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Friday, 26 November 2010
Page: 2382

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (12:50 PM) —The Airports Amendment Bill 2010 makes a number of amendments to the Airports Act 1996, which establishes a framework for the regulation of Commonwealth leased airports. The act sets out the requirements for airport master plans, which set out development plans over a 20-year period and 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 the developments at the airport and enables them to be consulted on these developments. A key question might be asked lately about the approval of the development of the subdivision under the Canberra Airport, which one might presume will have far greater traffic in future. The Airports Act also requires major development plans to 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.

The bill will increase requirements for airport master plans and major development plans to align more closely with the state and local planning laws. It will require that master plans include a ground transport plan illustrating how airport developments will impact the surrounding transport network and include analysis on how the master plan aligns with state and local planning laws. Master plans will be required to integrate the airport environment strategy rather than having it separate to the master plan. In addition, some types of developments that are deemed incompatible with the operation of airport sites as an airport will be prohibited. The bill will also restructure the triggers for the preparation of major development plans to include developments with significant community impact, thus enabling public consultation for all airport developments that impact surrounding areas.

The bill will seek to streamline certain development applications. If a development has little community impact there is currently no provision for airports to seek an exemption from the major development plan process. The bill will introduce such an exemption. The bill will also allow airports to seek a reduction in the public consultation period from 60 days to 15 days in the event that a major development plan is aligned with the latest master plan and therefore has already been subjected to public scrutiny.

The opposition acknowledges that getting the balance between aviation infrastructure development and broader community planning and consultation is never easy. That is why the coalition introduced the Airports Act in 1996. So, in one respect, the Airports Amendment Bill 2010 continues the reformist work of the former coalition government. Unfortunately, as is so typical of this government, it has once again proved unable or unwilling to provide even the basic courtesy level of consultation with key stakeholders when it comes to drafting this bill. Fortunately, on 30 September 2010, the bill was referred to the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 16 November 2010. While I acknowledge that the government did not oppose this referral, its contempt for consultation and review was made clear by the government’s refusal to accept a perfectly reasonable coalition amendment.

Today, one might call into clear focus the same government’s refusal to be part of a process of getting proper oversight of their NBN Telstra legislation by the Productivity Commission. One also might draw into clear context the fact that the Labor government, ably assisted by the Greens and the Independents, have decided to go down the path of their process even though such a person as Mr Glenn Stevens, the head of the Reserve Bank, has clearly stated today that the NBN should not go forward without it going to the Productivity Commission first. Once more, it is a case of every person telling them something but them ignoring it and unfortunately other people believing them on the way through.

Going back to this airport bill, this rejection is all the more remarkable since the government, when preparing this bill, refused to provide an exposure draft. This is extraordinary. Airports are a vital part of Australia’s infrastructure and their interaction with the broader community is enormous. Unfortunately, because the government is in such a rush and is not interested in consultation, this bill has problems. These problems have aroused concerns from a number of aviation industry stakeholders. Fortunately, the Senate inquiry identified these problems and, in a unanimous conclusion, recommended:

… that the Department of Infrastructure and Transport develop guidelines in consultation with key stakeholders to clarify the level of detail and analysis to be included in airport master plans in order to satisfy the requirements set out in paragraph 71(2)(h) and 71(3)(h) of the Airports Amendment Bill 2010.

We call upon the government to develop these guidelines swiftly in order to clarify the doubts about these elements of the Airports Amendment Bill 2010. We also call upon the government to table these guidelines on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments as per the recommendation made by the coalition senators in the Senate inquiry into the bill. We further note that, as a result of sloppy drafting and lack of consultation, the government has had to make further amendments to this bill. The coalition welcomes the government’s belated changes to this bill and the coalition will not oppose passage of the Airports Amendment Bill 2010 and the associated amendments.

In closing, this is yet another statement, as has been so clearly betrayed today, of a government that is unwilling to properly engage, a government that is hopeless with the details, a government that is clueless about the facts and a government that ignores all the key stakeholders, even the independent stakeholders outside the partisan arrangements of this chamber such as the head of the Reserve Bank, Mr Glenn Stevens, with his comments about whether the NBN should go to the Productivity Commission. This is a government that tries to laud itself on what it gets through rather than what it actually delivers an outcome for. We see Mr Albanese stand up in the other place and come up with that list—more a list to explain other things that should be cleaned up rather than things that have actually been achieved. Everything this government touches turns to clay.

The only way we can save the Australian people from some of the ridiculous decisions that come out of this place is with proper oversight by this parliament. Yet this government, ably assisted by the Greens and, to be honest, by the Independents, has gagged that process. We see that in minor ways, such as with the Airports Amendment Bill, but today we saw it in the most major of ways when we tried to get the Australian people the right to a proper analysis of their major infrastructure project. This government, and those who are associated with this government, especially the Greens, must accept responsibility for the decisions that they take. When those decisions come unstuck, when the money is gone and when people stand around and say, ‘Where are these social benefits that we had in the past and that we used to pay for out of taxpayers’ dollars, and where is our capacity to properly fund the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, to properly fund defence and to properly fund education?’—when they ask where on earth that money has gone—we will be able to point to days like today when this government in association with the Greens, this Labor-Green government, refused proper oversight and to that lack of proper oversight as the reason we ended up finding ourselves in such an invidious position.