Transcript of Interview: Sky News ‘To The Point’



20 October 2015

Topic: Western Sydney Airport

Peter Van Onselen: … and we're joined by Paul Fletcher. Thanks for your company.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks Peter, thanks Kristina. Great to be with you.

Peter Van Onselen: Let me ask you Paul Fletcher—Pamela Williams in her piece today in The Australian has talked about you as being one of the crucial lynchpins in this operation to remove Tony Abbott. Your reaction?

Paul Fletcher: Well I think my reaction is that the Australian people expect us to get on with the job of governing, rolling our new policy as we've done with the Government's response to the financial system inquiry this morning, as we did yesterday announcing the release of the Environmental Impact Statement on the Western Sydney Airport. That's what the Australian people I think want us to be talking about, not going over political history.

Kristina Keneally: So you're eschewing the tag of a faceless man and a power broker behind the scenes.

Paul Fletcher: Look, what I'm focussed on, as is every Minister and indeed every backbencher in the Turnbull Government, is on delivering outcomes for the Australian people. So today, of course, as I mentioned you saw the Prime Minister together with the Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer announcing the Government's response to the financial systems inquiry, for example introducing much needed additional competition into superannuation. Yesterday you saw Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, and I joined him, announcing the issue of the Environmental Impact Statement in relation to Western Sydney Airport.

Now Western Sydney today is a community of 2 million people, it'll rise to 3 million over the next- certainly over the life of the airport. If it were a standalone economy it would be the third largest urban economy in Australia. And of course the decision to build a second Sydney airport has been deferred by government after government. The Abbott Government took a commitment to proceed; the Turnbull Government is enthusiastically pursuing that. And this was an important milestone yesterday, the release of the Environmental Impact Statement which is now open for public comment until 18 December together with the draft airport plan. That sets out our plans to have the airport commence operation in 2025 with a single 3700 metre runway capable of taking the largest aircraft including the A380s, expected to rise to passenger numbers of about 10 million by 2030, and by 2060 …

Kristina Keneally: Can I interject there though, Paul Fletcher? Because the head of the Tourism Transport Forum Margy Osmond has said that your decision to build the airport without a rail line operating is tantamount to creating a hitch-hiker's airport, those are her words. Leaving it to a decade after the airport opens ignores the fact there will be significant employment grounds at the airport. And now both Prime Minister Turnbull and others have argued in the past that there needs to be a rail line operating to support the second Sydney airport. Is it really feasible to open one without a rail line?

Paul Fletcher: Look, I don't think there's any contention that the second Sydney airport, the Western Sydney Airport, as it grows in size needs to have a rail link. What we are planning for therefore is to have the airport configured so that rail can be added at the optimal time. We're planning to have it built with tunnels, a rail corridor including tunnels pre-built together with what's called the station box, which is an excavation for the place where the station will go. And that then means that when it comes to be the optimum time to connect the airport to the Sydney Metropolitan Rail Network that can be done in the most efficient fashion. And …

Kristina Keneally: So the optimum time is not when the airport opens?

Paul Fletcher: Well just to make the point, when the airport opens it'll be more than adequately served from a ground transport perspective by the road connections. There's $3.6 billion right now going into a package of roads—the upgraded Northern Road, Narellan Road, Bringelly Road. There will be a motorway running from …

Kristina Keneally: Yeah, I think those upgrades started under the previous Labor Government. I mean, quite seriously the road …

Paul Fletcher: No, that's not right. And the previous Labor Government failed to take …

Kristina Keneally: Well I've talked a lot about Narellan Road and Bringelly Road in my time.

Paul Fletcher: The previous Labor Government failed to take the decision to proceed with…

Kristina Keneally: Sorry, I meant the previous Labor Government in New South Wales.

Paul Fletcher: … Western Sydney Airport, a decision that it took the Liberal National Coalition Government, the Abbott Government and enthusiastically continued by the Turnbull Government, to take …

Kristina Keneally: You misunderstand me Minister. I'm referring to the road upgrades. And I only make the point that the Transport Minister in New South Wales Andrew Constance says there needs to be a rail line, the Prime Minister has previously said there needs to be a rail line. There seems to be no agreement yet who is going to pay for it and at what point it is the optimum time to have a rail line operating.

Paul Fletcher: And look, there is no contention about the desirability of rail. It's simply a practical question of what is the optimum time to do it. And as I've said, building into the plan for Western Sydney Airport we will have the rail corridors, we'll have tunnels, we'll have the station box so that the connection can be made in the most efficient way possible. Can I make the point that by 2030 the airport is expected to have about 10 million passengers a year and that will rise steadily over a number of years. And certainly, as the number of passengers rises you'll get to a point where it absolutely becomes optimum to have a rail connection. So it's certainly being built into the planning, but from day one- as at day one there will be more than adequate ground transport capacity from the roads that are being built.

Peter Van Onselen: So why not just do it straight away?

Paul Fletcher: Well, Peter, the fundamental issue is cost, and also the traffic levels on the railway. So you need to do it at a time when you're going to get sufficient traffic on the railway …

Peter Van Onselen: Yeah but presumably this takes a long time to build, so just get on with the build and then by the time it's operational, these things always take longer than we're told by governments, that's been my experience, so if you get on with it you might get it done in twice the time that's originally committed and then it'll be running before it becomes sub-optimal, as opposed to just aiming for when it's optimal.

Paul Fletcher: A couple of points there. Firstly, the airport is scheduled to open in 2025, so there's a long rigorous planning process and construction process underway. So by early 2020s there'll be about 3000 people working on the site generating employment for Western Sydney. By about 2030 we expect there'll be some 9000 people—a very significant employment generator. But then the key point- one of the key points about infrastructure, and this is a point that Infrastructure Australia makes, one of the key points is project selection and that includes the right time to build a project. The capital cost of rail is substantial so we need to make sure we're building it at the right time. Can I say, obviously we are in discussions …

Peter Van Onselen: But it's low interest rates. It's record low interests rates if there's any borrowing involved. But can I just ask this, though, Paul Fletcher as a quick follow up to that, in terms of getting this done is there a timeframe at which it has to be done by before in your view it becomes sub-optimal?

Paul Fletcher: When would you want to see rail connected? Well I think you will want to see it at a time when there is sufficient passenger numbers, and of course other traffic drivers around the airport. Because, as I think Kristina made the point, we obviously expect that there will be businesses and other activity that will build up around the airport. Indeed that's a specific intention and objective of building the airport, to generate employment and economic activity in Western Sydney. So I don't think there's any contention that there will be a railway at some point. It'll be at the appropriate time. But the plans at the moment are to open with very extensive road connections, ground transport connections, having planned for and provisioned for rail, including reserving the rail corridors, constructing the tunnels and the station box as part of the airport construction, and of course we will be working with the New South Wales Government about the appropriate planning and integration to then connect it into the New South Wales or the Sydney Metropolitan Rail Network at the appropriate time.

Peter Van Onselen: We're right out of time, but very quickly, so it's not a case of build it and they will come. Let them come and then hopefully get it built in time.

Paul Fletcher: Look, it's a question on this issue as on every issue of infrastructure policy under the Turnbull Government of using funds wisely to get the maximum benefits for Australians, for Sydney siders, and that includes the right time to build projects.

Kristina Keneally: Paul Fletcher, you've got to get to Question Time and we've got to get to an ad break. So thank you for joining us on To the Point.

Peter Van Onselen: Thanks so much.