Press conference

Interview

PFI024/2016

15 September 2016

Topics: Western Sydney Airport planning progress, Pauline Hanson, superannuation.

Paul Fletcher: I'm very pleased to announce the achievement of a key milestone towards the delivery of Western Sydney Airport in the mid-2020s, and that is the release today of the final environmental impact statement in relation to Western Sydney Airport. This follows last year's draft environmental impact statement and some 5000 submissions received through the community consultation process. And in response to those submissions, there are some important policy elements which have been added to the final environmental impact statement and which differ from the draft environmental impact statement.

Firstly, the Turnbull Government has made a decision that there will be no single merge point over the town of Blaxland. Secondly, the environmental impact statement commits that there will be no single merge point over any residential area. And thirdly, the environmental impact statement lays out that in the evening between the hours of 11pm and 6am, the preferred mode of operation for Western Sydney Airport will be what's called head to head operations, to the south-west of the airport, the much more lightly populated area, whenever it is safe to do so. To explain that for a moment, what head to head operations means is that aircraft will both land from and take off to the south-west of the airport. The reason being that the south-west is a lightly populated area which reflects the fact that since the land at Badgerys Creek was first acquired there have been restrictions on development in recognition of the fact that the land was set aside for an airport.

Now the head to head operations operating mode was set out in the draft environmental impact statement and in the final environmental impact statement; we are indicating this is the preferred mode. There is more work to do but what we believe, based upon the work done to date, is that it will be safe to operate in this mode more than 80 per cent of the time. That's to say more than 80 per cent of the time it will be safe for aircraft to land from and take off to the south-west. And that's very important as part of the principle of seeking to best mitigate the impact of aircraft noise and to share that burden around as fairly as possible.

So this is a very, very important milestone when it comes to the delivery of Western Sydney Airport, and it's one of a number of strands of activity that the Turnbull Government has underway. We are also well advanced on developing what's called the notice of intention which needs to be provided to Sydney Airport or Southern Cross Airport's corporation, a subsidiary of Sydney Airport under their right of first refusal. And so we are well advanced in developing that notice of intention.

We are working with the New South Wales Government in relation to the scoping study on rail connections. What we've said is this scoping study will look at what the right route should be for a rail connection, when should it be built, how much will it cost and how should that be funded. The next step there is that there will be in coming weeks the release of a discussion paper laying out some potential indicative route corridors and seeking comment from interested parties.

Western Sydney Airport will have a very significant impact on Western Sydney and on Sydney. It will be a major driver of jobs, some 15,000 jobs during the construction process. During its operation it will produce many, many jobs. By the early 2030s, there will be some 9000 jobs at the airport. But even more important than the jobs directly generated will be the jobs with the companies that are attracted to locate in the area around the airport, companies and businesses like tourism, accommodation, warehousing, logistics, just-in-time manufacturing. The export of perishables, things like vegetables, fruit and vegetables, fresh fruit. These are all the kinds of businesses that around the world have been attracted to locate near airports, and we are working with the Baird Government in New South Wales on issues such as the land planning so that we get the maximum economic benefit from this airport.

Of course it's also going to be the most convenient airport for some two million people. It'll be a more convenient location for them than Kingsford Smith, and that'll have significant benefits for a range of reasons. It'll also benefit inbound tourism into the Blue Mountains and other areas close to the airport.

So today is a very significant milestone. The environmental impact statement will now be considered by Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg and it's now over to him to consider that, and in due course to make a decision as to whether to approve it and what conditions he may choose to impose. Any questions?

Question: Is this going to be enough to allay those concerns from Blue Mountains residents about the level of noise pollution?

Paul Fletcher: Well I think what the environmental impact statement demonstrates is that we've made a number of decisions that are designed to respond to perfectly understandable concerns from the community about the impacts of the airport, and that's why we've taken the decisions to say that there will not be a single merge point over the town of Blaxland in the Blue Mountains, which understandably caused some concern. There will not be a single merge point over any single residential community, and also the announcement that we're making about head to head operations to the south-west being the preferred mode of operation in the evening where safe to do so I think demonstrates some significant developments in the approach the Government is taking here, and very much responding to concerns which have been expressed by community leaders.

Question: I think in the draft EIS there were some concerns from residents that it was going to be about 70 decibels, the noise level. Has that—does single merge point decision, does that reduce that?

Paul Fletcher: The noise impacts obviously depend upon where you are located. There's very extensive noise modelling work as part of the environmental impact statement, extensive diagrams, there's also been an online tool for people to check what the noise impacts might be. I want to make the point about flight path planning, because there's a clear link between where the aircraft flies and what the noise impact would be on you at your home. The point I'd make is that we now go through a detailed process to develop the final flight paths. What's in the draft and the final EIS are indicative, indicative only, and indeed we've already made some key decisions such as the decision that there will not be a single merge point over Blaxland, which… which supersede I guess that indicative modelling.

The final flight path modelling and development process will be a lengthy process. It necessarily takes a number of years, it involves the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, it involves Air Services Australia, it involves the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and it involves lengthy—a significant period for community consultation as well.

So all of these issues come together; what can be said I think is that one of the features of Badgerys Creek as a location is because it's been set aside as a potential airport site since the mid-1980s, residential development has been restricted since that time, and in particular, the decision that we're announcing in terms of the preferred mode of operation to the south-west where safe to do so means that where aircraft operate to the south-west they're operating over a relatively lightly populated area. That's an important means of mitigation the noise impact.

Question: Can you give an iron clad guarantee that the Blue Mountains won't lose its World Heritage status because of the noise level, and also tourism that won't be impacted?

Paul Fletcher: A couple of points to make there. The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is of course an enormously important area for Australia and for the world. The closest point of that World Heritage area to the airport is about seven kilometres away. The modelling that we've done says that almost all aircraft will be at least 5000 feet above the ground when they fly over the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Many will be—the majority will be 10,000 feet or more, so the impact will be very low.

When it comes to tourism, it is important to make the point, of course this is an iconic area, we want to have as many people from around Australia and around the world able to visit it and enjoy its unique characteristics. Having an airport conveniently located to the Blue Mountains will be a significant boost there, and I think we're going to see many more people able to enjoy the benefits of the Blue Mountains, including the World Heritage areas thanks to the location of the airport. And in the discussions I've been able to have over the past year with Blue Mountains tourism operators I've certainly received that feedback.

Question: Labor had a proposal that for night—there'll be a no fly zone during the night time. Is that something that is in the final reports, or is it something that you're prepared to take on board?

Paul Fletcher: Well, the Labor proposal that was announced during the election drew very heavily on what was in the draft environmental impact statement, this notion of head to head operations to the south-west. In other words, that aircraft take off to and land from the south-west, the lightly populated area to the south-west of the airport. Lightly populated because for some 30 years, residential development has been restricted around the Badgerys Creek location. So the—what I've indicated today is that the Government regards that as a preferred mode of operation, and we believe that over 80 per cent of the time it will be possible during those evening hours to operate in head to head operation mode to the south-west.

And so that basic notion of head to head operations, on which Labor's policy, as I understand it was significantly based, is also a principle that we are indicating as a preferred mode of operation.

Question: Just on other matters, do you agree with Pauline Hanson that we're being swamped by Muslims?

Paul Fletcher: Ah, I do not agree with Ms Hanson and her comments that Australia is being swamped by Muslims, I do not agree with that. I would make the point that she's a member of the Australian Senate, she's been democratically elected and she's certainly… entitled, as is any member of the Senate to express her views.

Question: On superannuation, what makes the super policy that you took to an election so different from the plebiscite? Why can't the plebiscite be changed, as you have changed the superannuation policy?

Paul Fletcher: You've just slightly lost me with the linkage between the two.

Question: Well you took the superannuation policy to an election, so it was an iron clad guarantee that it would be as it is, as you took the same policy to an election. Why can't the plebiscite, the policy for a plebiscite be changed in the same way?

Paul Fletcher: Look, I'd say two things. I'd congratulate the Treasurer Scott Morrison and the Minister for Revenue Kelly O'Dwyer on the excellent work they've done in relation to the superannuation policy that we took to the election and the additions and refinements to that that have been announced today. I think that's good policy and will be well received. In relation to the plebiscite, we took a very clear policy to the election as to the way forward on same sex marriage. It's now really a matter for the Labor Party as to whether they are going to move forward on this or not.