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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 1490

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - It is always difficult to follow our dear friend, the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull). We shall miss him sorely when he departs at the end of this year. However, I shall do my best. I rise as a member concerned about the question of a second international airport. One of the 2 areas named as a prospective site is in my electorate, and is known as Somersby. The delay over this airport siting is unconscionable, but the Government secrecy that has surrounded this airport siting is more unconscionable. I maintain that the way in which the Government refuses to reveal any of the criteria on which it makes its decision is complete nonsense. The Australian community and, to a great extent, parliamentarians themselves, have grown accustomed to the Government keeping all information to itself and not informing the public about the criteria on which it bases its decision.

When the first report was released about 12 months ago we were informed that initially some 40 sites were considered. The number was narrowed down to 16 sites, later to 4 and finally to 2. Let us accept the proposition that the present 2 sites are the only acceptable ones. Some of the information that is now available to the Government should be kept secret but why, for instance, cannot we be told why the other 38 sites were eliminated? We were never told this. We were never told why the Duffy's Forest site was eliminated, only that it was not suitable.

The only reason the Government wants secrecy is that if the public knows and has access to the information it can evaluate the decision - perhaps not as expertly as the experts - and the fear that the Government has is that the minute the doors are open and the people know why it is making a decision it will be in all kinds of trouble. That is what it thinks; I think it is wrong. The day will come in Australia when a whole range of decisions will be under public scrutiny. My view is that then we will start to get real democracy. Opposition members cannot make effective criticisms because we do not have access to the information. We do not know, for instance, what is the Government's order of priorities. When the decision is finally announced and the site chosen we will be told that it was the only possible, sensible, sane, responsible decision - whatever it is. Of all those 40 sites it will be the only one that could have been chosen. Anyone who suggests anything else will be stark raving bonkers, particularly if he comes from the Opposition. The people of Robertson, the people of Australia - because this is a decision for Australia; not merely for the people of my area - and I, wish to know the order of priorities. How did the Government regard conservation of the Central Coast in its evaluation?

The question of pollution arises. I hear a lot of nonsense about air pollution and the claim that only 1 . per cent of it is airport pollution. Let us accept that proposition in relation to the whole of Australia, but what is the position around airports? Tests in the United States of America have shown that around the airport pollution from aeroplanes runs as high as 40 per cent. Where does pollution come in the Government's order of priorities? What economic factors did it consider - the cost to the community, the cost to the farmers or the cost to the people who have to suffer the noise? How does it evaluate the feelings of the local community and the needs of the local community?

I am just appalled at this constant cloak of secrecy that surrounds everything the Government does in every field. This is just another continuation of it. I cannot see why we cannot have public hearings into a lot of matters. Ultimately the Government has to make the decision. I recognise that defence needs arise and there is the possibility of people making unfair profits out of land speculation. That is fair enough and I accept it. But I cannot for the life of me see why grown up, mature Australians cannot be brought into the decision making process by public hearings on all these things. If the Government has discarded these other sites it should tell us why it has discarded them. We are entitled to know. The total cost, including the State Government's provision of transport back to the city, is estimated at between $3 00m and $500m. These are the figures that are being trotted around in the media, and experts I have spoken to assess the cost at around that figure. It is a lot of money and a very big decision. A number of astute judges who are highly placed in the tourist industry, including one whose name I do not wish to mention but I can assure honourable members that he is extremely high up in the industry, are now questioning the massive expense, not to mention the massive dislocation of community life that such an airport will spawn. They are suggesting that, in view of the added expense to international visitors who first fly into Sydney or Melbourne before travelling to the tourist destinations they must desire to see, the enormous public expense would be far better invested in upgrading the facilities at tourist destination airports. My colleague the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) mentioned this earlier and I believe that he is completely on the right track. This is a serious proposition and a lot of very astute judges are considering it. lt should be considered in greater detail by this Government. There is a popular myth that all international visitors are wealthy Americans whereas in fact the majority of them travel on tight budgets in the same way as Australians do. They would find that they have to fly back to the Barrier Reef or to Alice Springs and they have either to bypass Australia or to restrict their visit to one or two places. Honourable members opposite know that I am interested in the tourist industry and I will be speaking on that subject in the debate on the estimates for the Department of Trade and Industry. If the airports of Townsville and Alice Springs were upgraded to take jumbo jets there would be the following benefits: Firstly, a considerable amount of airport traffic would be taken off Sydney and Melbourne; secondly, new travel patterns would emerge thus enabling international visitors to extend their stay and embark on a round trip taking in Tasmania and a direct route to Adelaide. The savings made on the airport would reap far greater benefits to the travel industry, while a major contribution to decentralisation would have been made.

Finally, in the few moments left to me, I want to take up the question of the local people who have been so affected by consideration of this matter. At this moment on the airport site there are some hundreds of farmers who simply cannot move because of this decision hanging over their heads. They cannot plant anything, they cannot sell and they cannot buy. I am very critical of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) because he has still not answered my letter of some months ago asking whether compensation will he paid for the dislocation to the businesses of these people. I am not talking now about the taking of land, but if one was in the position where one's business was in a state of suspended animation the chances are that one would lose thousands of dollars. The Government has made a decision that is costing people money. The Minister for Civil Aviation is a likeable chap but I am very annoyed over his failure to answer correspondence. When I led a delegation to see him in Sydney earlier this year he promised information on the flight paths by July. I waited until August and then sent a telegram. I called at his office but still received no reply. I first learned of the delay till next year in the Press. This is gross discourtesy and I am surprised at the Minister doing this because it is not his usual behaviour. My colleague the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) said that the Minister should be replaced. Maybe he should, but the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate.

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