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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
24/02/2009
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PORTFOLIO
Aviation and Aiports

CHAIR —We will now move to aviation and airports and get started on that before lunch.

Senator WILLIAMS —Is Sydney airport coping with the congestion there?

Mr Doherty —The Sydney airport capacity is an issue we will understand better at the end of the master plan process.

Senator WILLIAMS —So it is coping okay with congestion at the moment?

Mr Doherty —Certainly. It is coping with the demand at the moment. What we will see with the master plan is forecasts of demand looking forward.

Senator WILLIAMS —Are there enough trained air traffic controllers at Sydney? Is there a shortage of labour there? We saw disruptions here a week ago when many airlines were delayed et cetera due to air traffic control problems at the Sydney airport. Can you give us an update on where you are at with air traffic controllers.

Mr Doherty —Air Services Australia, who are scheduled to appear later, are the people who employ air traffic controllers. They would be best placed to do that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is it your people I should be asking my Karumba airstrip questions to?

Mr Doherty —It is.

Senator Conroy —I thought we had agreed on the name?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not know; there is some disagreement on whether it is the Joyce or the Conroy name.

Senator Conroy —They warned me about you, Macca.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Did you hear my questions of Infrastructure Australia about that?

Mr Doherty —I did not hear them directly; I was told that you raised the questions.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I, amongst others I guess, have written to the minister about the Karumba airstrip. Is there any prospect that the federal government might contribute to (a) the proposal by the Queensland government and the local authority to put in one-third each to reseal it—that was one proposal, and I understand that has been made to you by Queensland RTM—or (b) the more important proposal of extending and sealing the runway so larger planes can get in with food in times like this, and also so there is an adequate tourist service, amongst other things, for what it is a rapidly growing locality. Is it on your radar?

Mr Doherty —Certainly. We have a program called the Remote Aerodrome Safety Program. The minister has written to the council inviting them to make an application. We are aware that the Queensland government has announced its intention to fund one-third of the sealing program. The next round for grants under that program opened for applications last week and close in April, so the minister wrote and invited the council to submit an application in that program. The program would involve the contribution of funding normally from the state, the local council and the Commonwealth, but if it meets the terms of that program and is approved under it, then the Commonwealth would be meeting one-third of the cost.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The Commonwealth would meet one-third?

Mr Doherty —That would be the way it would work.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is a safety related program, is it?

Mr Doherty —That is right. That is to ensure safe, year-round access essentially—or as far as possible.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That would cover the sealing. What they desperately need is an extension of the runway as well, because in times like this, when they have been cut off from civilisation for eight weeks, they either barge food and mail around the top of Cape York to Weipa and then on to Karumba, or come down the Norman River if they can get to Normanton, which is a trek in itself. The extended runway would allow Dash 8s, which can carry some cargo, to land so the people do not starve. In better times, which is most of the time, it allows tourist traffic to come in and it allows seafood products to be taken out, so it is very important. That is a long preamble to asking you: out of the $42 billion so-called stimulus package for infrastructure, is the department looking at getting money for projects like that, which create jobs, do actually do something for Australia’s export potential and stimulate the economy?

Mr Doherty —The only program that we in the Aviation and Airports division are involved in is the Remote Aerodrome Safety Program, so I have had no engagement in broader thinking about those regional infrastructure issues.

Mr Tongue —Senator, it would be a relevant question to raise this evening under local government and regional development issues.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —All right. That sounds great. Do you in this division—or is it with CASA or someone else—take an interest in meteorological services at airports?

Mr Doherty —In broad terms, we do have an interest because it is part of the overall framework for administering a safe system, but CASA and perhaps Airservices would probably have more direct contact with the provision of meteorological services.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —While there is no-one else here—that means I am not holding others up—what does your division actually do? Can you in a sentence tell me what your role is?

Mr Doherty —Yes. In broad terms we are the policy division for aviation and airports, so our key role, I guess, is to look at how the whole system coordinates and administers the broad legislation. We participate in the processes of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which sets the global structure, and then we have interests in the industry policy section, in the overall framework for safety administration—although the detail of that administration is then done by CASA and, to an extent, ATSB—and in the overall framework for services, which is Airservices’ area. A significant amount of our work is related to airports, and there we have a specific role as the regulator of the federal airports under the provisions of the Airports Act and as representatives of the Commonwealth for the leases that were granted to those sites.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay. I want to ask about the Fort Street High School, or Senator Heffernan might like to take that up. Is that your area?

Mr Doherty —Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I was going to ask you about something else, but it has completely gone from my mind. I will think about it over the lunch break. Is it correct that the school built some buildings without the proper insulation requirements for airport noise? Are you familiar with that issue? I understand Senator Williams raised it at the last estimates, and you gave some answers.

Mr Doherty —I think Maureen Ellis would have been involved in that. I am not conscious that the school has failed to meet any requirements. As I understand it, this is a very old school and I expect the construction was done before there were any—

Senator HEFFERNAN —No, particular buildings were recently built and under local planning they seem to have got round the need to make provision for the fact that they are under the flight path, which is what this is all about.

Mr Doherty —I do not know the details, I am sorry, of the construction that has taken place at the school. I am aware there is a commitment to assist with insulation work there. But, if there is a specific question about the work that has been done, I am happy to take it on notice.

Senator HEFFERNAN —We will come back after lunch. Are we going to lunch now?

CHAIR —Yes, we may as well. We will resume at two o’clock on the dot with you.

Proceedings suspended from 1.00 pm to 2.00 pm

CHAIR —I welcome back officers from Aviation and Airports.

Senator McGAURAN —I wonder whether this is the right area to ask a question about the status of the Essendon Airport.

Mr Tongue —This is the right area.

Senator McGAURAN —A question was asked about the airport in the Victorian state parliament, I believe, to the Premier. The Premier outlined his government’s position with regard to the Essendon Airport. In short, it is to shut the Essendon Airport. Can you tell me whether, under the previous government, there was a caveat over the sale of the airport that it must remain open as an airport when it was sold?

Mr Doherty —It would have been leased for a period of essentially 99 years for operation as an airport and, at the end of that time, with the right to either return it to the Commonwealth or negotiate some arrangement.

Senator McGAURAN —If the Premier’s policy is to close the airport, what ways and means does he think he has to do that, or is this watertight?

Mr Doherty —I am not aware of any approach on that basis. As far as I am aware, the Australian government has no intention to close Essendon Airport.

Senator McGAURAN —Perhaps I can ask the Minister. Minister, does the government have any intention of closing the airport or, to the contrary, does the government stand by the opening of the Essendon Airport?

Senator Conroy —I think you just—

Senator McGAURAN —Yes, it was a bit tangled.

Senator Conroy —It was a bit tangled.

Senator O’BRIEN —What was the question?

Senator McGAURAN —Does the government have any intentions to shut the Essendon Airport? You are quite right, it was a bit mangled—it being just after luncheon.

Senator Conroy —The government does not intend to close Essendon Airport but will explore issues to limit the impact of aircraft noise on the local community.

Senator McGAURAN —Say that again.

Senator Conroy —The government does not intend to close Essendon Airport but will explore issues to limit the impact of aircraft noise on the local community. When approving the Essendon Airport 2008 master plan on 28 October 2008, the minister established a working group to examine and advise him on options for the management of issues relating to aircraft and other operations at Essendon Airport of concern to the surrounding community. The working group first met in December 2008. Now it meets on a monthly basis prior to submitting its report to the minister in April 2009.

Senator McGAURAN —Can we get any interim report or indication of that working group’s recommendations?

Senator Conroy —I doubt whether you will be able to get it before the minister, and then it would be up to the minister.

Senator McGAURAN —Okay. The government has no intention of closing the Essendon Airport as an operational airport but if it did, as I understand it, it could not do so anyway, unless it broke the lease. Would that be right? Given that it is written in the lease that the airport must remain open as an airport, unless the federal government broke its own lease it could not shut the airport.

Mr Doherty —We have not explored the mechanics of how that could be done by negotiation, legislation or otherwise.

Senator Conroy —Because we are not planning on doing it, so we have not explored them.

Senator McGAURAN —No, but Mr Brumby is, you see. In answer to a question in the state parliament, it is his policy and intention to shut the Essendon Airport.

Senator Conroy —Does he own it?

Senator McGAURAN —This is what I am exploring. I know that he has a great deal of influence over you, so I am a little frightened in that respect. Are there any loopholes in the lease, because I know when he knocks on your door, Senator Conroy, you will open it wide. You open it wide and in he comes.

Senator Conroy —He is an excellent Premier of Victoria.

Senator McGAURAN —Is this watertight? You or your government will not cave in, Senator Conroy? Is the lease—

Senator Conroy —I just read out to you the exact—

Senator McGAURAN —But I need more than just your intention. I want to know whether the lease is watertight.

Senator Conroy —The government does not intend to close Essendon Airport.

Senator McGAURAN —Have you or the working group had any discussions with the state government? If you have, has the state government put to the working group their policy and intent, whatever their authority and power, to shut the Essendon Airport?

Senator Conroy —We have released a master plan for the ongoing use of the airport.

Senator McGAURAN —Yes, I know. You have got to speak to Mr Brumby.

Senator Conroy —Essendon Airport has a 50-year lease with an additional 49-year option to operate the airport.

Senator McGAURAN —Exactly. I could not agree more, because when we were in government, we leased it on the grounds that it remained open as an airport. That is written into the lease, and you should see the airport today.

Senator Conroy —Have we changed the lease?

Senator McGAURAN —Essendon Airport is booming and blossoming.

Senator Conroy —Mr Doherty, we have not changed the lease since we came to government?

Mr Doherty —No.

Senator Conroy —Senator McGauran, the lease that you signed, that you are talking about, remains intact, unchanged.

Senator McGAURAN —Good.

Senator Conroy —Shall we move on?

Senator McGAURAN —No.

Senator Conroy —There are no more questions after that.

Senator McGAURAN —So, in other words, Mr Brumby is just hot air. There is no way the state government can either cajole or convince or use its factional power to change the attitude of this government towards Essendon Airport. I will tell you why the Essendon Airport is so important—and you should know it, Senator Conroy.

Senator Conroy —I do. I support keeping it open.

Senator McGAURAN —It is a regional airport. It is the airport for the air ambulance service, and it is now booming around the outskirts of the airport. You drive past it on your way to Tullamarine.

Senator Conroy —I do.

Senator McGAURAN —You can see how it is booming, yet Mr Brumby wants to shut it down. Now, when a State Premier says that, you have got to take him—

Senator Conroy —Do you have a question?

Senator McGAURAN —The question is: when a state Premier says those words in the parliament in answer to a question, you have to believe that he might know something we do not.

Senator Conroy —I am sure Mr Brumby knows lots of things you do not, Senator McGauran.

Senator McGAURAN —Does he know how to shut the Essendon Airport?

Senator Conroy —I have categorically stated the federal government’s position, and I am just not sure whether there could possibly be any other questions.

Senator McGAURAN —My colleague has now entered the room.

Senator Conroy —Senator McGauran, you have done well. To be fair to you, you have filled in for Senator Macdonald ably.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Essendon Airport is a very important issue for Melburnians. I just indicated to Mr Doherty that I wanted to find out what influence, authority or control the Commonwealth government has over parking regulations at the Canberra Airport.

Mr Doherty —Senator, at the end of the day, the parking arrangements at Canberra Airport are a matter for the airport. If they comply with the broad zoning under the master plan, and if they meet any development requirements for work being done at the site, it is up to them to provide the parking.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But the Commonwealth still owns the land, doesn’t it?

Mr Doherty —I does.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —But it is issued on long-term leases to individual airport operators. Who owns the buildings, the direct factory outlets and all the office buildings? Are they on Canberra freehold, as a 99-year leasehold, or are they part of the airport reserve?

Mr Doherty —That is all part of the airport site, which is leased. It is all part of that 99-year lease, or the 50 plus 49.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So it is a 99-year lease from the Commonwealth. Does the Commonwealth retain any influence over what happens at airports?

Mr Doherty —In the sense that there are a range of planning controls: broad planning through the master plan, and approval for specific major developments through major development plans supported by building control requirements.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Does the Commonwealth have any influence over things like people travelling to airports, getting out of their means of transport and into the terminal?

Mr Doherty —Not to a great extent. There may be bits and pieces here, but I think the essential point is that I think Canberra Airport themselves would like to provide good parking facilities, and it is the growing pains, in effect, of other work they are doing to improve facilities—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am not talking about the construction work—that is a pain in the whatever. That is happening in Cairns, and it is almost worse there. They are things you expect when there is huge construction and expansion going on. What concerns me—and some people from Canberra have mentioned this to me—is that there does not seem to be anywhere that you can take your own vehicle and pick up anyone. You can take your own vehicle and drop off people, but you do not seem to be able to take your own vehicle and pick up anyone. Is it a question of access to airports that there must be an ability for citizens to—

Senator Conroy —Can I just clarify: are you saying there is no short-term parking, or there is no bay that you can pull in and wait?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —The signs seem to suggest that it is illegal to pull in and collect someone from the sidewalk. You can pull in and drop someone off, but you cannot pull in. This is why I am asking what influence you have, because perhaps I have got it wrong. I am just wondering whether you can elaborate on this.

Mr Doherty —Senator, I am just conferring with Ms Gosling. We understand that the idea of curb side pick-up is becoming a broader issue at airports, partly as a result of security concerns and partly for traffic management. I suspect that the scope is exacerbated by building work that is going on at the moment.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Forget the building work. I accept that.

Senator Conroy —What about excessive pricing of short-term car parking.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is fine, Minister, but many people say to me they only want to pick someone up—

Senator Conroy —I am supporting you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay—without having to pay $5 or $2 for a short-term park and then having to get out of their car. I might be wrong. I do not want to malign these people. Is it something that I ask you, or will I ask airline security? The signs at the Canberra Airport actually say that you have two minutes to drop someone off—fine—but, for security reasons, you cannot pick someone up.

Mr Tongue —Perhaps I could dive in here. Without going into a great deal of detail, we have been doing a range of work with major airports about what we call ‘front of house’, because of events that happened in Glasgow and prior to that at other major airports. From a purely security perspective, we do pay attention to traffic management at the front of airports and try to manage that balance between what I call ‘passenger facilitation’ and the desire of people to get in and out quickly. It is certainly not the only issue that drives this process of traffic management, but it is a consideration. I, for one, would certainly be talking to airports if they suddenly decided that dropping off people was a good idea, unless there was some really significant setback from the front of the terminal—which sort of defeats the purpose—and what I would call hands-on traffic management.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not mind the fact that the Comcars park well out into the rain. That does not worry me at all. I am concerned about ordinary citizens who, as I read it—as I said, I might have this wrong—can drop off someone for not more than two minutes. If you are a terrorist, you have opportunities there. But, at the same curb, you cannot stop and pick anyone up, even for 10 seconds, for security reasons the sign says.

Mr Tongue —That is right.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can you tell me about that, or should I ask someone else?

Mr Tongue —I am happy to talk about it a little more under the Office of Transport Security later in the day.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay. Is that because you do not know, or can we just get rid of this issue now, while we are on it?

Mr Tongue —I am happy to handle it now. I do not want to go too far into vehicle-borne bombs and all of those sorts of things. Part of the challenge at the front of airport terminals is traffic management and trying to get a flow of traffic. It is a bit like what they have done with Parliament House, with traffic going in one direction and trying to—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Hopefully, they have not got the same planners involved, because that has been a disgrace, in my view.

Mr Tongue —It is a similar sort of thinking in terms of managing the flow, trying to have a sense of normal and typical behaviour and ensuring that you have the balance that I mentioned between facilitation—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —If I could stop you. That is fine, and I do not object to the two-minute set-down. It just seems incongruous to me that setting people down for two minutes is not a security risk, but picking people up—people who get off a plane, get into a car and speed away—is. If there is some sensitivity about what I do not understand but bad people do understand, do not make it public now. This is about the incongruity or inconsistency.

Mr Tongue —The current arrangements aid in the management of the flow of people and they also aid in the observation of what is going on at the front of the terminal. A large number of vehicles pulling up, waiting to pick up people, creates its own set of dynamics, particularly at busy times at major airports. You can end up with 10, 15 or more vehicles all crowding around, hovering, waiting for people to emerge from the terminal. That does a couple of things: it concentrates people at the front of the terminal; it means that you have a cluster of vehicles—not just one, but a cluster of vehicles—that are harder to manage; and it significantly changes the dynamics.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —So you are telling me that this is not a Canberra Airport—

Mr Tongue —It happens at most major airports. You will find that there is this traffic management system in place. It varies a bit, depending on airport architecture and design.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Most of them do have a limited time—as I said, I think it is two minutes to get out of the car, and you are moved on if you are more than two minutes. That is fine. I agree with that, and I can understand that. But I cannot understand why you cannot have 30 seconds to stop and pick someone up from the curb side and drive away.

Mr Tongue —The challenge is managing the 30 seconds. The drop-off process is an easier process to control than inviting people to wait for those coming out of the terminal, because you cannot guarantee that it will be 30 seconds.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Most people, as they get off the plane, say: ‘Hello. I am here, Love. Come and pick me up. I will meet you on the curb side.’

Mr Tongue —Frequent travellers, perhaps.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I will leave it there. If someone were bold enough to say to the airport owners, ‘Get lost; I’m going to stop here,’ would they have to answer to the airport the internal bylaws of the airport owners, however they arrange them, or would they have to answer to the Federal Police, who have jurisdiction over traffic?

Mr Tongue —The answer is potentially both, depending on the circumstances.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —On notice, could you sensitively explain the difference between stopping for two minutes to drop off someone and stopping for one minute to pick up someone, whose jurisdiction it is, and against whom would constituents be offending if they ignored these rules.

Mr Tongue —Certainly.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you.

Senator WILLIAMS —Mr Doherty, are you familiar with some buildings that were built at Fort Street High School in Sydney?

Mr Doherty —I am not familiar with the buildings.

Senator WILLIAMS —Right. I will fill you in on the situation. Apparently there are two buildings—building F and building G—which were constructed at Fort Street High School. The claim is that the approval for the buildings was granted by the Marrickville Council and it did not insulate them against aircraft noise. To cut a long story short, I am saying that these buildings did not comply with Australian Standards 2021 when they were constructed.

My sources say: ‘Having had years of experience installing noise insulation, these buildings do not look like they have been insulated with aircraft noise in mind. A year ago, I was trying to find out if the buildings were constructed for aircraft noise compliance and one year on I am led to believe that the buildings did not have to comply with the local council’s aircraft noise insulation requirements. I understand a quantity surveyor’s report was prepared for the department of transport last year, and the estimated net construction cost of insulating the above existing buildings for aircraft noise is around $1 million. These amounts are exclusive of builder’s overheads and profits, 15 per cent, and GST. I believe that had the buildings been constructed with the aircraft noise insulation in mind, the buildings could have been made to comply with Australian Standard 2021 for a third of what it will cost to install insulation as an afterthought.’

Do you know anything about these? It is almost $1 million of insulation that looks like it has to go into these buildings.

Mr Doherty —We are involved in provision of insulation to Fort Street High, reflecting a government election commitment in the run-up to the 2007 election. Through that process we have had consultants examine the cost of providing that insulation, and in that process we have been told about two buildings that were built in 2004, I think, which did not have insulation and which the consultants thought would normally have been built with insulation in those circumstances. At this stage we are proceeding with the exercise to provide for the insulation of the whole school.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Does that mean that was a flawed development application?

Senator WILLIAMS —Chair.

Senator HEFFERNAN —This just follows on, mate. I have got the same question as you.

CHAIR —Senator Williams, you have the call.

Senator WILLIAMS —So you believe it is about $1 million to insulate these buildings now?

Mr Doherty —I think that the quotes that we were given were slightly higher than that.

Senator WILLIAMS —How much higher? Can you have a stab in the dark?

Mr Doherty —The names that I was given, checking up on this, were: Rowe building, $0.9 million; Cohen building, $1.4 million.

Senator WILLIAMS —Do you know any reason why insulation was not put in when they constructed the buildings?

Mr Doherty —No.

Senator WILLIAMS —In response to a question I asked you during the previous round of Senate estimates regarding noise insulation near airports, you stated:

… we have completed the work on those buildings which have been identified as eligible under the program. There may be some fine residual work in areas, such as if the noise pattern moves or if there is some warranty work, but generally the vast bulk of that work has now been completed

Have the noise patterns moved at all since the last round of Senate estimates?

Mr Doherty —In Sydney, no, as far as we understand.

Senator WILLIAMS —Are these adjusted, these noise contours?

Mr Doherty —The actual pattern of noise is monitored, and so the ANEI chart of noise contours is adjusted.

Senator WILLIAMS —Has it been adjusted of late?

Mr Doherty —No. I do not think any adjustment has been required, and certainly no expansion as a result of the changes.

Senator WILLIAMS —If these contours were adjusted, would this mean further work would have to be commissioned, as far as noise insulation goes?

Mr Doherty —The way the noise insulation program was set up was that the criteria, while the program was operating, was based on the noise contours, so that if the noise contours expanded and more areas came into the high noise zones those zones became eligible for insulation. As it is, the Sydney program has been terminated and the levy has been switched off. So we have no expectation that further buildings will become eligible under the program.

Senator WILLIAMS —Except this $1.4 million job. You have to do it.

Senator Conroy —It was an election commitment. As we have discussed at length before, Senator Williams, we are going to deliver each and every one of our election commitments.

Senator WILLIAMS —Good. I can understand that from economic conservatives. In the previous round of Senate estimates Senator Heffernan asked about the details of the $14.5 million project to insulate Fort Street High School in the minister for transport’s electorate. The response from Maureen Ellis was that the actual details were not available until 2009 because they would prejudice any further tender process. Now that it is 2009, are the details of this project available?

Mr Doherty —Sorry, further detail of the breakdown of the $14.5 million?

Senator WILLIAMS —The response from Maureen Ellis was that actual details were not available until 2009 because they would prejudice any future tender process.

Mr Doherty —No, we have not made further details available.

Senator WILLIAMS —Senator Heffernan, would you like to continue on with some questions, especially on the issue I just raised?

Senator HEFFERNAN —You are going all right. But obviously I am curious about the government’s pre-election commitment, Minister, on the variable noise pattern and how you have committed to that. Have you committed to the variable noise pattern for an insulation program?

Senator Conroy —We made an election commitment to insulate Fort Street High School from aircraft noise and we delivering on it.

Senator HEFFERNAN —No, that is not what I am asking. As part of your election commitment, have you a program which flagged on the variation in the noise pattern?

Senator Conroy —Fort Street High is an election commitment.

Senator HEFFERNAN —No. Forget about Fort Street High. I am talking about the variation in the noise pattern. If you do not know what I am talking about, just say so.

Senator Conroy —Perhaps you might need to explain. No-one at the table appears to be following your line of questioning, Senator Heffernan.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I am sure they do. There is allowance in the aircraft landing pattern for changes to the aircraft landing pattern, which varies the aircraft landing noise pattern. Where are we up to with that?

Mr Doherty —There were two noise programs established, one at Adelaide and one at Sydney. Both worked on essentially the same lines, which were that there was money appropriated which provided for insulation of eligible buildings. That was recovered over time by a levy on the operation of aircraft. In relation to Sydney, the program has been terminated in that all the eligible work and warranty claims had expired and the levy had reached a stage where it had paid off the available work. So the legislation still remains in place and could be activated, but there is no active noise program in Sydney.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Thank you, Mr Doherty. That goes to the nub of the question, which is that there has been no variation in the geographic noise model.

Mr Doherty —As I understand it, we will continue to monitor the ANEI changes, and if it got to a stage where there was significant change—

Senator HEFFERNAN —You can then re-enact the—

Mr Doherty —There would be the possibility for government to make a decision. Adelaide is in a slightly different situation in that the noise program is still on foot in Adelaide, and I think recently there were additional buildings identified as eligible.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So the tenders are finished, the job is complete and the book is signed off.

Mr Doherty —For programs, not for the special election commitment project.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Would Fort Street have been eligible if it was not an election commitment?

Mr Doherty —Fort Street was not eligible during the period of the program.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So that was purely a political decision.

Senator Conroy —It was an election commitment, you are completely correct, Senator Heffernan, as it was an election commitment in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007.

Senator HEFFERNAN —You are allowed to have election commitments, Minister.

Senator Conroy —Very good of you.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I am very saddened, though, that you pinched that $2 billion out of the sovereign fund for the bush communications. Were building F and building G built since 2002?

Mr Doherty —I am not familiar with the terms ‘building F’ and ‘building G’. The advice that I was given was the two buildings concerned were called the Cohen and the Rowe building. They may be the same.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Yes, fair enough. But, given the noise contour, were these buildings appropriately insulated in the beginning. They were not, apparently.

Mr Doherty —I do not know the ins and outs of the New South Wales planning system as it applied. All we have is the word of the consultants, who indicated that their expectation was that they would have been.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Could you take on notice whether they complied with the building regulations given the noise contour at the time and whether they were actually eligible for insulation by the New South Wales government given their input into the building approval process.

Mr Doherty —I am not trying to be unhelpful. We would take on notice a question if we had the information available. But I do not think we will have that information.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Just in the event of—

Senator Conroy —The Parliamentary Library might be able to do your research for you. The department is indicating it does not have the information.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But he does not know.

Senator Conroy —If we have it I am sure we will be able to provide it.

Mr Doherty —If we have any information about why that was done we can provide that, Senator, of course.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I hope it was not because of a political donation.

Senator Conroy —You have no links, I trust, Senator.

Senator HEFFERNAN —No. Don’t take the bait.

Senator Conroy —I trust you have no links.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I am adding a bit of colour and movement.

Senator Conroy —I was pleased to see you were not named in the article yesterday, Senator Heffernan. I found it a minor miracle, but I was pleased.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I have to confess, I am less notorious than some of my friends.

Senator Conroy —Yes, and that is an unusual thing for you to be able to say, Senator Heffernan.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I am a pure innocent. So we accept that it was a political, symbolic gesture to Fort Street High School to make the political—

Senator Conroy —It was an election commitment. It was not symbolic; it was an election commitment.

Senator HEFFERNAN —So could a cynic say that this is an instance of the Commonwealth funding the failures of the state?

Senator Conroy —That is asking an opinion, which I am sure that the officer cannot be asked.

Senator HEFFERNAN —But I am asking you.

Senator Conroy —I am not as familiar with New South Wales politics as you are, Senator Heffernan.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What would have been the difference in cost between adequately insulating these buildings during the initial construction—and I do not expect you to know the answer to this without notice—and insulating or retrofitting them?

Senator Conroy —I am not sure. It is probably possible—

Senator HEFFERNAN —It seems to me there is a planning failure.

Mr Doherty —Senator, I do not know that information and I do not know that we could get it.

Senator HEFFERNAN —What is the definition of a public building under your program?

Mr Doherty —I do not know off the cuff. I understand it has been used for schools and hospitals, but I can take that on notice and provide you the definition.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Do the noise regulations apply to state government buildings?

Mr Doherty —The New South Wales planning noise regulations?

Senator HEFFERNAN —Yes.

Mr Doherty —I do not know.

Senator HEFFERNAN —My information is that state government buildings do not have to comply with the regulations. A state government is responsible for insulating their own buildings for noise under your noise insulation program?

Mr Doherty —I will have to check the details of the guidelines for the program.

Senator HEFFERNAN —When you find that out, you might answer the question: why did the Commonwealth spend money doing state government buildings when the states should have done them themselves? The next questions can be on notice, Minister. Has there been any further insulation work carried out on buildings and by any other state governments? If so, how much was spent in each case.

Mr Doherty —That would be a potential in Adelaide and I will need to check that.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Did the New South Wales government make any contribution towards the cost of the noise insulation work. If not, why not?

Mr Doherty —For Fort Street High School? I do not understand that to be the intention. I think the full cost is being met as part of the election commitment.

Senator HEFFERNAN —These are New South Wales state government buildings.

Senator Conroy —It was an election commitment.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Are there plans to recoup the cost of insulating these buildings or not?

Senator Conroy —It was an election commitment.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Thank you very much. Senator Williams?

Senator WILLIAMS —I am pretty happy. We have the answer as ‘election commitment’.

Senator HEFFERNAN —There you go. It takes a long time to get a simple answer.

Senator Conroy —And that is an answer you have not heard before from me.

Senator HEFFERNAN —That is the power of politics.

Senator Conroy —Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is worth commenting that, when you were in Opposition, election commitments were not grounds for doing that, but that is—

Senator WILLIAMS —The rules have changed.

Senator Conroy —You created programs that kept passing projects that failed the guidelines—

Senator HEFFERNAN —Rather than get involved in a whole lot of useless and time-wasting argy-bargy, could I just raise something that seems to have gone quietly to ground?

Senator Conroy —Is it a question?

Senator HEFFERNAN —It is. It is quite an interesting adventure, in fact. Canberra airport and the plans to turn that into a hub, not necessarily restricted by time—where are we up to in terms of the Tralee development?

Senator Conroy —Does that fall within our portfolio?

Senator HEFFERNAN —It is certainly airports.

Mr Doherty —It has been an issue relating to the development of the Canberra airport. The decision on development in that corridor is a decision that is made by the New South Wales planning regime.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Surely, in the interests of the airport at Canberra and the corporation or the company that owns that—

Senator Conroy —The largest donors to the Liberal Party in the ACT.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Who is?

Senator Conroy —The Canberra airport.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I take back all my questions, then.

Senator Conroy —I will put on record I am sure Senator MacDonald said that with a tongue in his cheek.

Senator HEFFERNAN —If there was a scenario in which an airport owner offered to—

Senator Conroy —You cannot ask the officers hypothetical questions.

Senator HEFFERNAN —No, I am going to ask a question. If an airport owner offered tenancy—

Senator Conroy —It is a hypothetical question.

Senator HEFFERNAN —to an airport leaseholder at a $500,000 discount subject to them doing something else, would that be troublesome to your department?

Senator Conroy —It is something that sounds like it should go to the police.

Senator HEFFERNAN —It has gone to the police and I have not heard a word since. It went to the police two years ago. You know nothing about it?

Mr Doherty —It is an abstract question to me and I cannot answer it.

Senator Conroy —My recollection is the police even raided the—

Senator HEFFERNAN —I will leave it.

CHAIR —Right. As there no further questions on aviation and airports, I thank the witnesses very much.

[2.38 pm]