Victoria and Queensland can “smell blood”.

So says our aviation writer Ben Sandilands today, who points to the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s idea of a third airport for Melbourne.

The business group cites the imminent population explosion as more than enough reason to plan ahead and grab a parcel of land. But more enticingly, a third airport would mean a chance to usurp Sydney as the economic capital of Australia. After all, Sydney’s toxic infrastructure environment affords plenty of opportunities to those cities who aren’t frozen in gridlock.

Consider Sydney’s to-do list, according to Sandilands:

  • At least two new underground rail lines
  • An integration of the M4 Motorway with the city and Botany Bay, with a further integration northwards to the F3 freeway leading into the troubled Pacific Highway
  • A solution to unclogging road and rail through the northern Illawarra escarpment.
  • A new airport that isn’t halfway to Victoria or Queensland away.

And then there’s the small matter of how to fund these projects. Those electricity assets are looking juicier by the minute. In his first wide-ranging interview for the year, Premier Barry O’Farrell pledged to focus on economic management as his government’s number one priority, mulled over the idea of a light rail network, and expressed frustration that Infrastructure NSW, headed up by outspoken former NSW Premier Nick Greiner, won’t hand over its 20-year strategy until September — “the sooner they give us the strategy, the sooner we can get on with it”.

But the buck stops with Barry. Balancing the budget might make the bottom line look pretty, but NSW voters are crying out for progress. And if the government blinks on this, they’re going to well and truly miss the boat/train/plane/bus as they eat Melbourne and Brisbane’s dust.