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Thursday, 29 March 2007
Page: 40

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Trade) (11:01 AM) —I thank the opposition spokesman, the member for Batman, for his comments on the Airports Amendment Bill 2006 and his indication that the opposition is broadly supportive of what is proposed. I also commend him on his contribution. I agree wholeheartedly with many of the things that he said. I think we have moved to a stage where there is a degree of acknowledgement that the quite outstanding airport facilities we now have in Australia could never have been provided if the taxpayers were asked to pick up the bill on each occasion. The political reality is that to go through a budget process every time there is a proposal to spend what sometimes amounts to billions of dollars on new airport infrastructure would be unachievable. The private sector is driving investment and delivering to Australia an excellent suite of airports. They are not all perfect. They all have ambitions to expand and will need to expand if world growth in aviation meets expectations. For that reason, the harnessing of private sector capital has been very worth while.

There are sensitivities about how much should be charged and who should be allowed to operate the airports. We will have to work through those issues with goodwill. But I agree entirely with the opposition spokesman—and I made this comment in my own opening remarks—that airports need to be good neighbours and citizens. They are major employers. Sydney airport is one of the biggest employers in Sydney. It is very important to the state of New South Wales as a gateway, as an employer and as a driver of economic activity. The local community and the state and federal governments all need to be supportive of the general activities of the airport and acknowledge that, in most cases, the airport was there first and other development has occurred around it. Indeed, some of that development is attracted to the neighbourhood because the airport is there.

There are sometimes conflicts which need to be addressed, and it is beyond doubt that the involvement of the private sector in the airports has led to a broader range of investment on many of the airport sites. There is enormous potential to use large sites—Melbourne and Brisbane in particular—as an economic gateway or new port. For that reason, those sites are critical to the development of the cities they serve. But they do need to work constructively with their local communities, and there are examples of very good practice in that regard. It is interesting that all of the developments proposed for Melbourne Airport have, I think, not raised a single objection between them. That is an example of not only good planning but also good community consultation processes. The community consultation process in Brisbane, with one exception, has been pretty good as well and has helped lead to mutually acceptable developments.

I acknowledge, however, that many of these are controversial. The opposition spokesman has referred to one and there are others elsewhere. But he also rightly refers to the fact that some of the criticism by the state and local government is a bit odd in that they complain about the time that is available for public consultation. South Australia is a good example. The South Australian Premier has written a letter on behalf of the premiers complaining about the processes. In South Australia, only 15 days are available for public consultation, yet he is complaining that there are only 60 days at the federal level. Indeed, the time frames that will be put in place for airport developments will be the longest of any jurisdiction. So, for that reason, I do not think it is unreasonable.

The states want a bigger role in planning. I am not sure that they have earnt that role. New South Wales’s record in planning the Cross City Tunnel does not win them too many brownie points. What the Queensland government have been doing in relation to the Traveston Dam hardly gives them any credentials to complain. Brian Burke’s planning processes hardly give Western Australia any right to complain. Nonetheless, I think it is appropriate that states have a role in the process. As the opposition spokesman acknowledged, the current act does provide for local government and state government views to be taken into account.

It has to be said that the states sometimes did not take up the opportunities that were available; they ignored the process. It is pretty hard to complain that they were not consulted when they refused to respond or provide any kind of submission, or instead, as was the case in New South Wales with the big shopping centre development, did it all through the media with appalling scare campaigns. (Extension of time granted) There were all sorts of issues associated with that shopping centre which led to it not proceeding. But the suggestion that it was going to add tens of billions of dollars to the road needs of the region and some of the other scare tactics that were run were a little bit beyond the pale. Nonetheless, I think the right result occurred in that instance.

The states need to have a role and local government need to have a role, but they need to exercise the privileges that they have in that process responsibly. As a former minister, and I am sure the current minister will have the same view—and I have said this publicly at airport conferences and the like—I believe the airports need to recognise that they are a part of the community, they need to be responsible citizens and they need to go the extra mile to engage their communities. They have to not only listen to what the committee has to say but respond in a decent and appropriate way. The community might not always be right, and sometimes there may be overriding issues that have to be taken into account, but they have to not only listen to the community but respond to their concerns and do so in a constructive way wherever they can.

I emphasise again that I do not think any Commonwealth government is ever going to cede planning responsibilities over these important national facilities to state governments or local governments. Bear in mind that the states do not subject their planning processes to local government rules—the states themselves override local government rules—so it is a bit rich for them to suggest that the Commonwealth should submit themselves to laws that they will not submit themselves to. Whilst I do not accept that the states have a strong legal position, I think there is a strong moral argument that they need to be effectively involved. This legislation is designed to do that. With the proper encouragement from governments at all levels, there will be a higher level of public consultation and genuine involvement in the future. Not always will every community be happy with the outcome, but there needs to be a recognition at airport level that, if you want to have these kinds of developments, you have to engage the community and have them broadly satisfied that the best decisions are being made in the end.

Question agreed to.