ABC Radio Sydney Mornings with Wendy Harmer

Interview

PFI007/2017

02 May 2017

Topics: The Turnbull Government's plan to deliver Western Sydney Airport and Sydney Airport Corporation's decision to refuse the notice of intention to build and operate the Badgerys Creek project

Wendy Harmer: And Paul Fletcher joins us. He's the Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure. Good morning, Minister.

Paul Fletcher: Good morning Wendy. Good to be with you.

Wendy Harmer: Thank you. Can you outline for us what has happened here?

Paul Fletcher: Yes. Well what we've seen is the next milestone in the Turnbull Government's plan to deliver Western Sydney Airport. So in 2014 the Coalition Government took the decision to proceed with Western Sydney Airport after it had been left in the too-hard basket by governments for many decades. We issued a draft impact statement and a final environmental impact statement last year. An airport plan was issued last year, getting the planning approval to build the airport. We then issued what was called the notice of intention to Sydney Airport Corporation under their right of first refusal. That was done just before Christmas. They've had four months to consider that and today what they've announced is that they'll be declining the notice of intention. So Sydney Airport Corporation, the owners of Kingsford Smith, will not be building Western Sydney Airport and the Government has announced that we will be building Western Sydney Airport, and we will have more details about the terms of that in the budget next week. The Treasurer will provide the details next week. This is a very important milestone. We've been planning for this contingency and we've got a clear plan to move forward.

Wendy Harmer: Well I've already heard from some protest groups saying that perhaps this means that the airport won't go ahead.

Paul Fletcher: Absolutely not. Western Sydney Airport will be operational by 2026. We've committed that the initial earthmoving works will commence by the end of 2018. So this is very much part of the process towards delivering Western Sydney Airport, a very strong commitment from the Turnbull Government. This is going to deliver jobs for Western Sydney, some 9000 jobs by the early 2030s, deliver better access to air travel. Some two million people will be closer to Western Sydney Airport than Kingsford Smith, providing additional aviation capacity that Sydney and the nation needs—the joint study on aviation needs for Sydney in 2012 found that Kingsford Smith Airport would run out of spots by 2027 and out of capacity by the mid to late 2030s. So it is very important that Western Sydney Airport gets built and we've got a clear plan to do it. This is an important milestone and the Treasurer will have more to say about the details of the terms in the budget next week.

Wendy Harmer: And New South Wales Minister Stuart Ayres says that this airport to be viable will have to run 24-hours, that it shouldn't have a curfew. Do you concur?

Paul Fletcher: Well Western Sydney Airport has consistently been planned on the basis that it will operate without a curfew. Now we announced during the 2016 campaign a commitment that aircraft would take off and land from the south-west in the evening hours where safe to do so. The south-west is lightly populated, reflecting planning restrictions that have been in place for 30 years or more, and that is important. But Western Sydney Airport is going to deliver significant benefits to the people of Western Sydney; two million people will be closer to the airport than the Kingsford Smith. There's an additional one million people coming into Western Sydney over the next 20 years and this is part of the Turnbull Government's plan working with the Berejiklian government to deliver the infrastructure that Western Sydney needs and of course the jobs and economic opportunities.

Wendy Harmer: This is pretty much a bipartisan approach isn't it? You're pretty much on a unity ticket here aren't you? Because Federal Labor's transport spokesman Anthony Albanese also supports the building of the airport.

Paul Fletcher: Look, I have noticed those comments from Mr Albanese and I certainly welcome that. This is an important milestone today and it means that the Turnbull Government is making it clear that we're now in the position that Sydney Airport Corporation has announced that it will not be exercising its right of first refusal. We have now made it clear the Government will be building Western Sydney Airport and the Treasurer will have more to say about the details of that in the Budget.

Wendy Harmer: [Talks over] How much is it going to cost to build?

Paul Fletcher: Well again the Treasurer will have more to say about those details next week.

Wendy Harmer: It's estimated to be about six billion. Is that about right?

Paul Fletcher: Look, certainly that's the order of magnitude of the estimates that are in the public domain. But the Treasurer will have more to say. What I would say is we've got a clear plan on this. We've been planning for this contingency for months and the Treasurer will have more to say in the budget next week.

Wendy Harmer: And how long do you expect that a federal government would be able to own this airport? I mean at what point somewhere down the track do you think it would have to be sold to a commercial interest?

Paul Fletcher: Look I think that is something that's likely to happen down the track. Of course major airports around Australia are in private hands and that has benefits. For example Brisbane Airport right now is expanding significantly, building a new runway at the cost of 1.35 billion. It will become sensible for that to happen. But the first thing to do is to get the airport built. We've got a clear plan to do that, to have it operational by 2026 and have initial earthmoving works commencing by 2018.

Wendy Harmer: And you would expect it to be profitable, so why did Sydney Airport knock it back?

Paul Fletcher: If you have a look at what Sydney Airport had to say, they said that the terms of the Western Sydney Airport Notice of Intention—so that's effectively the terms that the Commonwealth put to Sydney Airport Corporation do—do not meet its investment criteria. Now of course government can take a longer timeframe and perspective than a privately owned business can, so that's a decision Sydney Airport Corporation has made. We respect that decision. They've engaged very constructively in the consultation process but at the same time we've been planning for many months for both contingencies, Sydney Airport accepting or Sydney Airport rejecting. We've got a clear plan. We're ready to go and the Treasurer will announce more details in the budget next week.

Wendy Harmer: So you're not actually disappointed that it's been handballed to you?

Paul Fletcher: This is absolutely an outcome that we have been planning for. If Sydney Airport of course had taken up its rights we would have absolutely honoured that, but we've certainly been planning for this. We're ready to go and the Treasurer will announce all the details next week.

Wendy Harmer: And what about the transport links? There is some criticism here that the airport is going ahead before the proper transport links have been put in place or investigated. How do you answer that one?

Paul Fletcher: Well it's very important to have high quality ground transport connectivity. The $3.6 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan will see a new M12 built from the airport to the M7 to connect into the Sydney motorway network. The Northern Road that runs along the west of the airport site will be upgraded to four lanes all the way. Bringelly Road will be upgraded. Of course we also have the joint rail scoping study being done by the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments that's looking at the question of what the right rail route to the airport is, when should it be built, how much will it cost and how should it be funded? Now that scoping study's expected to report to the two governments by the middle of this year. A discussion paper late last year laid out the range of possible routes and we've had some very good community feedback. But once that scoping study reports then the two governments will have more to say about this.

Wendy Harmer: [Over talks] And you would feel confident that by the time that the airport is up and running in 2026 that those relevant transport links would be in place?

Paul Fletcher: Absolutely in terms of the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, the M12, the upgraded Northern Road and certainly in terms of rail. What the Prime Minister said last year is that the challenge he set for the scoping study is could rail be built by the time the airport opens or if not how soon afterwards.

Wendy Harmer: Alright, well we thank you very much for joining us this morning, Minister.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks indeed Wendy, I appreciate it.

Wendy Harmer: I appreciate it. Thank you, Paul Fletcher there. Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure. Well how does that all sound to you?