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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2779

Senator MARGETTS(12.40 p.m.) —The airports bills are an example of government re-use or recycling. We have seen these bills before. Just last year the Senate passed them, although the Greens (WA) voted against them—and here they are, washed-up, sanitised and presented again.

The bills are for the privatisation and management of airports. The government will not support recycling paper which would reduce the chopping down of forests, reduce government outlays, support the efforts of councils to extend the life of their tips and the efforts of Australians to reduce the environmental impact. But privatisation bills seem to be something the government likes recycling. Like the coalition itself, this was the main reason these could not be used last year by the ALP.

I would like to go into detail on the reasons the Greens oppose privatisation but I will not because I did so in my last speech. If people want to see the reasons for the general concerns, they can re-check my last Hansard because those concerns still apply.

Senator Crane —We are into reading your Hansard .

Senator MARGETTS —Yes. I spoke on that last year. I will just say that airports are monopolies, there is no competition between airports in different cities. For example, in Western Australia you can go to Perth airport or you can go to Perth airport. There are other cities in Western Australia but if you want to fly to Europe there is not a lot of choice.

Also, the only ways that concerns like the maintenance of low cost regional airports or management of social and environmental impacts can be met where the airports are not owned directly by government is through extensive regulation. That is why we have this Airports Bill; it tries to cover all the things people want to ensure happen with airports by specifying them in law as requirements.

Nothing here will protect regional airports which have been cross-subsidised in the past. The virtually inevitable outcome will be higher costs for rural people—government users such as flying doctors. In fact, a fair bit of the use of regional airports may be by government agencies, and I expect that that will increase as government closes down rural offices of all sorts. Fly-in fly-out rural services will perhaps have some difficulties. So I expect that it will be government as well as rural people who will pay the cost of this policy. Then again, some airports may just shut down.

Since this is simply a recycled bill from the previous government cleansed of the coalition's own amendment requiring a solution, part solution or proportion of a solution to the airport noise problem, I expect the now opposition will support it, meaning it will pass, in spite of the fact that the Greens will again oppose it. Nevertheless, we will suggest a few amendments in the Airports Bill which I believe work to preserve the intention of the ALP when they put forward the bill last year.

The amendments to the Airports Bill concern parts 5 and 6 which detail the requirements for the master plans, development plans and environmental strategies. I am quite certain, having received various briefings and assurances, that the Labor Party intended these requirements and the requirements for consultation to ensure that private sector managers of airports should behave responsibly and be responsive to the public.

Once the government is no longer the manager of airports, the only way of ensuring responsiveness and accountability is through some mechanism such as these plans and requirements that they be implemented and penalties for failure. We owe it to the people whose airports we are selling to do a good job on these kinds of requirements. It would not surprise many honourable senators to know that many people in the community are not fully assured that many of these requirements will be met.

At issue is the real people who have to live around the airports, live with the sound of morning rush, evening rush, planes going overhead every few minutes for a period of hours, not being able to speak on a phone without having to stop and wait for the passing of a plane, the roar drowning out the sound of voices.

Airports have generally had buffer areas around them—areas to keep the houses from being built too closely. Government owned and operated the airports so the buffer zones were also publicly owned and managed. These will go with the airports and present new opportunities for commercial development by the airports' managers. You can put sound-proofing over those which means you can basically get these at an ultra-bargain price, especially if you have ratted off the neighbours.

Airports will also expand to maybe include hotels and other services for travellers. Planes will get bigger and louder and air traffic heavier. There will be pressure to expand out into the buffer areas. It is important to manage these plans and ensure that the additional burden put on people nearby is acceptable—acceptable to the people affected, not just to some bureaucrat or corporate bean counter who considers a bit of sacrifice by some as essential to growth.

The problems that have been obvious to people are the ones where somehow or other a person in one house was considered to be affected and the person in the next house was not considered to be affected. Part of our concern that we will be putting in our amendments will deal with the level of noise that is a problem so that the remedy, whether it is by a private operator of an airport, has to be based on the noise effect and not just some definition of which areas are affected by wingspan.

These buffer areas are also often areas of ecological significance. Airports are usually initially sited on less desirable land, often near water or wetlands. It makes sense to put an airport near water where planes are not taking off over land, over houses. This has meant that in an odd way airports have acted to preserve remnant areas of original bush or wetlands—original landscape.