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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16235


Mr MURPHY (7:50 PM) —A report of the Commission of Inquiry into a Precision Radar Monitor for Sydney Airport has just come to hand today. I am compelled to bring the contents contained in that report to the immediate attention of this House tonight. The government stands condemned for releasing this report on a day when the public and the media have been saturated with information overload from the budget. Clearly, the government is trying to hide this report, but it cannot hide it from me. So grave are the conclusions contained in this report that I am duty bound to redress the wrongs contained in the said report. I first turn to conclusion C, which is worth reciting in full:

There will be some adverse environmental impacts on several groups of residents in Sydney, especially those living generally to the north of the airport in suburbs that lie under or adjacent to or between the extended centrelines of the parallel runways 16R and 16L. These impacts will arise mainly from the increased number and/or frequency of overflights during morning and evening peak hours, and the consequent changes in the levels and/or patterns of aircraft noise experienced.

This is a catastrophe for the residents in my electorate of Lowe. This means very noisy, low, slow and dirty aircraft flying to the north of Sydney. This report means that all the presentations by Airservices Australia to the Sydney Airport Community Forum that the PRM would improve aircraft noise are false.

This government has lied consistently on the PRM. This government has betrayed the public interest totally. Anyone who has an interest in the public interest: churches, trade unions, community groups and rank-and-file citizens—anyone other than the corporate world—must be deeply shocked by the dictatorial nature of this government in its betrayal of representative democracy. The actions of this government are capricious and self-serving, with a demonstrated contempt for anyone other than the sectional interests that this PRM is pandering to.

I next refer to conclusion summaries A and B, which in summary state that there is insufficient evidence either way to conclude that the proposal will or will not have adverse environmental effects. I must at this point recite the principles of ecologically sustainable development and the precautionary principle to this House in full in order to demonstrate the implications of these statements. I use section 6(2)(a) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991 of New South Wales as a precise definition of ecologically sustainable development and the precautionary principle. Section 6(2) says:

For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), ecologically sustainable development requires the effective integration of economic and environmental considerations in decision-making processes. Ecologically sustainable development can be achieved through the implementation of the following principles and programs:

(a) the precautionary principle—namely, that if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. In the application of the precautionary principle, public and private decision should be guided by:

(i) careful evaluation to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment, and

(ii)an assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options

According to this report, then, the directive of ESD demands that this government ought not postpone measures to prevent the admitted environmental impacts, as described in conclusion C and elsewhere in the report.

I next turn to conclusion D, which states that, in the absence of quantified information on the increases that are likely to occur, it is not possible to reach any conclusion about the possibility that the introduction of PRM would have unacceptable adverse impacts on health, education, amenity and lifestyle, property values or the natural environment. This argument is puerile rubbish. The argument is a sinister twist on reason. It argues that the lack of quantified information—implying that qualitative or ethical arguments are therefore irrelevant—thus leads us to the conclusion that we must therefore test the PRM empirically. This line of reasoning is really saying that there is no known proximate causal link between the proposal and the harm to be caused. This assumption is often used by environmental consultants to erase the application of the ESD principle and the precautionary principle by arguing in rebuttal, `Yes, ESD applies, but only if there is a risk of harm. If that harm cannot be proved, either empirically, non-qualitatively or otherwise, then the principles of ESD and the precautionary principle do not apply.' However, the conclusions are flawed, because the author of the report admits that there is a demonstrated and identified harm, as stipulated in conclusion C.

Australia is a signatory to a number of significant UN conventions that bind us as the Commonwealth to ESD and the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle compels us not to postpone measures to prevent environmental degradation. Let us make one point absolutely clear: the introduction of the PRM fundamentally offends the principles of ecologically sustainable development. This proposal also fundamentally violates the precautionary principle. I remind the Prime Minister of his threat to use external affairs powers to invoke UN obligations in other jurisdictions such as in regard to shooting galleries. If this government has any shred of decency at all, if it knows the word `consistency' at all, it will deny the PRM proposal to proceed. We need no trial period; we have the impacts before us in black and white. My electorate of Lowe and other electorates to the north of the airport will suffer even more noise and even greater degradation. Finally, this proposal will spell the end of the long-term operating plan and destroy all hope for the residents of any fairness in distribution of aircraft noise.