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Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Page: 774

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (9:20 PM) —I begin my remarks at this late hour on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010 in the knowledge that I will have to complete my contribution on some other day in the week ahead. The Airports Act was passed in 1996 and established a framework for the regulation of Commonwealth leased airports. The act sets out the requirements for airport master plans and also sets out development plans over a 20-year period which are updated every five years or earlier. Master plans are intended to establish the overall direction of the development of an airport site. The planning process reduces the potential for conflicts with surrounding communities, allows for the public to be informed of developments at the airport in question and enables them to be consulted on these developments. It also helps to provide guidance to the community about what kinds of developments are likely to occur at the airport in question during the period ahead. The Airports Act also requires that major development plans be prepared for specific development proposals. Both master plans and major development proposals require a period of public consultation, after which the plan is submitted for ministerial approval.

Commonwealth leased airport properties operate under Commonwealth jurisdiction, whilst their surrounding areas remain under state and local jurisdiction. This very fact gives rise to considerable conflict. There are often disputes in local communities about the operation of the airport. There are community groups that rise up in concern about noise and other issues on an airport property, and yet that airport property is absolutely vital and essential to the economic welfare of the local community and of the state and nation. Airports are essential community infrastructure. They are a vital part of ensuring that our nation is able to be connected to the rest of the world and that we are able to trade and to operate in association with our partners around the world.

Conflict often occurs between communities and airports. In most instances, particularly in the case of our major airports, they have been in place for many years—in most cases many generations. Indeed, the airport in Sydney, Kingsford Smith airport, was one of the first airports in our nation. So they were there. They have been established in a location. They may have begun as just a simple landing field, but now they house intense development, a concentration of traffic and people movement and a range of commercial and other associated activities, in particular industry associated with the aviation sector. In the interim, residential suburbs, commercial areas and the like have been constructed around them.

You can always say that the airport was there first and anyone who moved to the area did so in full knowledge that the airport was there, that they should have known that it was going to be noisy. Indeed, the argument often extends further, saying that in reality airports and aircraft have now become much quieter, that they are better managed than they ever were previously and that for those reasons some of the impact has declined. In addition, to extend that argument, housing properties are often down-valued—as, for that matter, is other land in the area—because of the fact that there is this activity in the community, and for that reason people are able to afford to buy houses in an area like that one where they otherwise might not have been.

To counter that argument, it is also reasonable to say that community values change. Community standards change. Our expectations about the comfort we expect in our lifestyle are different from what they once were. Noise, traffic or industrial activity around your home which may once have been tolerated is no longer acceptable. We have to accept the fact that community standards change. A classic example, though, of how the conflict can work itself out in real life is the Badgerys Creek airport site in Sydney. This was clearly acquired as a second airport site for Sydney. Everyone at the time felt it was a reasonable choice. Everyone has known ever since that day that Badgerys Creek was to be the site of Sydney’s second airport, but that did not stop the New South Wales state government and planning agencies from allowing development in that area which was simply incompatible with its eventual use as an airport. There is no doubt even to this day that, if you could take away all the things that have been built around it, Badgerys Creek would be a good site for an airport. But the reality is that people have moved in, development has moved in and the communication lines which were so essential to Badgerys Creek operating as was originally intended have been cut by unsympathetic development approved by the New South Wales government.

That is an example of how the planning process has run astray. We now have the current government running off in its usual style, appointing committees, and again going out on a search for another airport site for Sydney. In reality, every government for the last 20 years or so has looked at all of the sites that might potentially be available in Sydney for the airport and have always come up with the same reasons why the various ideas will in practice not work. It is a tragedy that the site in Sydney identified by far-sighted people as the best place for its second airport has been so compromised that the current government has now come to the view that it can never be developed.

I am not sure we have even learnt that lesson, because there are still other examples around the country where developments are being approved by state and local governments in locations which will compromise the future operations of airports. Even in Canberra the proposed development of the Tralee residential area is inevitably going to have a significant impact on Canberra airport. In making a judgment about whether that kind of development should occur, we need to recognise the importance of the Canberra airport to this city and to our national capital. We must not take steps which are likely to compromise its future use for the purpose for which it is dedicated. The airport is important to this city and it would be a tragedy if, for some reason or other, large-scale development unsympathetic to the existing airport were to compromise the airport’s future operations.

So it is vital that in planning airports there is cooperation between all tiers of government. The Commonwealth is the owner of the sites. They are leased to various operating agencies. The Commonwealth expects those sites to be used as airports into the future. There has been substantial residential development. The Commonwealth knows that having functional airports is vital to our national economy. The state and local governments are keen to encourage residential development, but they must also recognise that the airports are job creators and are vital to the economies of their own regions. So we should not be undertaking commercial developments, residential developments or other activities which are incompatible with their neighbour, which in this case happens to be an airport.

Complaints about noise and other issues frequently arise from people who live around airports. I have to acknowledge, as the member for Pearce has commented frequently in relation to the Perth airport, that sometimes those complaints have not been handled as well as they should. Sometimes the communities have not been appropriately consulted about changes to flight plans and alterations to noise levels. Airports must also be conscious of ensuring they develop, maintain and nurture a good relationship with the people who live around them. At some airports, housing is very close to the airport surrounds. In Adelaide the nearest house is 600 metres from the runaway. Clearly, that means you have a very close neighbour whose interests have got to be taken into account. In other places there are larger buffer zones. Melbourne and Brisbane airports in particular benefit from those larger zones.

Debate interrupted.