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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1630


Mr EVERINGHAM(10.55) —This afternoon the Minister for Transport and Minister for Aviation (Mr Peter Morris) raised in this House the matter of the breach by the Government of a further solemn commitment to the people of the Northern Territory made in the 1983 election by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the then spokesman for aviation and subsequently reiterated in the 1984 election to build a new terminal at Darwin Airport. On 4 April, the Minister for Aviation made the following announcement:

The Government has decided to defer further contracts on the redevelopment of Darwin Airport, pending a complete reappraisal of the project.

I would like to remind honourable members of the history of this project. In 1975, following Cyclone Tracy, the Whitlam Federal Government decided that neither Darwin Airport nor the Royal Australian Air Force base should be relocated. In early 1979 the Department of Defence advised that the existing civil aviation facilities must be vacated by 1985. The Commonwealth Department of Transport then commenced planning for the relocation of the civil aviation facilities on the northern side of the main runway because of the Commonwealth's own Defence Department requirements. In December 1980 Federal Cabinet confirmed that new civil aviation facilities would be located on the northern side of the main runway. In April 1982 Federal Cabinet approved the redevelopment project for consideration by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works.

In November 1982 the then Federal Minister for Aviation announced a $86m project for redevelopment of civil aviation facilities on the northern side. This commitment was reaffirmed by the Labor Government in August 1983 when the Federal Minister announced that commencement of construction had been approved for 1983-84. In May 1984 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works recommended that the redevelopment project proceed with staged development on the northern side. In August 1984 the Federal Minister announced that $7.5m had been allocated to the project in the 1984-85 Federal Budget. On 18 October 1984 the Prime Minister inaugurated work on the project and further committed the Government to its construction. Now, less than six months later, work has been stopped and the project subject to reappraisal.

A $100m Darwin Airport redevelopment does not mean that civil aviation users must contribute through airport charges sufficient to service that $100m expenditure. The reason is simple. The major components of the costs of the project are directly attributable to the Commonwealth's decision to locate the civil facilities on the northern side. That was for defence reasons, not because of civil aviation requirements. It is a shared airport with the RAAF. It would, therefore, be grossly inequitable to suggest that these costs should be recovered from the civil aviation users. The Minister's use of the Bosch report to justify his actions are quite wrong and totally misleading.

The Northern Territory Government has been accused of economic vandalism in this House by the Treasurer (Mr Keating). Let me speak about some of the effects that this decision will have on business and employment in the Top End of the Northern Territory. I wish to refer to a letter dated 10 April 1985 sent to the Prime Minister by the director of a company investing $55m to construct a new hotel in Darwin. Mr Speaker, $55m is dependent on what happens at the airport. The letter states:

We are now told that this is going to take a longer time, in view of the Federal Government's announcement that work on the present construction of Darwin's international airport has been suspended and that there is going to be a review on the subject.

Mr Prime Minister, this decision of the Federal Government is certainly causing us, as investors, very grave concern. Not only will our own investments be in jeopardy but I sincerely believe the prospects of the Territory taking off become shaky. Investors like us and many others who are contemplating to invest in this part of Australia are bound to feel nervous with indecision of the Government to fulfil commitments.

The last paragraph of the letter states:

Mr Prime Minister, this letter is written not as a criticism of your Government but rather as a manifestation of concern from one and numerous others who have placed great hopes in the future of Australia in general and the Territory in particular. If this letter serves to invite your positive response to such concern then it would have served the purpose for which it was written.

The employment and investment losses caused by the breach of this solemn undertaking are incalculable.


Mr SPEAKER —It being 11 p.m., the debate is interrupted.


Mr John Brown —I require the debate to be extended.


Mr SPEAKER —The debate may be extended until 11.10 p.m.