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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 1004

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (6:52 PM) —I rise to welcome the Airports Amendment Bill 2010 and the reforms moved by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to give local communities a greater voice and better information about planning and development at our nation’s airports. These reforms continue the implementation of the Australian government’s aviation white paper, which undertook extensive consultation with the aviation and business sectors and with communities living in the vicinity of airports. For my own part, I worked closely with local residents in my electorate living around Essendon Airport to put forward a detailed contribution to this process, and I encourage the minister and the parliament to ensure that my constituents’ legitimate concerns, which I will outline, are at the forefront of our minds when considering this bill.

Essendon Airport is located in the electorate of Wills. If anyone ever needed an example of how planning decisions and aviation policy affect peoples’ day-to-day lives, they need look no further than Essendon Airport. It has experienced some of the most significant shifts in aviation use and commercial operations of any airport in the country. It has gone from being Melbourne’s major international and domestic airport to being light aviation focused to now being a jet focused airport.

The Essendon Airport 2008 Master Plan states on page 62 that:

State Planning Policies do not apply at Essendon Airport, and therefore have not been incorporated …

This is a clear indication that local planning expectations are not one of the priorities in the airport’s commercial development. So the introduction of a bill to increase the opportunities for local communities to have their say on the airport’s development is one I very much welcome.

Essendon Airport was first established in the 1920s. It was Melbourne’s main airport until the opening of Tullamarine in 1970 saw international flights relocated, followed by domestic flights in 1971. The airport was used as a defence facility during the Second World War. In 1998, Essendon Airport was granted a 50-year private lease with a 49-year option. The joint venture company paid just $22 million for the 305-hectare site located only 11 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD. At the time, the site was valued between $70 million and $100 million—yet the lease was given for $22 million. That was a remarkable piece of dealing with public assets by the former Liberal government.

In May 2001, the then Labor shadow transport minister stated that Labor would support the relocation of aircraft from Essendon to more suitable airfields. In October 2008, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government approved the current master plan, which has meant that aviation operations will continue. The current management direction of Essendon Airport is to cater for the increased demand in the corporate jet market, at the expense of a declining light propeller driven aviation sector, and to provide a base for the state’s emergency service air wings. Essendon Airport Pty Ltd has also been investigating ways to maximise commercial opportunities on non-aviation parcels of land throughout the airport.

At no time during any of these significant changes to Essendon Airport’s aviation and commercial operational focus, particularly the privatisation phase, was the local community seriously consulted or their views adhered to. My constituents have had to live with the airport’s ongoing aviation operations in their backyard for many years now and residents have made it clear to me time and time again that Essendon Airport is well and truly past its use-by-date. It is situated in the middle of highly dense built-up communities; has a history of air accidents that have claimed lives; generates significant noise and disturbances, particularly during the curfew period; has a negative effect on local air quality through ground-running operations close to homes; and has a negative impact on local amenity and liveability. My view and the view of my constituents is that aviation operations should be phased out and reallocated to more suitable airfields. Essendon Airport’s land could then be put to alternative use to generate more local jobs and help boost local economic activity, while lifting local amenity and improving community safety. All of this is consistent with the Victorian government’s Melbourne 2030 plan.

I welcome the fact that this bill will help give the local community a better chance to have a say on the planning and development of Essendon Airport. The bill will support more effective airport planning, community consultation and better alignment with state and local planning guidelines. It requires master plans to outline the extent of consistency with local planning schemes. If the plans are not consistent with relevant planning schemes they must outline why they are not. The proposed amendments will allow the minister to extend the master plan and major development plan assessment period up to 60 days from the current 50-day period. The bill will require master plans to outline ground transport linkages and provide detailed information on proposed non-aeronautical developments and the likely effect on jobs. It will require public consultation on significant changes to airport runways. It will prohibit types of developments which are incompatible with the operation of an airport site. It will also increase the triggers requiring airports to lodge major development plans to include any developments that are likely to have a significant impact on the local community. These are all necessary changes to make airport planners more accountable to local communities and to give the neighbours of airports a greater say in what their local neighbourhoods look like. These changes are in addition to the establishment by the minister of the Essendon Airport Community Consultative Committee, which I am now a member of and which has the task of designing a Fly Neighbourly Agreement as well as working through issues of concern to local residents as they arise.

I have always held regular meetings with local residents living around the airport to ensure that I am fully aware of their views and concerns regarding ongoing and emerging issues. In March 2007 and June 2007, I held two community meetings which attracted a combined total of over 400 residents. I have previously reported the discussion and outcome of these meetings to the House. In May 2008 and February 2009, I made submissions to the Australian government’s national aviation policy review recommending more consistent and stringent planning guidelines for airport development and master plan processes. In those submissions I stated that airport planning guidelines should be consistent with local and state government planning frameworks and that local residents should be consulted.

In March 2008 I made a joint submission with the state member for Essendon, Judy Maddigan, to the Essendon Airport master plan process, recommending minimum 20-metre setback buffer zones between the airport perimeter, the surrounding community and residential back fences. Essendon Airport has given an in-principle agreement not to construct any developments within these areas and have indicated to me that they will formalise this recommendation through the next master plan process. However, in the absence of any formal and clear planning guidelines not all planning issues have been addressed to meet local expectations. The 2008 draft master plan indicated that the Victorian government was intending to construct new and modern aviation infrastructure for its police and ambulance air wing services. These emergency services have been based at Essendon for some time and the proposed upgrading of their base did not raise many eyebrows at the time.

Debate interrupted.