do it. One of my children had a favourite character: a dog whose name was What-a-Mess. He was one of those lovable characters that was always trying to do the right thing but, every time he tried to resolve a mess, he made the mess worse. I reckon that the member for Werriwa has been reading What-a-Mess to the member for Batman, and that is how they came up with this airport policy.