Here’s a radical thought about keeping the budget in surplus and ending the perennial lacerations of the second Sydney Airport debate: cut Sydney loose.

Tell the entitled, chronically poorly managed city that it’s on its own. The rest of Australia doesn’t need it. Not just in terms of its airport, but its badly managed ports and hopeless rail infrastructure, and appalling record when it comes to major road building, whether in private public partnership or just as projects funded by varying amounts of state and federal monies.

Australia could save tens of billions of dollars by telling Sydney and current NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell that it will get not one dollar more than is mathematically due to it from the GST allocations and tax revenues directly reflecting its economic activity, which relative to the rest of the country is in a death spiral. Let’s pull the situation apart to its fundamentals.

Sydney, collectively, and under every state government of every political hue, believes it has an automatic right to being the gateway to the nation and the hub for most of its commerce.

But that’s over and finished. Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has been far too indulgent in claiming Sydney Airport is critical to the rest of Australian air transport, and that 40% of all domestic aircraft pass through at lest once a day — which incidentally, they don’t.

And not all those that pass through Sydney need to. The airlines could, within a few weeks, rearrange their fleet deployments to ensure that as little of their capacity as possible is exposed to the daily inefficiency of the airport, meaning that what goes wrong at Sydney will to a large degree only affect jets that do nothing but fly to and from Sydney from somewhere else, and not onwards to and from other destinations during the day.

There is no reason to put up with the miserable inefficiency of Sydney to change from an interstate to international flight, unless you are one of the diminishing fraction of people flying Qantas (even Qantas doesn’t want you to fly it any more, preferring you to change over to British Airways to get to London or switch over to Malaysia Airlines or its new premium short-haul carrier in Kuala Lumpur).

Let’s get real. If you live in Melbourne, even Qantas will fly you non-stop to LAX. You’d be barking mad to go via Sydney. And all those cruel, nasty foreign Asian carriers, apart from the ones Qantas tried to suck up to, can fly you non-stop from Melbourne to all the major hubs, where you can easily, and for less money, fly direct to cities Qantas managers couldn’t find in an atlas standing up in a phone booth. If it’s not not the mother country, Qantas isn’t interested, and if it is the mother country, it isn’t interested as much as it used to be anyhow. So come along, possums, hum I Still Call Australia Home and fly via Sydney if you must, as getting screwed doing it as part of your patriotic duty as an imbecile.

The last large public transport projects delivered in anything resembling economical efficiency in NSW were the Sydney Harbour Bridge (1932) and in the immediately preceding years, the initial station of the electric city railway.

The other day Albanese officiated at the opening of the world’s slowest, most inefficiently delivered motorway upgrade in history, at the duplication of the M5 from near Campbelltown to the M7 Junction. It took three years to go about five kilometres. First, the RTA built, make that hand-crafted with a man with a shovel and 10 supervisors, the two extra lanes, then ripped up the other two lanes. It plonked a pedestrian overpass over the freeway that took so long from the first foundations to the first graffiti upon opening that an entire generation was born and graduating from pre-school before it was finished.

The previous Labor premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally, spent so long getting her name spelled right in the newspapers in her short tenure in the post that she lost oversight of the Sydney inner-west metro line, and set a record for spending at least $500 million on a project for which not a single metre of tunnel and rail was dug or laid.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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