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Sydney Airport: former Minister, Gary Punch, says details of extra costs to reduce bird strike hazard were withheld from Cabinet when third runway decision made.

ANGELA PEARMAN: A fresh row has erupted within the Federal Government over the Sydney airport third runway. Former Minister, Gary Punch, has accused Transport Minister, Ralph Willis, of withholding full details from Cabinet when it approved the project. Mr Punch says Cabinet wasn't fully informed of a major safety hazard that will add nearly $100 million to the cost.

REPORTER: It was a reporter's Freedom of Information query that un- earthed the Civil Aviation Authority report saying seagulls could be a major hazard with a third runway. A landlocked stretch of water between two runways would be a natural settling place for seabirds, creating an unacceptable hazard for aircraft, unless filled in at a cost approaching $90 million and the bird strike hazard was increasing from 27 recorded incidents in 1980, to 70 last year. Well, Gary Punch said the detail in the report was kept from Cabinet by Ralph Willis.

GARY PUNCH: That material was not before the Cabinet and it was not shared with me, as the Junior Minister.

REPORTER: What was put to Cabinet?

GARY PUNCH: There was one paragraph, a small paragraph, in the Cabinet submission about the bird hazard.

REPORTER: Mr Willis wasn't available for interview today. He's reported as saying Cabinet was told about the issue but the detail would be addressed in the coming environmental impact statement. Of course, there's still been no start on the environmental impact statement, supposed to be finished within eighteen months. Cynics might say that with an election in prospect next year, and those vulnerable seats around the airport, the government seems in no tearing rush. But Mr Willis denies delaying tactics. Mr Punch now says the seagull hazard and the high cost of prevention will give extra ammunition to third runway opponents. The third runway issue is far from dead, either inside or outside Parliament.