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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) - I wish to bring to the notice of the House tonight the extraordinary secrecy that surrounds the report of the interdepartmental committee that was set up by the Government to inquire into whether there should be a second airport for Sydney and, if so, where that airport should be sited. I have been carrying on quite a lot of correspondence with the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) and mentioning the matter in this House for some considerable time. In every instance the implication in what the Minister has said has been: When the time comes and the interdepartmental committee's report is delivered to the Government, we will be able to discuss the matter with you*.

We hear now that the report has been delivered, although the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), who represents the Minister for Civil Aviation in this House, did not seem even to know yesterday, when answering a question, that the report had actually been submitted. In answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) he said:

I indicated at the time that my understanding was that the committee had concluded its work in relation to the survey it was undertaking and that a report could be expected to be submitted to the Minister for Civil Aviation in the near future.

When I interjected and said: 'He says he has it', the Minister said:

If he says he has received it I will stand corrected . . .

That is an extraordinary statement to be made by the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation in this House. He did not even know whether the report had been received. That is a vital issue. I have asked the Minister for Civil Aviation in the corridors of the Parliament when this report will be tabled and will this report be made public. He now says: 'Oh no. We cannot do that. It has to be referred to the Government It is purely a Public Service committee report and it is not for publication*. People throughout the country and those in the various areas who expect they could be affected by the recommendations in this report, have been awaiting the report avidly yet the Minister implied that when he received the report it would be made public. What is the reason for the extraordinary secrecy which now exists in respect of this committee's report. Is it because we have a Senate election coming on? Is that the reason? It would appear that that could have some basis bearing on it and be part of the motive of the Government in suddenly pigeonholing the report and not letting us know where we stand or what is going on.

A lot of rumours are circulating and we are concerned about this matter. The Minister in correspondence to me said, in effect: 'I cannot say for sure what this Committee will recommend but I expect it will recommend more than one site. It will recommend a number of sites. It will comment upon them and give the reasons for and against them'. Those are the inferences he cast. He said: 'Then it will come forward and we will refer the matter to the State governments' - in other words, pass the buck to them - 'and see what they think about it'. But the rumours are now circulating that the committee is interested in Richmond as one of the areas for a second airport for Sydney. Even in his- correspondence to me the Minister said that he expected Richmond to be commented upon in the committee's report as one of the areas for a possible second airport. It is also suggested that the Wyong area and Holsworthy are commented upon in the committee's report. These are the rumours that are circulating. Then there is another suggestion, and it is a very good reason for the Government's holding up the announcement until after the Senate election. It is suggested that the committee might even be interested in National Park. That would get all the conservationists up in arms, not to mention the people in the Richmond, Londonderry and Penrith areas which cover the districts Of Penrith, Si Marys, Cambridge Park, Mount Druitt, Richmond, Windsor and the like. All of those people would be affected if, as the Minister said, it was expected that those areas would be commented upon in die report. The municipal councils of Blacktown, Penrith, Windsor and the Blue Mountains and the shire council of Colo have formed a committee to protect the areas against the possibility of a second airport being constructed. The committee has asked the Minister for Civil Aviation and the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) to receive a deputation. I have here the Minister's reply. In a telegram to me on 23rd August after I had asked him to receive the deputation he said:

I feel that until the Government receives the report of the interdepartmental committee which I expect to be completed within a month it would serve little purpose to discuss the possibility of an airport for civil use in the Richmond area.

The report has been received. Surely this is the time for him to receive that deputation. My friend .Senator Fitzgerald asked the Minister in another place yesterday whether there is a possibility there could be a second airport at Richmond. The Minister said in answer:

How Sydney can avoid having an international airport and a domestic airport in a situation like this, I do not know. There is no problem about my seeing the people of Penright, Richmond and Windsor.

I am glad to hear that. He went on:

It is purely a matter of finding the time. As soon as the Senate rises for the next recess I intend to make arrangements to meet them.

I can tell honourable members now that the representatives of those councils are quite happy to come here to Canberra to see the Minister. There is no question of time involved; they do not want to have to wait until he goes to Sydney. The sooner they get to see him, the better it will be. I wrote to the Minister on 6th October and asked him whether Richmond had been mentioned in the interdepartmental report, and if so, the text of the reference. Despite 3 telephone calls to the Minister's office I still have not received an acknowledgment of my letter, let alone a reply.

I raise this question very definitely and sincerely. What is the reason for the Government's secrecy in this matter? The implication of the Government's behaviour over the past months was that when it received the report it would make it available to the public and members of this Parliament. But suddenly the report has been pigeonholed. It is not to be made available. What is the reason for the secrecy? Obviously it is because a Senate election is imminent and the report contains information and comment which would react to the detriment of Government on the eve of that election. Some of the areas which could be affected, including Richmond, may have been commented upon. There may also be comment on the rumour concerning the area of a National Park.

That would react to the detriment of the Government in its election campaign. So it is to be kept secret until the election is over. Then the cat will be let loose. The Government will throw the matter over to the State Government and say: 'Here is the buck. You cop it and make the decision.' 1 call upon the Government to release the report now and let us know where we stand. Advice should be given to the areas which are concerned that they could have a second airport placed there, with the consequence of aircraft noise. Let them know where they stand so that the people concerned can make representations to the Government as ' quickly as possible and before the Senate election is held.

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