Press Conference, Blaxland

Interview

PFI020/2016

06 May 2016

Topics: Western Sydney Airport; ruling out a single point merge over Blaxland

Paul Fletcher: I'm very pleased to be here in Blaxland at the beautiful home of Matt Birt—thank you Matt for your hospitality. And I'm here with my colleagues, Angus Taylor, the Member for Hume, Fiona Scott, the Member for Lindsay, and Louise Markus, the Member for Macquarie, and we're here to make an important announcement in relation to Western Sydney Airport. Western Sydney is an economic game-changer. It's going to deliver some 9000 jobs by 2030, direct jobs at the airport, 60,000 jobs by 2060. It's going to attract new business and new employment to the Western Sydney area and to the Blue Mountains, and for a whole range of industries it means new opportunities, new growth, new jobs. Just think about tourism for example here in the Blue Mountains when there's a conveniently located local airport, so that people can fly in both domestically and internationally, land at Western Sydney Airport and get to the Blue Mountains to see some of the iconic sights of this world-renowned tourist area.

So Western Sydney Airport is enormously important. Economically it's a vital piece of infrastructure, due to open in the mid-20s. It took a Coalition Government to take the decision to proceed with Western Sydney Airport after the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government dithered for six years. The Coalition Government has made the decision to proceed with Western Sydney Airport, and we're now working through all of the issues involved with that.

Now of course, it is very important that Western Sydney Airport operates in a way which meets community expectations and properly responds to community concerns about issues like the environmental impact, noise and so on, and that's why there's been a very thorough environmental impact statement process, with a draft EIS issued last year. Some 5000 pieces of feedback received, which we're now working through, and there'll be a final environmental impact statement later this year.

Today we're making a very significant announcement about the way that Western Sydney Airport will operate. There will be no single merge-point over Blaxland. In the draft environment impact statement there was a map, and modelling, which suggested that the way that the flight paths might operate is to have them all converge over Blaxland in the Blue Mountains, before then proceeding to the airport. The Turnbull Government has listened to the very clear feedback from the Blue Mountains community, and from people around Western Sydney Airport, and that feedback has been not to have a single merge-point, and we've accepted that feedback.

So the direction that has been given by the Turnbull Government is there will be no single merge-point over Blaxland. Instead, the flight path planning, which is a very detailed process, which will go on for some time, the flight path planning will be carried out according to the principle of no single merge-point over Blaxland, instead with the flight paths to be spread evenly so as to share the impact and minimise the impact on any one community.

Can I particularly acknowledge the advocacy of Louise Markus, the Member for Macquarie, who has been a great champion for her communities, including her Blue Mountains communities, about securing the economic benefits of Western Sydney Airport, but at the same time making sure that there is appropriate noise mitigation strategies in place, appropriate management of environmental impact. And of course, Angus Taylor, as the Member for Hume, the electorate which will in fact have the airport included in it, has similarly been a very strong advocate for his community, as has Fiona Scott, the Member for Lindsay.

Can I first, perhaps, ask Matt Birt, our host, to make a couple of comments on his perspectives on Western Sydney Airport, speaking as a local resident, as a dad, as a businessman. Then I'll ask each of my colleagues to make some comments, and then we'll be happy to take questions. Matt?

Question: How long have you lived in this area, Matt?

Matt Birt: About the last six years directly, previously in the Penrith area and the city. Sydney's needed an airport, a second airport for a long time. Finally- we see progress that there's going to be an airport being built here. For me as a businessman, as a dad, travelling both for business reasons and personal reasons—much better access. The infrastructure and the investment in Western Sydney because of the airport is fantastic, and things we would not have seen if the airport hadn't have been getting the go-ahead. But from the Blue Mountains side of things, obviously as a resident concerned about how that does affect us from flight paths, from that environmental impact side of things, and to see that the Government is listening, that they are looking to make changes and are prepared to make changes with the input from local residents is fantastic.

So I'm all for the airport, and the less that it affects residents up here and is a positive instead of a negative for local residents is fantastic. So the quicker we move forward is only a benefit for myself, and I think in the local community and Greater Western Sydney and Sydney overall.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks Matt. So we might now ask Louise Markus to make some comments as the Member for Macquarie.

Louise Markus: Yeah look, thank you Paul and my colleagues, and particularly Matt, thank you for hosting us in your backyard. I think it's appropriate that here in this location we announce today that the people and the residents of the Blue Mountains and Western Sydney are being listened to by the Turnbull-Coalition Government, and I thank the Minister for his announcement today because the residents of the Blue Mountains, and particularly the residents of Blaxland, can be assured that that merge-point is off the table, and that we will continue to work to ensure that we get the best outcome both in terms of jobs and economic growth, but also in terms of the environment and the impact on the community. We want the best outcome across the board, both for our community, for the broader region, and most importantly for the future generations that are going to benefit from the infrastructure and the jobs that will be created and added to our region.

Question: Louise, sorry I know you want to go through, but I'd like to ask Louise some questions right now if that's okay. Louise, you obviously have taken a lot of feedback from the community. What have they been saying up to this point about what they're concerned about, not just noise but environmental impacts?

Louise Markus: There's a number of issues that residents of the Blue Mountains have been concerned about. We live in an- or we are a city that is part of a greater World Heritage area, and they want to see minimum or no impact on that World Heritage listing, and I've advocated very strongly for that, not only to the Cabinet members, but also directly to the Minister for the Environment.

Question: Because it really would change the landscape, the soundscape, wouldn't it, over the beautiful, serene, quiet Blue Mountains?

Louise Markus: I believe that we can get the best outcome. I believe we can get jobs and growth, as well as a safe, environmentally sensitive and also community-minded airport.

Paul Fletcher: Can we just perhaps go to Fiona Scott next, and then to Angus, and then we'll be all happy to answer further questions.

Fiona Scott: Thank you Paul. Look, on behalf of the people of Lindsay—of course Lindsay is directly north of the airport site, and so the noise mitigation that's fairly dispersed right over Western Sydney is very crucial to all people living in Western Sydney. I think one of the exciting things that the airport has brought to the people of Western Sydney is the opportunity for us to reimagine what our region can become: the catalyst of growth and infrastructure that is really coming into this region.

Jobs and growth has been the underlying message of this Budget, and when we look at the transformation of our economy we don't really see a better example anywhere in the country than what's happening in Western Sydney. The unemployment rates of Penrith as a region has dropped to 4.37 per cent; that's less than the Sydney, New South Wales and national averages. That's great news, and a lot of that news comes from the investment that we're seeing in new housing estates, roads like the Northern Road—$1.6 billion going to upgrade that one road. This airport is going to be a catalyst for those jobs and those smart jobs for the future.

When I look at my electorate, when I was young, 70 per cent of people lived and worked locally. Now 70 per cent of people that live in the Greater Western Sydney region, in particular Penrith, they have to commute every single day for a job. Matt, we were talking to you today. I mean, his business is a good 40–50 minutes away easily by travel, by car, to be able to run his business. That's not really acceptable anymore. I think the future of our region and the future of people that live in this part of the world is that we demand to have jobs where we live, and to live close to where we work and have our kids and school all in the same vicinity. That is the opportunity that this airport brings; that is what is exciting to the people of Western Sydney. This is an airport for us; this is infrastructure for our regions.

When it comes to noise mitigation and all of those things, yes there are challenges there, but this is a Government that is listening. This is a Government that's guaranteed to listen to our community and ensure that there is a fair outcome for everybody. It's fairly dispersed across Western Sydney, just as the economic benefits will be.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks Fiona, and let's go to Angus.

Angus Taylor: Well thank you, I strongly welcome this announcement today, both as the Member for Hume and as the Assistant Minister for Cities. Hume is one of the electorates that will include part of the airport and of course the flight path. The people of Western Sydney understand and want more local jobs and less congestion on the way to work. This is something I hear every day—people want shorter distances between their home and their work and Badgerys Creek, the airport here in Western Sydney is an extraordinary opportunity for us to create more jobs and less congestion in people's everyday commutes. We are already seeing the benefits of that and I think we'll continue to see significant benefits in the coming years as we see more and more local jobs and better local infrastructure.

The announcement today is important because it minimises the impacts on any one community in this region. And I'll draw a contrast here with the highly intrusive flight paths being proposed by the Labor Opposition. This is good news for Western Sydney, it's good news for the people of Hume and most of all it will set us up for a second major job centre in Western Sydney which will set us up for many decades to come. Thank you.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks Angus and Louise, Fiona and Matt. We've got time for a couple of questions.

Question: I'm not sure if you saw this morning; there were quite a few protesters who were unhappy about the fact that they weren't able to be kept in the loop so to speak. Their main concern is they think it won't be okay. They think it is unsafe and they don't want an airport full stop. What do you say to that?

Paul Fletcher: The Turnbull Government is very strongly committed to Western Sydney Airport because of the benefits it will bring to Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, to Sydney more broadly and to the nation, to have a second airport serving Sydney and the Sydney metropolitan areas, important for the entire nation. At the same time of course we understand the great importance of making sure that the way the airport operates has the least possible adverse impact in terms of noise, environmental impact and so on, on Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains. That's why we are working through such a careful and thorough process with a draft environmental impact statement last year. We're now assessing that, a lot of detail planning works, some 5000 responses which need to be worked through and of course Western Sydney and Blue Mountains MPs like Fiona Scott, Louise Markus, Angus Taylor, Russell Matheson who's not with us today but he's also very strong on this issue, are very strong advocates for their community and they're strong advocates for not only the economic benefits that an airport can bring but making sure that aircraft operations and the way the airports were designed and the way the airport will operate is done in a way which best manages and litigates impacts such as noise and other environmental issues.

Question: What other, if there's no one merge point now across Blaxland and that's going to be spread out and shared, what other—I know you're early in your studies and planning but are there other suburbs, other areas that are going to be impacted by noise that weren't going to previously?

Paul Fletcher: Well perhaps just to explain the way the whole planning process works, so the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, working very closely with Air Services Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and subject matter experts, outside consultants is dealing with a whole range of issues in relation to the airport including the careful and comprehensive development of flight plans. Now that's an area of great technical complexity and there's a lot of factors to balance up. One of the factors of course, is safety. Safe operations must be maintained at all times. Another factor of course is minimising the noise and other impact in relation to Western Sydney Airport.

So, what we've done today is announced a clear principle that must be followed by the experts in developing the flight paths that will form part of the airport's operating plan, and that key principle is there will not be a single merge point over Blaxland and the flight paths must be designed in a way which most fairly spreads the impact and there's no technical reason that can't be done. We've now laid down that principle and of course, the final environmental impact statement, when it's lodged in the second half of this year, will lay out a detailed step by step plan through which the flight paths will be developed and finalised. But they must be and they will be developed in accordance with that principle we've now articulated.

Question: Is there any particular reason why you were trying to or you wanted to avoid those community members this morning who were voicing their concerns quite loudly?

Paul Fletcher: Look, we're obviously on a fairly tight timetable this morning but can I say members of the Blue Mountains community who want to express a view about the airport, positive, negative, or a view as we have heard for example from Matt Birt this morning which says there are clear benefits to this airport but there are things that, as a Blue Mountains resident, I am concerned about and need to be satisfied about, there are extensive processes to capture those views. Of course Louise Markus and her office are always available to receive the community's views and pass them on and can I assure you, Louise is a very strong advocate and she stands up for her community and gets those messages through to her colleagues in the Turnbull Government.

In addition, of course, the environmental impact statement process has been a very thorough and comprehensive way of capturing the views of the community and so, it's very important that we do capture community feedback, we work hard to do it and will continue to do that.

Question: Do you think the majority are in favour of the airport?

Paul Fletcher: The Western Sydney Airport is obviously a very significant development for Western Sydney and for the Blue Mountains and indeed the broader metropolitan area. Surveys to date do show support, strong support, for Western Sydney Airport but of course people, quite rightly have a range of issues they want to be satisfied about. So, the Turnbull Government does not take for granted and does not proceed on the basis of well, here's a particular survey report so it's pens down, no more work to do. On the contrary, this is a very detailed, very complex set of issues, we must gather and work through community feedback. That's what we're doing very carefully now and of course that's what we'll continue to do. Alright, thanks very much everybody. Thank you.