Step one in the process of getting a second airport for Sydney was taken this morning when Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese repudiated the Macquarie Bank’s claim that the existing airport, which it controls, can cope with future growth.

Step two is going to be the big one, when the Minister either reconnects with his long time advocacy of building that airport at Badgerys Creek – which he vigorously supported while in opposition — or pursues an alternative side within the Sydney basin. No major alternative to Badgerys Creek exists, short of re-engineering the southern shores of Botany Bay.

Albanese “demanded” that Sydney have a second major airport in radio interviews this morning in advance of his release of a green paper on future aviation policy at the National Press Club this afternoon.

The catch is that he has, in government, ruled out the site at Badgerys Creek, which is close to the M7 toll road that would make it attractive to a large part of the metropolitan area. That basically leaves the straightforward Sydney basin options as tinkering with Bankstown or the RAAF base at Richmond, or endorsing Martin Ferguson’s enthusiasm for thinking outside the basin.

When Ferguson was Opposition Aviation Spokesperson, he pursued plans for an airport at Goulburn, Sutton Forest, Newcastle or some other location two to three hours drive away from much of gridlocked Sydney. Albanese is unlucky. He is the minister responsible for both aviation and infrastructure, two areas of unbroken public policy and planning failure in Sydney for the past 75 years, at a time when doing nothing is no longer an option.

Sydney is an infrastructure calamity that is choking on itself. Remote city airports have never succeeded anywhere in the history of air transport. A second Sydney Airport at Goulburn is in fact a Goulburn airport and completely useless for Sydney travellers.

But Albanese has at least advanced the airport debacle to the stage where the government is acknowledging that it needs something it can’t have (without a massive act of political bravery), as distinct from pretending that the existing airport can cope. He has thrown a shadow over the monopoly position enjoyed by the Macquarie lead ownership structure at Sydney Airport, whether he meant to or not.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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