Transcript—Interview with Wendy Harmer, 702 ABC Sydney Mornings
12 December 2016
Subject: Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek
Wendy Harmer: Let's talk about the Western Sydney Airport. Earlier today I spoke to the Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure, Paul Fletcher, and this is what he had to say. Welcome to the program, Minister.
Paul Fletcher: Pleasure to be with you.
Wendy Harmer: So a brand new airport, it's something you don't get to announce every day. This has been 50 years in the making, and you happen to be the person who is around to announce it. Are you happy, are you thrilled?
Paul Fletcher: Look, it is a very significant day for Sydney, for Western Sydney and for the nation, because what we're doing today is making the Airport Plan; that's the formal instrument under the Airports Act which authorises the construction and operation of stage one of the proposed airport at Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney. So a very significant development. The Coalition announced the in principle commitment to the airport in 2014. Since then we've been working on the Environmental Impact Statement, very detailed work, and that was approved a few weeks ago. We've been developing the Airport Plan, and it is now- today it is being made. And that gives the green light for the airport to proceed.
Wendy Harmer: There's no rail link in this plan?
Paul Fletcher: Well, this plan deals with the airport itself, the 3700 metre runway, which will be big enough for aircraft up to and including the A380, a terminal which is provisioned for 10 million passengers. So that'll meet the requirements for the first stage of operation. Now in relation to ground transport, first of all, there's the $3.6 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, which is the road connectivity; the Northern Road being upgraded to four lanes and the M12, which will connect the M7 to the airport and therefore connect the airport into the Sydney freeway network. In relation to rail, the airport is rail ready. That means that there will be what's called a station box and excavation for a station to be installed and the route for rail protected across the airport land.
At the same time, the Federal and State Governments are working together on a scoping study on the rail needs of Western Sydney and Western Sydney Airport. And that's looking at what would the right route be for a rail connection, when should it be built and how much will it cost, how should that be funded? And the Prime Minister has charged that study with asking the question could rail be ready when the airport opens, or if not, then how soon afterwards?
Wendy Harmer: Right, yeah. That actually is what I was going to ask you next; I mean, whether you were hoping that they would be open simultaneously.
Paul Fletcher: Well, what is important is that we have excellent ground transport connectivity when the airport opens and we certainly will have that with the extensive $3.6 billion investment in road. We're certainly looking at rail as I've explained. And when the airport opens in the mid 2020s, it will start with some three to five million passengers a year, building up to around 10 million by the early 2030s.
Wendy Harmer: Now this is an interesting one, Minister, because according to a report in The Australian today, that's about double the projection that they have. They say that there'll be about 5.5 million passengers by 2030. How did you come to that figure of 10 million?
Paul Fletcher: Oh well, that has been developed based upon very detailed planning, very detailed examination of the trends in terms of passenger numbers coming into Sydney and Australia. So Kingsford Smith Airport is a bit over 40 million passengers a year now and growing steadily, and we are seeing growth around Australia and really globally in terms of the number of people travelling. So those projections have been pretty carefully developed. We're also of course looking at the fact that there's population growth in Western Sydney. It's about two million people now, expected to increase by a million people over the next 20 years. And for some two million people in Western Sydney, Western Sydney Airport will be closer than Kingsford Smith Airport.
Wendy Harmer: Now, a lot of people listening to this program will be saying that they think that the airport should have been built outside the Sydney Basin, for reasons of air pollution and so forth. And also, perhaps regional development. Can you tell me, in environmental terms at least, what are some of the conditions that you put on the operation of the airport?
Paul Fletcher: Well, there's some very detailed environmental conditions. So for example, there'll be a comprehensive package of up to $180 million in biodiversity offsets. There's going to be a $10 million contribution to a native seed program run by Greening Australia. There's quite detailed requirements on the airspace design, which needs to address a range of environmental factors including minimising the impact of noise on residential areas, minimising the impact on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and so on. There's a detailed series of requirements in the Airport Plan which give effect to the conditions that were imposed by Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg in approving the Environmental Impact Statement.
Wendy Harmer: So this airport overall, Badgerys Creek will be about as big as Adelaide Airport, I believe.
Paul Fletcher: That's right. So Adelaide Airport, about 10 million passengers a year, so that's the scale that stage one of the airport is being designed for. But it's also being designed to make provision for the future, so as far out as sort of 2040, 2050, is when it's expected that a second runway would be required.
Wendy Harmer: And will we be catching planes there to everywhere in the world? Will there be an emphasis on perhaps the- on perhaps Asia, or is it a fully international airport?
Paul Fletcher: Look, that's a really important question, and when we think about the early years of the airport, probably the focus is going to be on domestic travel and then likely international travel to destinations like Bali and New Zealand and so on. But the airport has been designed to be a full service international airport, particularly over the years as long distance traffic is likely to increase, and so for example the runway is long enough to support A380s and therefore the very largest passenger aircraft, and of course aircraft with a range sufficient to take them well into Asia or North America.
Wendy Harmer: And I know, Minister, that there'll be people listening this morning who will be objecting to this plan, and they don't want the airport there. Are things now at the stage where they're wasting their time in protesting?
Paul Fletcher: Well look, there will be continued detailed community consultation going on. We're establishing what we call the Forum on Western Sydney Airport, and that will have community representatives to consult on issues like the airspace design, the flight paths, and other factors. It is worth making the point that this airport has been under consideration for many years, and as a result, development in the areas around it has been constrained for many years. So we are in a position where this is a good site to use, and this was considered by a study carried out by the previous government, which looked at a range of sites around the Sydney Basin and conclude that Badgerys Creek—which is the site which has been proposed for 30 plus years—the study concluded that that remained the optimal site.
Wendy Harmer: Yeah, [laughs] I don't think there's anyone this morning who would not know that the site's been the subject of much angst over the years, and I guess this fits in with Lucy Turnbull, the Greater Sydney Commissioner, the Head Commissioner there, her idea of a string of pearls of cities, that this is the great western centre with its own airport, and have you worked closely with the State Government on this?
Paul Fletcher: Certainly we are working closely with the State Government on Western Sydney Airport and maximising its economic impact. The airport itself will create about 9000 direct jobs by the early 2030s, but what's really important is planning the area around the airport to attract the businesses and economic activity that will in turn bring additional jobs to Western Sydney. Of course, a large proportion of people in Western Sydney today need to travel long distances out of the area to other parts of Sydney for work. This will be an important way of attracting economic activity to Western Sydney and getting more jobs into Western Sydney. So airports are proven job generators around the world. That's one of the really important benefits it's going to bring.
Wendy Harmer: So we can say jobs and growth tick on this one.
Paul Fletcher: Well, the airport is important for a whole lot of reasons, but jobs, growth, economic activity absolutely, additional aviation capacity for Sydney and for the nation, more convenient travel options for people in Western Sydney; these are all important factors behind the decision the Turnbull Government is taking today to approve the Airport Plan and therefore grant the permission for the airport to proceed.
Wendy Harmer: Well, thank you very much for speaking with us this morning, Minister.
Paul Fletcher: Thanks Wendy.
Wendy Harmer: There we go. The Minister for Urban Infrastructure, Paul Fletcher, who was speaking to me earlier.