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Western Sydney Regional Transport Forum: Holroyd Council Chambers.



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Federal Labor Perspectives

Martin Ferguson MP

Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism

WESTERN SYDNEY REGIONAL TRANSPORT FORUM

Holroyd Council Chambers

12 June 2003

Thank you for the opportunity to return to Western Sydney to discuss regional transport issues.

Transport cannot be discussed in isolation. It is an integral part of the broader debate about the design and relevance of our communities to Australians, and the role of Government.

Decisions about where we live and permit growth go to the capacity of existing infrastructure - transport, communications, utilities, hospitals, education and housing.

So, where we live is not just about where we can afford to live - it is also about whether the built and natural environment can sustain our choices.

The decisions are about the community’s capacity to provide new infrastructure versus limiting settlement to areas where the infrastructure is capable.

Are there jobs and economic opportunities? Is it preferable to redesign existing suburbs where infrastructure and jobs are in place, instead of green field sites.

The debate is also about how we live in places and the design of our buildings and neighborhoods and how they relate to each other.

Do our transport networks take us where we want to go, when we want to go? Are they regular and efficient? Are we given the right choices? Is it affordable, clean, safe and reliable?

There are many more factors in the new, more holistic approach to the design of our communities and lifestyles.

Western Sydney is at the cutting edge of this urban development debate.

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The size and scope of the Bringelly development is a clear and present example of the debate.

Airport policy is another example.

The same debate and a more integrated policy rethink are also happening on the edge of other major cities.

It is also now confronting those in prosperous regional cities, such as Albury Wodonga, Newcastle and Ballarat.

State and local Governments are living the debate. They are close to it and being pushed to new solutions by local communities.

But there is an obvious and important tier of government that is missing from the debate and the process of finding integrated solutions - and that is the Federal Government.

The Howard Government is not involved or interested in solutions to the problems in urban communities.

Labor says this is not okay. It is not okay for the national government to leave it all to local and State governments.

Federal policies directly impact on the design and liveability of towns and cities - interest rates and housing affordability, health and education services, communications, transport and infrastructure.

For this reason, the Federal Government must also be involved in the consequences of their policies. They must have a view and be involved in urban development and how their policies impact on how our communities should grow and develop.

The Howard Government has a growing tendency to shift blame and responsibility to the States and Local Government.

An important part of the necessary new approach to urban community design and development is a new commitment from all tiers of government and the private and community sectors to work together on solutions.

The old ways of doing things and thinking about development are straining under the consequences of poor decisions and we can’t keep making decisions as we have in the past.

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The social consequences of physical infrastructure decisions must be better understood and factored at the start.

It takes a different way of looking at how we grow and design our communities. How we inter-relate with our hinterland. It is a different way of looking at our infrastructure needs.

Transport is a good example. Traditionally, transport planners had all routes leading to the city centre. All based on the assumption that the city centre is where people want to go.

But the work, school and entertainment of many people living in this region is not in the city centre.

In the absence of effective, efficient cross regional public transport, the car has been the only option.

This was a major issue identified by the Western Sydney Taskforce established by Simon Crean last year.

We came and spoke with a range of organisations about the things that matter for this region.

Transport was also a key negative identified by residents in the 2001 survey called “Who Cares About Western Sydney”.

But while poor public transport and congestion were identified as two of the top three things that people disliked about living in Western Sydney, the Federal Government is not interested.

The Howard Government Auslink Green Paper last year was actually the first acknowledgement in seven years that Australia needs a national land transport plan. But it ignored the needs of our cities and major urban areas. It is a plan about the movement of freight, not people.

Labor has a different view and this was confirmed when I recently met with all State and Territory Minister’s for Transport.

We all acknowledged that Australia does need a national land transport plan but one that involves freight and people, including a Commonwealth role in public transport infrastructure.

Labor also has a clearly different policy on airports in this region.

We have opposed the sale of Bankstown, Hoxton Park and Camden Airports.

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The Federal Government is charging ahead with the airport sales without answering basic questions from a community design and planning perspective.

The Howard Government is taking their usual approach of wiping their hands of responsibility.

In my view, the councils and communities in this region should also be more vocal with the questions.

One of the policy changes relates to Hoxton Park Airport.

In the recent announcement, the Government will now sell a shorter lease on Hoxton Park that converts to freehold in about 5 years time.

There has been a strong community push to close Hoxton Park airport. There is also a mounting push from the aviation industry to keep it operating as an airport.

The decision by the Government provides no certainty and I had this issue pursued in Senate Estimates last month. What we found is that the reversion of the airport lease to freehold does not, in itself, mean the airport will close.

At the moment, the current lease puts the regulation of the airport under the special arrangements of the Airports Act 1996.

There are hundreds of local airports around Australia that do not fall under the strict planning, development, consultation and operational restrictions of that Federal Act.

Instead, these small airports are only required to meet the basic safety licensing requirements of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and fall under local government planning.

So, there is nothing to guarantee that Hoxton Park will cease operating as an airport when the lease reverts to freehold.

And if the new owner of Hoxton Park does decide to stop airport operations, where will the general aviation operations go? Should that owner care? Who is responsible for caring?

What is clear though, is that the Federal Government has walked away from the decision, just as they have walked away from any plan for Sydney’s broader aviation needs.

The same is the case at Bankstown Airport.

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The Government no longer requires the new owners of Bankstown Airport to operate it as an overflow to Sydney Airport.

While the Bankstown community has seized this new policy as a victory of sorts, I am not as confident.

The Government made its decision on the basis of Sydney Airport capacity, not on the basis of consultation about safety and the ambitions and wishes of the Bankstown community.

The Minister said:

"Changes to the aviation environment since 11 September 2001, the collapse of Ansett and the trend to using larger aircraft, particularly on regional routes, means there is no longer a need for Bankstown Airport to develop an overflow capacity to supplement Sydney Airport,"

The announcement does not stop a new private sector owner making a commercial decision to operate the Airport as an overflow. The announcement only says they will not be required to that.

In Senate estimates, Labor pursued the traffic data upon which the decision about capacity of Sydney Airport was based. But nothing could be provided.

But this information is important for other decisions.

Western Sydney should be demanding that information because it also has potential consequences for Badgery’s Creek airport.

If the events of September 11, the collapse of Ansett and other world events made the Government decide Bankstown is not required as an overflow for KSA, how have those same events impacted on the need for a second airport?

In my view, Western Sydney councils must become more vocal.

The second airport issue and the future of the smaller basin airports have significant ramifications for this region.

It impacts on the design and development of this region and the Federal Government is not listening.

Federal Labor has listened to the community and we have responded with the decision to keep the small airports in public ownership.

We say that there needs to be a process of dialogue and planning with State and local Government and the community about the future of the airports.

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We will canvas alternatives that would enable the cessation of aviation operations at Hoxton Park airport. That process would rightly involve a general aviation plan for Sydney.

This must include a proper assessment of the capacity to increase general aviation operations at Camden Airport and it must rule out large jets at Bankstown.

It must also explore, with Defence and the local community, options to introduce civilian general aviation options at Richmond Airport.

These are all important public policy decisions and responsibilities that must not be left to the new private sector owners.

Federal Labor’s strategy on the Sydney basin airports is the right thing to do for and with the Western Sydney community.

To deliver it, we must be in government and the airport sale must not have been concluded.

On that front, we need your help to campaign to stop the sales. You have been left out of the loop on the decision making, but you will be landed with the consequences while the Federal Government is banking the sale proceeds.

Just as Labor has determined our way forward on the basin airports, so too we must make a decision on the future of the Badgery’s Creek airport site.

Labor’s Western Sydney Taskforce was given a clear message that Western Sydney does not want the second Sydney airport built at Badgery’s Creek.

The Platform of the ALP says that a second Sydney airport will be built in the Sydney basin. The Badgery’s Creek site is the obvious site.

While the Platform retains those words, we are limited in our capacity to rule out a second Sydney airport at Badgery’s Creek and honor our Party Platform.

Our next conference and opportunity to change the Platform is January 2004.

At that national conference, the Party will determine the status of that paragraph in the Platform and any decision will consider the views of the whole Sydney community, not just Western Sydney.

Last weekend the triennial Liberal Party national conference made no decision to change their policy on a Second Sydney Airport.

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So, in all likelihood, the Liberals will go to the next election with their current policy. That is, review the needs of KSA in 2005 and legislate to keep the Badgery’s land locked up against development that doesn’t suit an airport.

The Labor Party’s processes are known to you all. Our Platform, policies and rules are available for all to see.

If Western Sydney wants to see an ALP policy change, I am putting you all on notice that it is time to make those views known and have the debate.

So today I am explaining the policy environment as I see it.

The Liberals policy of status quo, with a chance of change in 2005. Or, if you want a different approach, there is an opportunity to push for that at the ALP’s January 2004 conference.

The choice is there for the Western Sydney community, but your advocates need to decide a strategy and soon.

Conclusion

In closing today, I say that the Federal Government has been disinterested in matters that impact on Western Sydney for too long.

National decisions impact locally.

National government must accept responsibility for the consequences of national decisions.

At the very least, this means involving the community in Federal decisions, such as airport policy.

But in Labor’s view, it goes much further.

It is time that many of the policy demarcation lines were erased so all Governments can work in partnership to tackle the challenges.

The Coalition refuses any role in urban development. This is old fashioned and unhelpful.

Labor has a focus on urban and regional development. We have a focus on infrastructure and the importance of planning for infrastructure needs.

It is a clear point of difference between the major parties. It is up to the advocates for the Western Sydney community to start making the community’s voice heard in Canberra.