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Finance and Public Administration References Committee
10/03/2021
The planning, construction and management of the Western Sydney Airport project

WARREN, Mr Greg, Shadow Minister for Western Sydney, New South Wales Parliament

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator Ayres ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into the planning, construction and management of the Western Sydney airport project. This is a public hearing, and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. The hearing is also streaming live via the web, which can be found at www.aph.gov.au. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It's unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It's also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. In addition, if the committee has reason to believe that evidence about to be given may reflect adversely on a person, the committee may also direct that the evidence be heard in private session. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to parliamentary committees has been provided as part of the witnesses' invitation to appear.

I now welcome Mr Greg Warren, the New South Wales member for Campbelltown and shadow minister for Western Sydney. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and giving evidence to parliamentary committees has been provided to you as part of your invitation to appear. Before we continue, is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear here today?

Mr Warren : I am the shadow minister for Western Sydney, local government and veterans.

CHAIR: Mr Warren, would you like to make an opening statement for the committee?

Mr Warren : Yes, thank you, Chair. I'd like to thank the committee for providing me with the opportunity to address you this morning and talk about something that we are all passionate about and want to ensure succeeds, and that's the Western Sydney airport. That will ultimately be the engine of economic growth and provide the jobs that Western Sydney desperately needs, as we're all aware.

Again, I'd like to firstly thank the committee for asking me here today to give evidence on behalf of the inquiry into the planning, construction and management of Western Sydney airport. This airport, as I previously stated, is a once-in-a-lifetime project that provides much opportunity. It has the potential to be a game changer for one of the nation's fastest growing regions in terms of job generation, tourism and various industries, including agriculture, transport and manufacturing. It's been interesting and at times disturbing to see that the project has been plagued by some areas of indecision that in some cases have been questionable in legal terms and in many cases have not met the community's standard as they would have expected—and I will go into more detail about that further on in my contribution.

As we know, the project is a partnership between the Australian and the New South Wales governments, but we can't forget about the importance of local government. I believe a holistic, collaborative approach is required for the airport. That includes the federal parliament, the state parliament and of course our local councils around Western Sydney airport. I believe that it will be through a collaboration between and a union and alliance of all of those levels of government working together the best outcomes will be achieved. As such, both the federal and state governments are, of course, equally responsible for issues arising from the Western Sydney airport and Aerotropolis projects. Whilst acknowledging that there are certain circumstances, like planning, that come under state jurisdiction, I believe that full ownership by all levels of government as key stakeholders is vital to ensuring the success and full potential of the airport.

Given the size and scale of the project, compulsory acquisitions always needed to occur. But I believe that every approach determines every outcome, and I'm deeply disturbed at the way that the land acquisition around the airport has been approached by government. Again, I will elaborate further later on in my contribution. What we've seen is home owners being treated with what they feel is a complete lack of regard and respect, and an acquisition process that has not been a fair, equitable or transparent. That is the strong view of the community out there. We've ultimately seen small landowners or home owners not being consulted or treated with the same element of respect or regard that larger and perhaps more wealthier landowners have been.

As was publicly reported, the government purchased a parcel of land worth $3 million for $30 million, and this continues to raise concerns amongst community members, particularly the small landowners out around that area. But we have to be really clear about something. Whilst we need to see an equitable approach in terms of all landowners, I believe the department and the New South Wales government need to understand that the land that we're talking about isn't just a property for profiteering. These are people's homes. Many of them have invested their entire livelihoods in their homes since post-World War II immigration, and for some before that, and it's frankly destroying their lives financially. They've invested their whole livelihood in it. What's being proposed in terms of the draft precinct plan is having a serious adverse financial and social effect on the livelihoods of these local families—and there are hundreds of them. As Darryl Kerrigan said in the iconic film The Castle, 'It's not a house; it's a home.' I think that approach needs to be taken when it comes to dealing with the small landowners at and around the airport.

As I said before, many of these residents and their families in Badgerys Creek, Orchard Hills, Kemps Creek, Leppington, Rossmore, Bringelly, Luddenham and all the other associated areas around the airport that are being considered for the acquisition have been there for generations. Many laid the bricks for their homes with their own bare hands. Literally blood, sweat and tears went into building those homes by many of these families. Like I said before, these residents deserve the same degree of respect and dignity and a fair deal for their homes, and I am of the view—and there's a very strong feeling about this out there—that they have not received any of those.

It would also be remiss of me to not briefly mention the highly inferior and what I feel are inadequate public transport links proposed for to and from the airport. Again, I will elaborate further in my contribution on that. The rate of growth in Macarthur, down around my own electorate, but also right across the Western Sydney belt—which I would claim is from St Marys to Macarthur—is such that it is looking to have 1.3 million people living there by 2050. That is a population the size of Adelaide. We only recently learnt in budget estimates this week, in a New South Wales upper house committee, that the government hasn't forecasted or planned for one hospital. Adelaide, has four hospitals. I guess that's a very simplified way of saying that we need to be more progressive. We need to be on the front foot when it comes to planning the infrastructure, resources and services for that coming population, and Western Sydney airport is very much a part of that. To think that we're not going to have a train link from Macarthur and only a bus connecting to Western Sydney airport is at best unreasonable. I don't think it's appropriate at all. I'm optimistic about all of the conversations that are ultimately going on around Western Sydney airport, but I think we really need to see a step change. We need to put it up a gear when it comes to the collaboration between the state, federal and local government areas.

Just on the land acquisition, I spoke to a gentleman yesterday who's piece of land is looking to be rezoned under the draft precinct plan. The market valuation came back that it was worth $1 and it's unsellable. This family have invested, like I said before, their entire livelihoods into this area of land. For many of them, it's their superannuation for their retirement. To say they're devastated would be an understatement. No-one wants to take anything away from any other landowner. Whether they are large, wealthy or small homeowners, all they're asking for is to be treated with the same equitable approach as all landowners, irrespective of how wealthy they may or may not be or size of their land. If they're associated with the Western Sydney airport and the required acquisitions, they just want a fair go and they just want to be treated equitably—and I don't think that is an unreasonable request by the affected local communities.

The committee may be aware as to the media around the Orchard Hills land acquisition. As you would be aware, that was a very large parcel of land. The issue around that—long story, short—was they need to build a train station. They had to get land to do it at Orchard Hills—fair and reasonable—and those residents accept that. But it is an enormous amount of land and it has left a lot of confusion, with the committee saying, 'Well, what's the government up to here? Why do they need that much land?' I think it's something like five times the size of the SCG—the amount of land that they are actually acquiring to build a train station. That also devalued the land, and those residents aren't getting compensated adequately. I do note the Minister for Transport's commitment to residents to go out and get their own market evaluation, but we haven't seen a commitment from the minister that they will pay the price of those market evaluations once those residents go out and seek their own appraisal.

The other areas of land that the committee would be aware of are around Luddenham, Bringelly, Rossmore, Kemps Creek and Badgerys Creek. There is a precinct plan that is seeing the proposed rezoning of this land to environmental, recreational, green space and things like that. The difference between those areas and Orchard Hills is the government haven't even said that they're going to acquire the land. There is a feeling amongst community that the government are simply proposing the rezoning to devalue their land with the hope to force families out or devalue it so that it's so cheap that it is unsellable and the government can get it for next to nothing. I can't substantiate, and I will not substantiate, that with fact. I'm just expressing the feelings and the views of those communities.

Ultimately, the reason that they're not sure what's going on is that the government hasn't really engaged with them at all. The Premier and relevant ministers haven't been out to speak with these residents. I've was in Luddenham only yesterday and was there a couple of weeks before that. There are hundreds, and into the thousands, of affected residents and families. To say the anger is white hot would probably be an understatement as well. There is a lot of emotion. It's affecting their mental health and, again, their economic and social livelihoods.

The committee may be aware that yesterday and recently I've been calling for an upper house inquiry into the acquisition process so that we can get to the bottom of this and so these landowners can finally have their voices heard. I note that the member for Mulgoa stated yesterday at the rally that this is like legalised theft by the government. That is a government member saying that about her own government. I think it speaks volumes as to the frustration and feeling amongst community out there when you have a government member stating that about their own government.

I'm of the view that what needs to happen first and foremost is that these residents need to be consulted directly by government, by the relevant ministers office. They need to be engaged, informed and consulted and, most importantly, listened to because their concerns and their frustrations are legitimate. They are sincere. They're not unreasonable people. They just want to get their fair share and have a fair go like other landowners in and around the proposed acquired land around Western Sydney airport.

I note the terms of reference of this hearing and I'm delighted. I think I think they're very good and they're going to touch on a lot of the issues that those residents are confronting out there, particularly community engagement and, of course, the land acquisition related leases, including transactions related to the Leppington Triangle, which continues to be of deep concern. Senators, as you would appreciate, if you're one of these smaller landowners who's about to lose your home or have it devalued so much that it's worth nothing and you can't even sell it, if you open the paper and you read about a parcel of land valued at $3 million but given $30 million for it, you can only begin to imagine how those local families and residents must feel when they've invested their entire livelihood into their homes. Again I say that, whilst everyone should be treated equitably, there needs to be an understanding that, particularly with these smaller landowners, it isn't just a piece of land for the government to profit from; this is their home. To simplify that down, we all live in our home. Imagine how any of us would feel if there were changes in place that devalued our home and made it unsellable and you had an uncertain future. That pretty much sums up how they feeling. With the committee's indulgence, I might now move onto transport links, connectivity and particularly the fuel pipeline.

CHAIR: I have a couple of questions on the land acquisition issues. Senator Chandler, do you have anything you wanted to ask?

Senator CHANDLER: Not for now.

CHAIR: We've got the department and Western Sydney Airport corporation here later on and they'll take us through some of these issues as well. As you point out, it's a joint operation between the New South Wales and federal governments here but is entirely Commonwealth funded. Is the state government entirely responsible for zoning decisions?

Mr Warren : Yes.

CHAIR: The land acquisition is being executed by the federal department. Does that go to the railway station that you're talking about?

Mr Warren : No, it's the metro Sydney zone.

CHAIR: So zoning decisions from the state government but the bulk of the acquisitions are by the Commonwealth?

Mr Warren : Yes.

CHAIR: But some acquisitions by the state government for transport infrastructure, basically?

Mr Warren : Yes, that's correct, depending on what the land is used for. I understand that a lot of the federal government's interest has been in agribusiness. Of course, with the transport connections like in Orchard Hills, that's metro west. So that's a state interest. It really does come down to what the intention is for the acquisition of the land. But the process of acquisition or particularly the zoning is done by New South Wales planning.

CHAIR: So they are making zoning decisions as a consequence of the airport development—that is, zoning land environmental or for public use.

Mr Warren : Correct.

CHAIR: And then the Commonwealth is doing the purchasing. How do you explain, without naming the individual who said that their property has been valued at a dollar, the kind of property it was before? How did it come to be valued at a dollar? What is the proposed acquisition arrangement going to be for this individual, without taking us to his or her individual details?

Mr Warren : Certainly. Basically, the parcel of land is a very large house block. I'm not exactly sure of the precise size, but, if you are familiar with the area around Bringelly and Luddenham, there are a lot of owners of large land blocks. Post-World-War-2 immigration saw these parcels of land cut up into varying sizes. Perhaps you could imagine a very large block of land, say, five or six acres of land, with a house on it, with some vehicles or something like that. The reason it has been devalued to a dollar is part of the government's proposed rezoning for the area. Perhaps you could picture a map and there's basically a line around an area as green space, which ultimately devalues it down to a dollar and makes it unsellable. That's the truncated version.

CHAIR: But, absent the decision to build an airport there, it wouldn't have been zoned green space.

Mr Warren : No.

CHAIR: It's a consequence of the—

Mr Warren : Yes. It's all part of the broader strategic planning for Western Sydney Airport. To be honest with you, the New South Wales government has not really been very clear on their reasoning for a lot of this. There is not a lot of information out there, particularly for the residents. All we know is that the precinct plan has been proposed. It's in draft. Submissions are being received at this time. The government are yet to substantiate the reasons they are rezoning it. However, they are not at the same time complementing that with compensation or financial purchases associated with any of the rezoning, as opposed to, like I said before, Orchard Hills. There was direct intention to get that land to build a train station. Fair enough. The questions around that were: why do you need so much land, and why are you not giving us the amount that our homes are actually worth? The government is saying, 'The zoning in the area where your home is means that your land is worth this.' The residents are rightfully saying, 'Yes, but you just rezoned it. We need to get the market price for our land.' In other areas, we're just seeing rezoning proposed into green space, or environmental or recreational land. The government's not substantiating the reasons. Of course, the residents understand that it's part of a broader strategic plan for Western Sydney Airport, but it is not complemented with any proposal to compensate the landowners.

CHAIR: On the community consultation that's required, putting aside any deficiencies that you might point to in the compensation packages and acquisition packages that citizens in that area are being provided with, can you specifically describe to us: what is the communication and consultation architecture? What does it look like? Which level of government is delivering it? How does that work for the group of people I saw on the television last night, who are obviously very distressed?

Mr Warren : As I understand it, the consultations that have taken place with the affected residents have been very minimal, if at all. Some received some correspondence in writing, but—

CHAIR: From the state government?

Mr Warren : From the state government—yes.

CHAIR: Sorry to keep interrupting, but I just want to be clear on this. That's in relation to the portions of land that I've been acquired by the state government for the purposes of the rail transport links. What about acquisitions by the Commonwealth government? Is there one community consultation operation across the region? How is that being managed? It's very unclear to me.

Mr Warren : I believe there are many inconsistencies. I am unaware of the federal government's engagement with the federal government's areas of land of interest. I do know, from the state perspective, that residents in the state affected areas or where the state has an interest or is proposing rezoning—Orchard Hills, Luddenham, Rossmore and Bringelly—have simply been provided with the opportunity to do online submissions.

Outside of that, in terms of community engagement, the only elements of community engagement have been organised by the community themselves. They've invited pretty much everyone who is relevant—shadow ministers, ministers, the premier, the leader of the opposition. I've attended both of those meetings and have been engaging directly and reaching out to the affected residents throughout the affected areas, but I'm advised by the residents that no-one from the New South Wales government, not the premier nor the relevant ministers within transport and planning, have attended or engaged with the local community. I do note the attendance of the government members for Camden and Mulgoa at yesterday's rally, but as far as I'm aware they are the only members of the government who have directly engaged with the community outside of the government's calling for submissions and the limited correspondence to some associated residents.

CHAIR: The state makes the zoning decisions, and that has an impact on the value of landholders' properties. That's had an impact on properties that the state is purchasing. The green-zoning of areas would have a big effect on the value of properties. Are there also properties there that have been purchased by the Commonwealth?

Mr Warren : As far as I'm aware, the areas of Commonwealth interest have all been associated with agribusiness or warehousing and logistics.

CHAIR: Okay. Mr Warren, you were going to deal with some of the employment and other questions?

Mr Warren : Yes, thank you. I'd like to draw the committee's attention to connectivity around the Western Sydney airport. The M12 is a good example, and we feel that it needs to be accelerated. I note the upgrades on the Northern Road, which are continuing to fruition, but we need to be talking about a rail connection. I acknowledge the New South Wales government's commitment to a metro connection from St Marys across to the airport, but I also note that there is no adequately or financially planned extension to connect down through to Macarthur. As you may be aware, Mr Chair, the South West Rail Link finishes at Leppington. That is a heavy rail line. I note the commentary and commitments at the last federal election in relation to the extension at the South West Rail Link through to Western Sydney airport. I would encourage that to be adopted as a policy position going forward. We must see Campbelltown connected to the Western Sydney airport.

I've done a lot of research and I did a study into airport connectivity some years ago. From my findings, and from everyone I spoke to, if you don't have a direct connection between the primary and secondary airports, the secondary airport will never reach its full potential. If you look at Newark, JFK, Gatwick, Heathrow, the airports in Toronto and Vancouver and even in Melbourne with Avalon, they have all stated that the connectivity and the direct link between the primary and secondary airports is vital to ensuring that it reaches its full potential. The metro connection that the government is proposing is a metro line, but as you, Mr Chair and senators, would know, you can't put freight on a metro line. But also, whilst taking nothing away from the requirement of that connection to St Marys, I think we need to have a holistic approach and we need to ensure that we have that heavy rail connection.

It's been publicly stated a number of times that freight will be one of the key fundamentals to the success of Western Sydney airport. For example, the extension of the heavy rail South West Rail Link means that you will have a direct link between the Aerotropolis and Kingsford Smith airport. That would be a direct line along the East Hills line, connecting down through Leppington and then ultimately along the South West Rail Link, if it's extended through to Western Sydney airport. That would also provide the opportunity for freight to get to Western Sydney airport. Whilst road transport would be a very important link for access to the Western Sydney airport, you can only imagine what opportunities having that rail freight connection would provide for not only the success of Western Sydney airport but our primary producers.

If you go down to the Riverina, you have Cargill Beef. They might begin their shift at two o'clock in the afternoon, for argument's sake. As I understand it, by the time they've started that shift, the meat can be boxed and in a container by almost midnight that night. If you look at that in real terms—and I'm just trying to highlight the opportunity—from two o'clock in the afternoon it could then be on a truck at midnight that night, potentially at Western Sydney airport by 5 am the next morning and potentially on a freighter going to Asia, South Asia, South East Asia or anywhere else. The idea of getting Australian produce, anything at all, and fresh on the shelves overseas would be an enormous opportunity for our nation's economy, our state's economy and our primary producers as well. I'm using that example to draw attention to the importance of rail freight. Of course, road transport is very important, a key player, but when you're talking about potentially a train full of freight going overseas, that is an enormous opportunity that we can't overlook. So the extension of the South West Rail Link and heavy rail can't be overlooked in terms of the opportunities that it would provide.

I would also like to draw the committee's attention to the absence of planning for a fuel pipeline. After I left the Army, I worked at Western Sydney airport in a fuel tanker and as an aircraft refueller until Ansett went broke and I lost my job. So I have a real-life understanding of the importance of connecting a fuel pipeline. At Kingsford Smith airport they have what's called a JUHI, which is a joint user hydrant installation. Ultimately, the fuel is piped from Kurnell through to a central location, which is called a JUHI. From the JUHI, it is then distributed out to each and every terminal throughout Kingsford Smith airport.

Western Sydney airport is planning and constructing a joint user hydrant installation; however, there is no fuel pipeline that will connect any refinery to the joint user hydrant installation being constructed. What that will mean is it will have to be trucked in. That will mean more congestion on already congested roads in Western Sydney. Road safety concerns have been raised by stakeholders on numerous occasions. I particularly note the deep concern of the Transport Workers Union's and all other road transport and industry organisations. Another concerning element of this comes back to land acquisitions. A fuel pipeline is a pretty major piece of infrastructure. It's got fuel running through those pipelines, so I would imagine that there would be some specific safety and engineering requirements. To not have that land, as would appear to be the case, reserved or to have a plan in place to do so is of deep concern. To have rubber down on the tarmac without having a fuel connection does not make sense to me at all.

Transport for NSW first started conducting preliminary work into a possible route as early as 2017, but the Transport for NSW media release from 20 May last year said that the agency was still conducting the same preliminary work. Transport for NSW and Roads and Maritime Services estimate that up to 43 B-double fuel deliveries would be required each day once the operation ramps up. That's an enormous number of trucks. Infrastructure Australia has said that the number could be as high as 65. It gets back to collaboration and the importance of consultation. I can only talk from a state government perspective, but I'm not confident—and I'm concerned—that there has not been adequate consultation between the state government and the federal government to ensure that we're getting the provisions in place to ensure its success. The fuel pipeline is an example or a consequence of what in my view has been a lack of adequate consultation and subsequent collaboration.

There were three route options identified in a Deloitte report, but the impact on existing properties and residents was not clear in that report either, which is an illustration of 'Is there actually a plan at all?' because we haven't seen anything. I think it's one of the most serious oversights. I know that a pipeline is not like a road or some other piece of large infrastructure like that, but planes need fuel. It's as simple as that. We've got the joint user hydrant installation being constructed, and that's a good thing, but we're just not seeing how fuel will be getting to it. I think that's one of the most serious oversights so far. I might close with that, Mr Chair, and I'm happy to take questions on any related matters.

CHAIR: Do you have any questions, Senator Chandler? No? Just on the fuel line, there is no plan for piping fuel to the airport?

Mr Warren : No. The commentary you've heard is on the record. We've had Transport for NSW saying they conducted preliminary work. Infrastructure Australia have made some public commentary surrounding the fuel pipeline, but we haven't seen anything certain. There is no plan and certainly no defined route in place.

CHAIR: I don't have any further questions for you today. Good luck with all of your work with the other members of parliament in the west in dealing with these issues. We might get some clarity on some of these questions over the course of the inquiry. Thank you for being our first witness.

Mr Warren : Thank you, Mr Chairman, and thank you, senators. I appreciate the opportunity and I wish you well with the rest of your hearing.