Somewhere in the new broom administration of New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell, the economic consequences of the weekend announcement by Victoria’s peak business body of its enthusiasm for a third Melbourne airport is probably under acute analysis.

The push by the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) is framed in terms of eclipsing Sydney as the economic capital of Australia, well, at least of the eastern half of the continent.

O’Farrell, in football terms, is the Premier who grabbed the hospital pass in winning the last NSW election.

So many essential projects have been neglected or bungled in Sydney infrastructure that at precisely the moment its national economic contribution is failing, it needs impossibly large amounts of money, mostly from non-NSW taxpayers, to build the new motorways, underground railways, and a second Sydney basin airport, that most of its ageing, entitled and anti-development voters don’t want.

These undelivered projects have been hostage for decades to a handful of marginal federal and state seats where resistance to a second Sydney Airport is considered a prerequisite for electoral victory, in communities that have never made a connection between mortgage and commuter misery with a lack of heavy duty economic activity.

Instead, the ground rules in Sydney require policies intended to replicate rural serenity and a mindset that espouses infrastructure welfare.

Sydney is thus the ultimate in toxic infrastructure environments, and it can be argued that the far more new-wealth-friendly business and economic establishments of Victoria and Queensland know this, and can smell blood.

The biggest if not easiest source of economic expansion that those states can access is from those activities that NSW drives away by relegating to the political and funding too-hard baskets the fundamental essentials of a new second airport in the Sydney basin, as well as cost-efficient road, rail and maritime expansions.

The rot extends to the top in that Sydney’s business leaders, and the tourism lobby, perpetuate the politically correct but economically nonsensical propositions that ended Sydney having a working harbour, and frustrated the building of a convenient second airport.

The contortions NSW business leaders go to in avoiding publicly recognising the obvious longer-term and interlinked consequences of less development, less generation of public revenues, and infrastructure gridlock might suit their immediate access to those dispensing power in a short-term political cycle, but the value of major assets they represent, such as CBD real estate, including the Bananaroo plan, will inevitably be eroded by the defection of new and existing major generators of economic activity to Mega-Melbourne, and its natural enemy, Mega-BrisVegas.

Add to the mix an ethically corrupt misuse of financial engineering to drain away most of the tolls imposed on private public transport partnerships into fees rather than capital repayments, and their pricing at levels rarely seen in the US, Europe or the UK and the task of retaining NSW economic primacy seems too high to pay in anything like a reasonable period of time.

Sydney needs 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, and of course, an new airport that isn’t halfway to Victoria or Queensland away.

It is all very, very hard, and deliberately so.  And comparatively speaking, it is so very, very easy in Melbourne.

Peter Fray

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