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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1499

Senator FORSHAW(7.50 p.m.) —Firstly, I am very indebted to my colleague Senator Childs for tonight making some comments about the proposed Holsworthy airport. I am not sure whether this is the first time in the Senate's history that it has had two adjournment speeches on the same topic, but I also intend to make some comments in regard to what is a disastrous proposal for the people living in the Sutherland shire and in and around the Holsworthy area.

In yesterday's matters of public interest debate I made a speech with respect to this issue. I detailed the fact that, during the hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Aircraft Noise in Sydney, Senator Parer, the chairman of that committee and also at that time the shadow minister for transport, never once raised the proposal to construct an airport or to consider an airport at the Holsworthy site.

Some evidence was presented by a group known as the North Shore Action Group, which was represented by a Mr Pickrell. Tonight my colleague Senator Childs also referred to Mr Pickrell's evidence. That group put to the committee the possible option of having an airport at Holsworthy. Indeed, Mr Pickrell identified in his evidence to the committee all the reasons why we would never want to put an airport at Holsworthy and then proceeded to try to argue that we might be able to overcome some of the issues, such as by moving mountains to put airports where those mountains once were.

I, like every other member of the committee, was surprised that this was even raised during the committee's inquiries. I understand that the proposal for an airport at Holsworthy had been dismissed many years ago. Indeed, in the early 1980s there was an examination of possible sites for a second airport in Sydney, and Holsworthy was ranked ninth out of 10 possibilities in a study conducted by Kinhill and Stearn.

I was surprised, and I think most people were surprised. I think Senator Parer was surprised at the time. Senator Parer never asked any questions and neither did Senator Woods, who was a member of that committee. They never made any comment at all when this evidence was given. Indeed, I can recall—and I have checked the Hansard—that on that day Senator Parer was most anxious to conclude the hearing as it was getting rather late in the day when the submission was put up. I certainly gained the impression that coalition members of the committee were totally uninterested in this proposal.

Subsequently, I raised the issue in the committee's deliberations when the Sutherland Council gave evidence, because I questioned them very closely about this proposal. Again, neither Senator Parer nor any other coalition senator asked any questions or commented.

In a huge Hansard record of over 1,300 pages, there is no other situation where the proposal for an airport at Holsworthy was put before the committee as a realistic proposition. I raise that because, in answer to a question earlier this week, Senator Parer gave the impression to the Senate that this had been raised on a number of occasions. Last Tuesday he said:

There is no doubt that another airport is required in the Sydney region. That is the reason why Mr Sharp has done this. Any implications of secret agreements are absolute rubbish. Certainly, a proposal was made: it was not unique; they were not the only ones who made it. I have forgotten how many people actually put that proposal to our committee, but it was quite a number, as Senator Forshaw will know.

`How many' he asked of me, and I interjected, `Two.' Senator Parer continued:

Two. Did you check them out, Senator Forshaw? We asked the question, naturally, in the committee—this is all on the record—why Holsworthy was not the final choice.

He went on to outline the reasons. Senator Parer's memory on that occasion was a bit hazy. But it is very clear on the record that the proposal with regard to Holsworthy was not something that was advocated by a lot of witnesses to the committee. It was raised by one group, the North Shore Action Group. As I said, at no stage were they questioned, nor was any comment made during the proceedings by any of the coalition senators—particularly Senator Parer, as chairman of that committee—regarding this proposal.

Indeed, in the majority report of the committee, comprising coalition senators Parer, Woods and Sandy Macdonald, together with Senator Bourne from the Democrats, there was really only one relevant mention of Holsworthy, and that is at page 324 of the committee's report. It states:

In response to doubts about the suitability of Badgery's Creek, Airservices Australia advised the Committee that these two issues were addressed in the 1985 EIS.

They were issues in respect of fog and winds. The majority report continued:

Others proposed sites in various forms which they considered more suitable. These included Holsworthy, Richmond, Goulburn and a Sydney seadrome floating approximately 5 kilometres east of the North Head of Botany Bay.

The Committee notes that a number of these locations were examined and rejected in 1984. The Committee is satisfied that Badgery's Creek is an appropriate site for a second Sydney airport. Embarking on another lengthy process of site evaluation will only postpone a now quite urgent decision.

I emphasise those last two sentences: the committee was satisfied that Badgerys Creek was an appropriate site and, further, that embarking on another lengthy process of site evaluation would only postpone a now quite urgent decision. Those were the comments of the majority of members of the committee. Of course, the members who put forward a minority report—Senator Neal, Senator Childs and I—naturally agreed with that part of the report.

In light of what has now become public knowledge regarding the secret proposal made to the then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, Senator Parer and others, that statement in that majority report was made even though the coalition was clearly considering putting Holsworthy back on the agenda. But they had to keep it a secret because of the electoral and political consequences if it had been made public before or during the election campaign.

I am very familiar with the area of the Hughes electorate. I happen to live in it. I have made that known quite clearly to members of the Senate and the committee at the time. I know the outrage that would have been generated if such a proposal had been made public. That outrage is now being generated by the community in the Hughes electorate. Local issues were important in the Hughes electorate in terms of this campaign, particularly issues regarding road access and services. My colleague Senator Childs has referred to some of the characteristics of this electorate—the Lucas Heights reactor, the military range, the army base, the unexploded ordnances, the Heathcote and Royal national parks, the environmental and Aboriginal heritage sites, and the Woronora Dam and catchment area, which provides water for up to half a million people in the Sutherland Shire and surrounding areas.

There is no doubt that if this proposal had been on the table during that election campaign, there would have been absolute community outrage. I have no doubt that Danna Vale, the Liberal candidate for Hughes, would not now be the member for that seat, because Robert Tickner was on the record with respect to this proposal. But nothing ever came forth from the candidate for the Liberal Party, from Mr Howard or from Senator Parer—people who were aware of this proposal.

I point out also that Mr Howard, the then Leader of the Opposition, gave evidence to the Senate committee himself. He did so as the member for Bennelong and also in his capacity as the Leader of the Opposition. He was most concerned about the effect on his own electorate of the aircraft noise issue. But he never once told the committee about this secret meeting, this secret agenda for an airport at Holsworthy. Indeed, in his evidence, he restated his commitment to Sydney West airport. He said there was a short-term solution, which was reopening the east-west runway, and a long-term solution to build a second airport, and his party was committed to the building of that airport at Badgerys Creek.

He was on the record in the committee as supporting that situation—never once men

tioning Holsworthy, but knowing all along that there were people who had come to him and to Senator Parer, put up this proposal and asked them to keep it secret. The community will be outraged at the hypocrisy and the lack of honesty and integrity in respect of this issue by the then opposition. (Time expired)