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Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Page: 25227

Mr HATTON (10:26 AM) —The Aircraft Noise Levy Collection Amendment Bill 2001 is only here because of a failing of administration in the act. We can well ask who the culprits are. The culprits are not the former Labor government, because the former Labor government quite properly and correctly took the administrative steps to make sure that Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport was a leviable airport. But that was only up until the end of the period when we lost government. It was up to this government and its ministers to ensure that the money collected under the original principal act and also the associated act, totalling so far $175 million out of $374 million, was legally collected.

What do we find out? We find that when this government makes a determination to extend the operation of the original bill to Adelaide airport it pops up across the situation that since the end of June 1996 the government has been collecting the levy illegally. What does that mean? It means that any of the companies that have been collecting it on behalf of the government could take legal action against this government. Any individual paying that levy, which was an illegal levy, could have taken action against the government.

What are we forced into in this bill? We are forced to bring in retrospective legislation to validate the administrative sloppiness of this government. Where are the suspects? The suspects are past ministers for transport, from 1996 onwards. We have had a few of those, as you would have noticed, Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins. They come from one party, but we have had a few of them. Every one of those ministers had some responsibility. Maybe you can understand why they got lost on the way, because the Department of Transport and Regional Services—although under John Sharp it was only the Department of Transport; he did not really want to look at regional matters—actually outsourced the collection of the levy to Airservices Australia.

In outsourcing the collection of the levy maybe the government forgot to give a prod to the Treasury about actually having a valid levy collected, because the principal responsibility with regard to this rests with the Treasury. There has been one Treasurer since 1996, to my recollection—that Treasurer who prides himself on his innate genius, on his coverage of material, on his ability to make decisions, on his forthrightness and so on. People certainly have noticed that, despite that being his self-assessment, his projection of himself, this is a person who cannot say that he has, in fact, committed any wrong.

We find yet again today the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, Peter Costello, the member for Higgins, unable to say, `Yes, I was responsible for an administrative slip-up. Yes, I am the one, as the responsible minister, who did not ensure that this noise collection levy was validated and who did not ensure that $175 million in levy was legally collected.' The Treasurer should be taking responsibility. But what do we find? Who introduced the bill? It was introduced in the Senate—the other place—by the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Kemp. What did Senator Kemp say about responsibility? He said, `It is really not the responsibility of the Assistant Treasurer; it is not the responsibility of the Treasurer. This is the department; the department got this wrong.' In fact, the yellow—the digest prepared by the Parliamentary Library—says:

... Treasury is fixed with specific responsibility for section 7 of the Principal Act, the one dealing with declarations of an airport as `leviable'.

I will quote Senator Kemp from the yellow. He has called it:

... an administrative oversight within the Treasury.

Not by the Treasurer, but within the Treasury. Further, he said:

... the Secretary to the Treasury has taken full responsibility for the matter.

This is an outrage. The Secretary to the Treasury has of course gone—he is out of government service. He has given up. There is a new Secretary to the Treasury, Ken Henry—a fantastic bloke, one of my former colleagues. He worked in the Treasurer's office when Labor was in government. He worked for Australia overseas and then came back to work in the Treasury. He is the new Secretary to the Treasury. He bears no responsibility in regard to this. I certainly hope they have not attempted to get Ken Henry, as the new Secretary to the Treasury, to say that he was responsible. It looks as though they have loaded up a former Secretary to the Treasury.

This responsibility lies directly at the feet of the minister—the Treasurer. What was this Treasurer doing from June 1996 until February-March 2001 in relation to airports? He was in cahoots with John Fahey and anyone else that he could find to make sure that they looked at fast trains from Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane—and who knows where else—instead of having a second airport built in Sydney. The Melbourne connection was extraordinarily important in terms of saying, `We don't want a second airport for Sydney.' What was the Treasurer's attitude? His mind was not on the game. He was not aware of his responsibilities in terms of what was legally right in raising this levy. What was the Treasurer up to? His argument was that it was in the national interest that Sydney should not be the prime gateway into Australia, it was in the national interest that Sydney should just get along with what it had, it was in the national interest that Melbourne and Brisbane should get a go as well, it was in the national interest that something as far-seeing as a very fast train service should be investigated, that lots of effort be put into that, and that the moneys from the sale of Kingsford Smith should not go towards appropriate infrastructure in Sydney—the provision of a second airport.

The end result of that—apart from the administrative sloppiness, apart from not having his eye on the ball, apart from the fact that he deliberately put together with other ministers a plan to knock over the second airport for Sydney on spurious and incorrect and untruthful grounds, which is what the coalition cabinet came up with in the middle of December—is that they actually made an active decision to turn Bankstown Airport, a general aviation airport, the busiest in the Southern Hemisphere, into a full domestic airport with full regional aircraft and full domestic jet aircraft and an international airport with a runway of 1,800 metres to 2,000 metres long. It is entirely inappropriate. At least half a million, if not three-quarters of a million, people are punished because they have always voted Labor and are inappropriately put under the hammer by this Treasurer, who is responsible for this absolute mistake and this piece of retrospective legislation. It was his responsibility to ensure that this was done—not the people in the department, not the Secretary to the Treasury, not the people who have had to take the duck walk in regard to this because he would not take direct responsibility. He did not even turn up to this morning's division, maybe because this bill was coming up and he has some memory of the fact that he should have done this.

The core of what this is about is administrative sloppiness—but it goes further. It involves political decisions taken against the national good and the good of the people in a large part of Sydney. We have a strange, stupid, crazy decision taken to not do anything really about any second airport except to turn an airport right in the middle of Sydney's population—Bankstown Airport—into an entirely inappropriate mix of general aviation aircraft, regional aircraft and domestic passenger carrying jets. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Transport and Regional Services—in particular the Prime Minister—have said that, as a condition of the sale of this airport, (1) the airport length be extended and (2) the airport be an overflow airport for jets such as 737s—more than 50 tonnes—and aircraft of that type. This turns Sydney Bankstown Airport into potentially an international airport. This is a really stupid thing. They tried to get themselves out of the corner by saying, `Okay, we will guarantee that the regionals will go into KSA; we will try to force all future regionals to Bankstown and there will only be an overflow and you won't have to worry too much about jet aircraft going into Bankstown.' The condition that they want to put on the sale of this airport says that Bankstown has to be extended and has to become a jet airport.

The only basis upon which the government could have reasonably or logically made the decision is the notion that 30-metre wide runways have a grandfather clause that says that Boeing 737s can land and take off from 30-metre wide runways. Bankstown has three runways—two 30-metre runways and an 18-metre runway. By expressly saying that they should extend Bankstown so that 737s can land there, that is the basis on which they have to be operating. It is not safe to operate on that basis, but it is the only way you can understand them saying that this is the way it has to happen. Of course, for any other aircraft to do it safely, Bankstown central runway would have to be extended to 45-metres wide and it would have to be deepened and strengthened. The effect of that would be to knock out both side runways. It would turn the busiest general aviation airport in the Southern Hemisphere into a single runway airport—the effective east-west runway for Kingsford Smith airport.

If that is the intention of the government, they have done it on the basis that they think they can use the grandfather clause. To my knowledge, there is only one instance where they can look at that operating. The distance between the general aviation runway and the 30-metre wide runway that is used by 737 jets is far greater than it is at Bankstown. If you operate on this basis at Bankstown, and you argue that it should be included in the way the airport is run, you destroy all normal operations at Bankstown as well as totally destroying the amenity of the people of Bankstown and surrounding areas. No-one in their right mind—or supposedly in their right mind—not even a coalition cabinet, could conceivably make a decision to turn Bankstown into a new domestic and international jet airport. But that is what this decision in December does, and that is why 6,000 to 10,000 people turned up on 11 February at the trotting ground at Bankstown to protest against this decision, because it would dramatically affect them.

You would have to be looking at another piece of legislation for the future, and not one that covers past periods—as the Assistant Treasurer's does. They have even gone through to 2006 to try to make up for the mistakes they have made in the past by doing it prospectively, and not year by year. They will have the situation where, because of the impact on the people of Bankstown and on the people in the Fowler electorate and surrounding electorates, the Aircraft Noise Levy Collection Amendment Bill 2001 will need to be amended yet again to allow for people's homes and for the schools in the area to be conditioned against the increased aircraft noise of these types of entirely inappropriate jets.

Bankstown Airport has been in existence since the 1940s. It did a magnificent job during the Second World War and it has done a great job since as a general aviation airport for Sydney. It is not, however, appropriate to expand or extend this airport. It is appropriate for the government to make a proper determination, a decision, on the second airport for Sydney. A number of government members know that. A number of government members have directly told the government that this is a stupid thing. A number of commentators have said, quite rightly, that this is a ridiculous decision of the first order. Yet, this cabinet decision—this stupid, politically driven decision, with no real basis to it—could dramatically change the lives of the people of Bankstown.

Luckily, there was a Labor government in power before this lot got in and luckily we have an Airports Act that has stringent requirements in terms of any changes to Bankstown Airport. Luckily we have a provision that there has to be an environmental impact statement—although, taking the hypothetical situation, if, after the end of this year this lot is still in power, given they have completely disregarded a $14 million environmental impact statement on Badgerys Creek and Holsworthy, you would not trust them with any environmental impact statement that came before any minister. There has been no environmental impact statement with regard to the use of Bankstown Airport and that has to happen. It must happen because a Labor government legislated for it. That is the only potential protection that the people of Bankstown have. This government can flog off Bankstown, Camden and Hoxton Park but I am challenging them not to do that before the election this year because, if they do so, they will potentially cripple the proper operation of that airport and the proper operation of aircraft use in Sydney. It is right and proper that this airport should remain in government control until after the next election, as it is right and proper that Kingsford Smith should not be sold. They should not be looking at the sale until after a determination at the next election.

This Treasurer, who is responsible for this farce of a bill that we have before us now because he did not do his job at the time, would like to see the $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion, or more, raised from the sale of Kingsford Smith put into this year's budget figurings. We know they certainly need it, given the way they have operated in terms of economic management for some time now. They have taken desperate measures, with regard to future government revenues, in response to the situation they find themselves in politically. This should not happen. Kingsford Smith airport and Bankstown Airport need to be looked at in the context of what is right and proper. This noise levy collection bill is to ameliorate the effect of jet aircraft noise at Kingsford Smith and the people of Bankstown in my electorate do not want that imposed on them. (Time expired)