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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3511

Senator SCULLION (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (1:32 PM) —I rise to speak on the Sydney Airport Demand Management Amendment Bill 2008. This bill makes some technical changes, including definitions, to the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997 to ensure that the slot management regime at Sydney airport is robust. Of course, the framework that has successfully managed aircraft demand in Australia’s busiest airport is provided by the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997. This legislation, as members in this place are no doubt well aware, was implemented by the coalition early in its first term and arose from its 1996 election promise that aircraft movements at Sydney airport should be capped at 80 per hour.

It is worth noting that in the long years of the previous Labor government no such effort was made to manage aircraft demand in Sydney airport. It took a coalition government to do it. On this point I note with some amusement the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Local Government’s bizarre claim in his second reading speech that the demand management scheme operating in Sydney airport is the result of his private member’s bill introduced in 1996. Of course, we are used to this minister’s shameless attempts to rewrite history and claim coalition successes as his own. We have seen, for example, his trumpeting media release of 31 March this year regarding the open skies agreement. The opposition acknowledges the benefits of an agreement that permits Australian and US-owned airlines to fly freely between the two countries.

We welcome the intention of the Virgin Blue Group to launch daily direct Sydney-Los Angeles flights. It is a first step in opening up a key air route to greater competition—but, Minister, please do not pretend that it was your work that did it. At least have the courtesy to acknowledge the heavy lifting undertaken by the previous coalition government that made it possible. Likewise, as discussed quite comprehensively in last year’s Australian National Audit Office report entitled Implementation of the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997, the genesis of the framework that regulates the scheduling of aircraft in Sydney was conducted by the coalition in its first few months of office.

The introduction on 4 November 1996 by the member for Grayndler of a private member’s bill to limit aircraft movements at Sydney airport was a shameless copycat action designed to appease his constituents, who are becoming angry at the neglect by their member of a key community issue and the failure of that member to persuade his government to do anything about it. Of course, we are pretty used to Labor ducking the hard decisions. I believe that barely six months into this government’s term we are up to 74 reviews. Plainly this is a government that cannot make the hard decisions. It is quite staggering that, after 11 years in opposition, all the government can do upon gaining office is to commission yet further reviews. It is symptomatic of a government that is devoid of ideas—when in doubt, call for a review; when wanting to delay a difficult decision, call for a review.

That is why I was not surprised to note the announcement by the minister on 10 April this year of his intention to develop a national aviation policy statement. This will lead to a national aviation policy green paper to be released at a nebulous date some time this year. I note with interest that the minister has released an issues paper as a guide to industry in the development of this statement. This issues paper includes in the second chapter, entitled ‘Airport planning and development’, a section called ‘Future airport needs’. In that section a sentence refers to the need for ‘additional airport capacity for Sydney in the future’. This, of course, is code for a second airport for Sydney. Well, they have had 11 years in opposition to think about this difficult policy question but, once again, when faced with a hard decision, Labor go for a review.

Of course, the contortions of Labor over the need for a second airport in Sydney are well known. In 2004 the member for Batman admitted in a burst of honesty that the debate about an additional airport in Sydney has ‘torn the Labor Party apart for decades’. I also recall this was the time that Labor proposed a second airport should be built at Wilton or ‘somewhere south of the Nepean River’. This extraordinary proposal would have resulted in the location of an airport at the furthest point from a CBD in the world—further even than Tokyo’s Narita airport, which is 64 kilometres out of the city. Neither the infrastructure requirements of such a location nor the fact that it is the site of a major water catchment for the Sydney region were discussed. Now, it seems that Labor has dismissed building an airport at Badgerys Creek.

I also note in its issues paper that Labor observes that the 2009 review of the Sydney Airport Master Plan provides an opportunity to consider current and future capacity issues. So, even after a review leading to a national aviation green paper, Labor is giving itself an option for another review to consider the second airport further. I would have thought that after 11 years in opposition, Labor would have made up its mind. What is Labor’s view on the need for a second airport, and where should it be? The people of Australia await with interest Labor’s decision. However, with particular regard to this bill, the Sydney Airport Demand Management Amendment Bill 2008, the opposition is willing to support it.

The definition of ‘aircraft movement’ in the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act and the definition used by the operational elements created by this legislation—that is, the Slot Management Scheme and the compliance scheme—are different. The former defines aircraft movement as the landing and take-off of an aircraft on the runway; the latter uses the aircraft industry standard definition which considers aircraft movement to be the time an aircraft moves to and from a gate. This means that a key component of the demand management regime at Sydney airport—that is, the definition of aircraft movement—is in fact not in harmony. This contradiction, and the legal uncertainty it creates, has been noted as an issue of potential concern by the Australian National Audit Office in its March 2007 report.

The Sydney Airport Demand Management Amendment Bill seeks to rectify this anomaly by changing those definitions, and that will ensure that an aircraft movement will now be considered to be the time an aircraft moves to and from a gate. This is a routine and technical amendment to the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997, a piece of legislation developed by the coalition that has successfully managed the pressures on Australia’s busiest and largest airport. The opposition is happy for this amendment to go to the other place.