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Speech: Airports Amendment Bill 2015 Second Reading

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 24 Jun 2015

Senator RICE (Victoria) (12:30): I rise to speak on the Airports Amendment Bill 2015. This bill goes some of the way to clarifying the process around the construction of a new airport in Sydney and removes the veto that the Sydney Airport Corporation, which runs the existing airport, currently has over the construction of a new airport. The Greens are not opposed to changing the rules around the construction of another airport and requiring an environmental impact statement, but we want to place on the record that we feel that an airport at Badgerys Creek does not seem to stack up as the right option for Sydney residents. We are seeking to amend this bill to ensure that should the location of any future airport be moved away from Badgerys Creek the government cannot turn around and say, 'Here's an environmental impact statement we prepared earlier for Badgerys Creek; that'll do.'

The government is rushing to build the Badgerys Creek airport without an owner or a builder. All it has is a commitment to more than $2 billion for more congestion-inducing roads in Western Sydney. There will not be a rail connection, and high-speed rail is not under consideration at all. This is not the transformative approach that Sydney residents and visitors need. The push for Badgerys Creek lacks crucial detail and is instead based on a whole host of false assumptions. If an airport at Badgerys Creek goes ahead, residents will suffer. There is no way around the increase in aircraft noise. While the land around Badgerys Creek is yet to be developed, that certainly will not be the case in 2025, when the airport is first operational. When look at this we must not look at what Badgerys Creek will look like in 2015; we must look to what it will look like after it has been in operation for a while.

It is unlikely to have a curfew. In fact, proponents of Badgerys Creek have stated on numerous occasions that the only way the airport will be financially viable will be if it operates on a 24-hour basis. It is completely unfair to suggest that Western Sydney residents should be subjected to a 24/7 airport when residents in the inner west of Sydney and the inner city have appropriate respite with a curfew. This will not reduce aircraft noise around the existing airport either. In fact, it is far more likely that the creation of a second airport at Badgerys Creek will increase aircraft noise at Mascot. Badgerys Creek is expected to be a smaller airport with less hangar space and a smaller runway, similar to Avalon airport in Melbourne. And like at Avalon, Badgerys Creek will soak up demand for smaller, regional flights, leaving more arrival and departure slots open at Mascot for large, international jets. This means more aircraft noise, not less.

The benefit for jobs is not all it is cracked up to be. The Prime Minister's claim that the project will create 60,000 jobs is a fine example of pulling figures out of nowhere. The alleged job-creation figures have been used by several Western Sydney councils as well as Unions New South Wales to justify their support for Badgerys Creek. A more realistic scenario was developed by the New South Wales Business Chamber, which stands to gain enormous sums of money via the creation of another private-yet publicly subsidised-airport. They were relying on passenger movements estimated by the federal government's joint study into aviation capacity, and they slashed the job-creation estimates to one-sixth of Abbott's claim by 2040. It is quite clear that Abbott and the business lobby have inflated job-creation figures to boost support for Badgerys Creek.

But perhaps the worst part of this plan is the details of how people will get there and the impact of congestion on locals. There is $2 billion earmarked for massive, polluting roads and nothing for a rail connection. This is just going to put more pressure on roads. We know that the best way to unclog our roads is to give people the option of efficient, safe and affordable public transport. The jury is still out on the need for a second airport in Sydney. It has been challenged by numerous economists. In April, Fairfax economics editor Peter Martin wrote that he:

... would like to know the government had tried other solutions before settling on spending billions building a new airport in an inconvenient location.
It is these other options that we must be looking at. Imagine if we got serious about high-speed rail along the east coast of Australia. We could significantly reduce demand on our airports while delivering a much-needed boost to our regional centres. Yet we seem to be going around in circles.

The Melbourne-to-Sydney air route is the fifth-busiest air route in the world, and it is the third-busiest overland route-that is, a route where to travel overland is not straightforward. Sydney-to-Brisbane is pretty busy, too. The proportion of people who travel from Sydney to Canberra by air is ridiculous, given that the distance is under 300 kilometres.

The level of air travel into Sydney from Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra is the sign of a desperately underdeveloped rail system. Medium-fast services should be able to travel faster than cars but badly fail that benchmark in all directions. And of course high-speed rail would really compete against air travel between Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. What needs to happen is inclusion of the likely development of high-speed rail in the planning mix-to actually consider what that means for the number of flight arrivals and departures into Sydney.

Establishing a high-speed rail authority and reserving the route for high-speed rail are much more important than planning for a second airport in Sydney, because high-speed rail and good old ordinary, medium-fast, as-long-as-it was-efficient rail have the potential to be major factors enabling us to not only reduce the pressures on airports in Sydney but drastically reduce our transport related carbon pollution.

The rest of the world is moving on high-speed rail, so why not us? Other than Australia, Antarctica is the only other continent that does not have high-speed rail. And at the speed that we are moving on high-speed rail, it seems that the penguins are likely to beat us to it.

High-speed rail is affordable. You can tell this by the fact that the Chinese, the Japanese and the Spanish high-speed rail developers are all interested in coming to Australia and building high-speed rail as a purely private operation without needing public money. I am not saying that is the way that we should be heading, but the fact that they are interested in doing this shows you that there is a strong economic case for the development of high-speed rail along the east coast of Australia.

Without going to the transformative stage of high-speed rail, we need to make improvements to our existing rail services so that you can get from Sydney to Canberra, Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane faster than you can drive. This sort of thing is possible in every other country in the world where you have an efficient rail system. It needs to occur, and the way it has to occur is through putting more investment into improving our rail systems, not spending all that money on massive, polluting roads. We need affirmative action for public transport, because of the huge benefits to Australia that it would deliver.

I am not arguing that there is not a future for air transport, but we have to note that it is the most difficult form of transport to implement with zero carbon emissions. And that is where we need to be heading-we need to be reducing our carbon pollution to zero. The world is realising this. The world is moving on this. Country after country are having much more ambitious carbon reduction targets than Australia. The Pope has realised this as well. But it is clear from debate after debate in this chamber that Australia is very, very slow-as slow as the trains that travel between Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. The good thing, of course, is that a better transport mix is not only low carbon but is better for local communities too. And the residents of Sydney deserve no less.


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