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Monday, 3 April 2000
Page: 15067

Mr LAWLER (8:35 PM) —I rise today to give my thoughts on the Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport access debate, and I must start by thanking cabinet for giving the opportunity to some regional MPs to put their points of view across at a cabinet meeting recently. I would like to record my thoughts on the matter. Before we address the issue of where people from interstate, overseas and the regions should be forced to land in Sydney, perhaps we should first of all look at why people from regional areas actually fly. Of course, it is quicker than driving and we touch down at an airport that is within about 20 or 30 minutes drive of the CBD. Further, we touch down at a site that gives us access to interstate and international flights. If airport access to Sydney for regional people is so important, why is it then that 95 per cent of people in regional areas do not in fact fly to Sydney? Who does use this service? My figures indicate that almost two-thirds of air travellers from the regions are business people and include medical practitioners and government employees or representatives.

Most fair-minded people accept the need to restructure the way airports are accessed within New South Wales to cope with future loads. One of the latest proposals that seems to be doing the rounds is to relocate regional airlines to Bankstown or perhaps even Richmond. Why is it that regional people feel so strongly about being dumped off in Bankstown? Most people I speak to do not have a passionate, emotional commitment to Kingsford Smith for the sake of its name; rather it comes back to why people fly in the first place.

We perceive that landing at Bankstown and travelling on by public transport or taxi to the CBD is a more expensive, more time consuming, less convenient way to conduct business. Out of the three criteria that prompt people to fly—that is, speed, getting to within 20 minutes of the CBD and access to interstate and international flights—as conditions now stand, none would be met by landing at Bankstown. Even from somewhere like Dubbo in my electorate, if you drive for 15 or 20 minutes to get to the airport, arrive 30 minutes before the flight, have a one-hour flight, collect your baggage, wait for transport to the CBD and then get a cab into town, we are talking about a trip from door to door of around 3½ hours. If you add another 30 minutes travel that realistically it would take to get from Bankstown to the CBD in the traffic, the flying option loses a lot of its gloss. And the closer the regional towns are to Sydney, the quicker and more dramatically the flying option loses its gloss.

This is the real issue: if passenger numbers drop and airlines are under no obligation to suffer losses to prop up an unviable service, we would see reduced flights into and out of places like Dubbo and even Broken Hill, or perhaps even no flights at all. This would be an economic and social disaster for these cities and the areas that they serve—that is, the whole of western New South Wales. So much for selling regional areas like Dubbo as having overcome the tyranny of distance with technology and modern transport infrastructure and networks. So much for trying to lure businesses and professionals, such as doctors, to establish themselves there because `Sydney is just an hour away by plane'. This is why, even though probably 95 per cent of the population in the western area do not travel directly by plane, the impacts that would be observed on these people's towns and therefore their lives through a reduction in access for this critical five per cent of people who arrive in these towns would be a disaster.

Having said that, unlike what has occurred with previous head-in-the-sand governments, there is a decision that needs to be made and the self-interest of all groups needs to be considered, though not to the exclusion of all others. There are those who want less noise at Mascot, but of course they would like to maintain the business activity that is generated by the airport—such as housing, temporary accommodation, retail businesses and food outlets. There are those who do not want noise at an alternative site. There are even some who actually recognise the benefits of establishing an airport at a site near them—those benefits, again, being the generation of housing, engineering, retailing, accommodation and the tourism opportunities that flow.

Country people want to maintain access to the CBD and to further flights, though we must not ignore those who are increasingly going to do business on the North Shore or out in the Parramatta area who may actually be favourably impacted on by landing at an alternative site. As I said, I believe that country people do not have an emotional attachment, as such, to Kingsford Smith airport; but they do have an emotional attachment to fair access to where they do business and fair access to further flights.

Just recently I have been approached increasingly by people in my electorate who have a background in aviation who say that there are alternatives. Before I give an example of these alternatives, I would reiterate that these are only alternatives if the three criteria that place flying over driving are met—that is, that it be quicker than driving, they get to within 20 minutes of the CBD and they have access to international and interstate flights. If the option of a full international airport, as was being considered at Badgerys Creek, would have cost in excess of $10 billion, there is an enormous amount of money that should be able to be spent on improving access to somewhere else—whether Richmond, Bankstown or elsewhere—which already has rail services of sorts and expressways, such as in Richmond, three parts of the way there. If this road and rail access can be expanded, it could meet the objective of accessing the CBD; and, if interstate and international flights are accessed by a certain number of regional slots every day, perhaps we could be offered access through another gateway.

All proposals have their problems, and I understand that of course there are arguments against all of those proposals. I realise too that many options are being looked at by people with far more experience in this field than I have. But I float these comments in the knowledge that country people simply will not wear diminished access to their places of business. I must say too that, like the Telstra privatisation issue, country people will not accept a proposal that says, `We promise to do such and such if you sign off on this.' They want hard action, not guarantees. Whatever infrastructure changes need to be made to accommodate any change in government policy on regional airline access to Kingsford Smith airport, they must be delivered or, at the very least, be well down the track of development past the point of no return.

Dare I say that, if the government would link these proposed changes with another transport issue that is actually nearer the hearts of the 95 per cent of country people who do not fly—that is, country petrol prices—and provide a legislated link between the cost of petrol in the city and that in the country, I believe we would be a long way down the track of putting this very tough, very emotional and very sensitive decision behind us. We could then move on to important issues, like using the change out of that $10 billion that was intended to be spent at Badgerys to provide some of the much needed infrastructure development in rural, regional and even outer metropolitan areas of Australia. This could provide the self-stimulating economic activity and its associated social benefits that we crave.

I would close by again pointing out that the bottom line for this proposal or any other is that the country people of New South Wales retain air access to a site 20 minutes to half an hour from the CBD by road or public transport and direct access to interstate and international flights. They should be expected to accept nothing less than this.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick)—Order! As the time for the grievance debate has expired, the debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question resolved in the affirmative.