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South Australia: comments from Minister and airport workers about the prospect of the sale of Adelaide Airport through the privatisation of the Federal Airports Corporation

MONICA ATTARD: One of the Federal Government's more controversial decisions announced in last week's White Paper on jobs, and confirmed in the Budget, has been the sale of all of its airports. The major reason for the controversy is that the sell-off is against Labor Party policy. The Liberal South Australian Government is pushing for Adelaide Airport to be the first to be privatised, to test the waters. Well, today Peter Rapp visited the airport to gauge attitudes to its impending sale.

PETER RAPP: The Government hopes its privatisation program will net about $2.5 billion. Much of that could come from the sale of the Federal Airport Corporation's 22 airports. But only seven of those airports are profitable, including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It will be interesting to see how the unprofitable ones go - that is if all the studies into the proposed sales and political manoeuvring leading up to the ALP Conference in September see the privatisation program survive.

Adelaide is one of the seven profitable airports, returning 5 per cent on assets, according to the Airports Corporation. But there's dissatisfaction in Adelaide with the standard of service offered by the airport, despite it being only an easy seven kilometres from the CBD. At the general aviation terminal, the operator of small local airline Emu Airways, Lance McCane, is mostly positive about privatisation.

LANCE McCANE: I can't say that it would hurt. Privatisation in itself has got to be a whole lot more efficient than the corporation that currently runs the place.

PETER RAPP: What do they do wrong?

LANCE McCANE: What do they do?

PETER RAPP: Wrong.

LANCE McCANE: They're top heavy, like any government organisation. They've got thousands of people running around here with pieces of paper in their hands and doing nothing.

PETER RAPP: So it would mean jobs going, you think?

LANCE McCANE: Well, jobs are going everywhere in the government, aren't they?

PETER RAPP: If it were more efficient under privatisation, would it mean your charges could go up? Could it be more expensive for you to operate here if there was a cost recovery?

LANCE McCANE: I think the cost recovery here has gone overboard. With privatisation efficiencies I could see them probably going down - I don't know.

PETER RAPP: Do you think it would be a good idea to sell Adelaide Airport? You're a worker here.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, it's worked in Cairns, there's no reason why it can't work here.

PETER RAPP: Could I just ask you, you're a couple of workers here at Adelaide Airport. What do you do?

UNIDENTIFIED: Driver, flight service.

PETER RAPP: And you, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED: Porter, flight service.

PETER RAPP: What do you think about the possibility of Adelaide Airport being privatised?

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, we haven't heard much about it. I don't know how it will affect us but I suppose the future will tell all.

PETER RAPP: What about you?

UNIDENTIFIED: Much the same. I don't think it's going to affect Ansett itself a great deal, but if it's going to help the State, good.

PETER RAPP: Because efficiency also perhaps means fewer jobs for people. Is that a worry amongst you and your colleagues?

UNIDENTIFIED: Not us, because we're sort of employed by a separate company, but anyone who works for the FAC, security or anyone like that, it could affect them.

PETER RAPP: Some opinions at Adelaide Airport on its impending sale. South Australian Transport Minister, Di Laidlaw, is enthusiastic about the privatisation of the airport. The State Government's already identified the British Airports Authority as a possible buyer of the main Adelaide drome. Could Ms Laidlaw tell us about anyone else who's shown interest?

DI LAIDLAW: There is also a consortium of Australian investors, so we're quite excited about the prospects for both discussions at the present time.

PETER RAPP: Can an extension of the runway to take fully-loaded 747s and modernisation of the airport, such as providing all-weather air bridges for passengers in addition to the one only at the international terminal, be locked into a sale deal?

DI LAIDLAW: We're certainly advocating that the Federal Government support further investment in those infrastructure initiatives. The Federal Government has not, through the Federal Airports Corporation, has really not served Adelaide well compared to all the other capital city airports in Australia. So you cannot expect a private sector investor to not only buy the airport but to invest heavily in those basic infrastructure initiatives while the depreciation rules are so bad. But we do most earnestly believe - and this is the subject we are exploring with the Federal Government - is that Adelaide be the first pilot airport - that's not a pun - first airport to launch privatisation and on a pilot basis because there is some concern that if the eastern State airports go first, then Adelaide may be swamped.

PETER RAPP: But on that question of swamping, under privatisation aren't services, perhaps particularly international flights bringing in tourists which you want, likely to be concentrated at larger airports for efficiency sake, say Melbourne?

DI LAIDLAW: Well, that has been the practice is the past, but if you get competition in this area we believe that we can have attractive deals which will attract extra business to the State.

MONICA ATTARD: South Australian Transport Minister, Di Laidlaw.