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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1344

Mr MURPHY (6:10 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. I know the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, has an even longer history with Sydney Airport than I do due to the impact of the aviation industry and associated aircraft noise and the other airport operations on the people that we represent in this place. The bill being discussed tonight relates to proposed changes to the Airports Act 1996. The Airports Act establishes a regulatory framework for the Commonwealth airports that have been leased to private companies. The Australian government has applied a national regulatory regime on these airports as set out in the Airports Act and its amending regulations.

I note that the current planning regulatory framework applies to both Bankstown and Kingsford Smith airports, which are both located near my electorate of Reid and not that far from the electorate of the member for Grayndler, the minister. It is pertinent to also note that these airports are two of the busiest in Australia. Bankstown Airport is, I think, the busiest in the Southern Hemisphere. There has been a significant impact from those airports on my local economy, the environment and the community that I represent.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you would think that, given the significant impact that such a large and important industry has for so many cities and regions, the previous Howard government would have undertaken to provide comprehensive long-term policy objectives to ensure efficient and effective oversight of the airports. But you would be wrong, Mr Deputy Speaker, if you thought that. It was not until 16 December last year that the Labor government released a national aviation white paper, Flight path to the future. That white paper is the first aviation white paper in Australia’s history. It outlines the government’s long-term policy approach to the very important Australian aviation industry. The white paper is the first comprehensive long-term aviation policy framework for Australia, outlining the government’s long-term policy objectives for the industry, including the importance of minimising aviation’s negative impacts on the environment and communities. The paper was a product of extensive consultation with key stakeholders, including, naturally, the aviation industry, the community as well as state and territory and local governments. The government’s significant reforms, as pointed out by the minister, needed to make sure that we got the balance right.

Airports are important for our economy, but we must ensure that we support sustainable growth and provide mechanisms for sufficient community consultation. The white paper was able to identify several areas that needed improvement. One key area highlighted in the white paper was the need for improved consultation between the airports, their neighbouring communities, planning authorities and interested parties.

The government, however, also recognises the importance of continuing to promote the development of civil aviation in Australia; of establishing a system for the regulation of airports, taking into account the interests of the general community and airport users; and of encouraging the efficient and economic development and operation of airports. In essence, this bill will underscore the objectives of the Airports Act and give effect to the legislative reforms outlined in the white paper.

The bill will amend the act to strengthen the requirements for airport master plans and major development plans to support more effective airport planning and to better align with state, territory and local planning. If there are any inconsistencies between the master plan and the plans of state and local authorities, the airports must provide justification for such inconsistencies. Further, the bill will require the first five years of an airport master plan to include detailed information on the proposed use of land, including developments that are not related to airport services. Airport master plans will also need to include information on a ground transport plan, demonstrating how the airport’s facilities connect with the surrounding road and public transport system.

Under the amendments, likely employment levels and effects will need to be included in plans, including a report on how well the proposed development will fit in with the planning schemes for other commercial and retail development in the areas near the airport—in other words, an assessment of the potential impacts on the local economy and community. The minister made a very good point in his second reading speech: airports are not islands. Better integration of on- and off-airport planning is in everyone’s interests, from passengers, to airline companies, to businesses, to local communities.

This bill will also restructure the criteria for major development plans to capture projects with a significant community impact, irrespective of the size and the cost. In addition, the amendments will prohibit specified types of developments that are incompatible with the operation of an airport site. An ‘incompatible development’ includes residential dwellings; community care facilities; preschools; primary, secondary, tertiary or other educational institutions; and hospitals. The bill also defines the redevelopment of any of the named facilities as an incompatible development if it increases the capacity of the development, except in exceptional circumstances. The environment strategy for an airport will now be included in airport master plans, instead of being a stand-alone document, to better reflect the context of the strategy.

Another key element proposed in this bill is increased and strengthened consultation and guidelines on any proposed changes to runways, including changes that are likely to alter flight paths or aircraft arrangements. Any alterations that change flight paths or patterns of levels of aircraft noise will now be required to go through the major development plan approval process, providing for public consultation.

The last amendment contained in this bill is particularly welcomed by my electorate and the constituents that I represent in this place, given the long history of unfair aircraft noise distribution over the inner west of Sydney. My community is very well aware of the gap in the current act, which resulted in the closure of the east-west runway at Sydney airport for upgrades, without an ounce of community consultation, under the Howard government. Unfortunately, constituents of the former electorate of Lowe, which I represented for 12 years, suffered for many years under the former coalition government’s indifference to consultation about aircraft noise and associated environmental issues. Moreover, as I have mentioned many times in this House, the former Howard government sold Sydney airport without any genuine community consultation or real concern about properly addressing aircraft noise.

Further, prior to the 2007 election the Howard government concealed its negotiations with Sydney airport to close the east-west runway for safety upgrades. The people I represent were outraged by the temporary closure of the runway, as this altered flight paths to the detriment of many neighbouring residents in my electorate and in the minister’s electorate. Due to the closure of the east-west runway, flight paths as prescribed in the Long Term Operating Plan for Sydney airport were necessarily restricted.

Once elected, the Labor government moved immediately to impose 22 stringent conditions on the runway end safety area—RESA, as it is known—project to minimise the impact of the east-west closure on our communities. These included a requirement that work be undertaken for 22 hours a day, seven days a week. I commend the minister and member for Grayndler for his initiative in that regard. I am pleased to say that the east-west runway is now fully operational following the completion of the RESA project.

The outrage about the lack of consultation prior to the closure of the east-west runway was very loud and very clear in my electorate and in the electorate of the minister, the member for Grayndler. Once again, this example highlighted the very different approaches taken by the former Howard government and our government. Unlike the former Howard government, the Gillard government is making changes to improve transparency and consultation. The Labor government, under the leadership of the minister, has demonstrated this through many areas of government and again here tonight through these amendments to the Airports Act.

These amendments will affect not only the communities in my electorate but communities neighbouring all leased federal airports around Australia. The changes proposed in this bill are supported by other reforms outlined in the white paper, including the requirements for leased federal airports to host community consultation groups with independent chairs and for capital city airports to have a high-level planning forum with the state government and the Department of Infrastructure and Transport. This bill is part of a broad range of measures the transport minister and the Labor government have undertaken for airports and the aviation industry.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, as someone who comes from an electorate in Adelaide that is also affected by aircraft noise, we have all championed fairer aircraft noise sharing for our constituents. I have done that ever since I arrived in this place 12 years ago and I am certainly not going to let up on it. Since the election of the Labor government in 2007, we have reaffirmed our commitment to maintain the curfew and cap on aircraft movements—another initiative of the member for Grayndler—ensuring respite for noise affected residents. Further, the minister has announced that older and noisier jet freight aircraft will be banned from flying over thousands of Sydney homes, particularly late on weeknights.

The minister has also established an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman to assist with the dissemination of information and complaints handling. My local community campaigned on this very issue and I thank the minister for listening to our call. I note that I have already contacted the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, Mr Ron Brent, on behalf of my constituents and I trust that we will receive his full assistance with those matters. I take the opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment.

I could talk all night about the initiatives of our government and the minister, but time has beaten me. We are actually doing something to get some fairness and equity in relation to the issues associated with the expansion of Sydney airport, and I commend the minister and the government for these initiatives. They are greatly appreciated by my electorate.