The latest episode in the second Sydney Airport saga — the one that flared on Good Friday and has been blazing away ever since — has taken a turn for the worse for NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s credibility today after his misquoting of noise figures and claiming incorrectly to have campaigned before the state election in 20i1 not to build an additional airport anywhere in the Sydney basin.
However, there are also problems arising for federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese over his preference for an airport at Wilton rather than the Commonwealth-owned Badgerys Creek site.
Most of the damage today was inflicted by The Australian Financial Review, which took up O’Farrell’s claim that noise from a Badgerys Creek airport would affect 1.6 million people a day, and found that in the latest report into this site and others, which was co-sponsored by NSW and the Gillard governments, the actual figure was 52,400 people, and that only if that was multiplied by the number of times they might hear jet noise each day could a figure of more than 1.6 million be calculated.
It also took up a point already raised by other Sydney media, none of whom had any recollection of O’Farrell promising not to build a second Sydney Airport before the 2011 election that swept him to power.
So far the Premier’s office has only pointed to a transcript of an ABC interview with Quentin Dempster is which he made passing reference to the issue in answer to a question.
Coming after the Star Casino scandal, in which the resignation of his adviser Peter Grimshaw saved the Premier from further damaging allegations about his setting out to “bash” its management, O’Farrell has been left flat-footed by his off-the-cuff dismissals of a second airport, and high-profile pressure on him from airlines, coalition federal members including Joe Hockey, business leaders and Labor luminaries concerning the dire consequences for Sydney if it can’t fit in the impending boom in demand for flights from China, and the rest of Asia, in the Asian Century.
As of this morning, there has been no further response from O’Farrell over his use of the wrong figures and false claims about the campaign promises.
But all is not “on song” on the Labor side either. While Albanese waited a matter of minutes before flatly rejecting the use of the Badgerys Creek site recommended by the independent site review he had instigated, Paul Keating and Bob Carr have variously called Albanese’s preference for Wilton a bad call or urged him not to have taken Badgerys Creek off the table.
This is where it gets tricky. There is ample evidence in the Hansard archives that Albanese favours Badgery’s Creek but is sticking to the party line of No Badgerys, while saying it is worthwhile to rapidly consider and assess and secure the Wilton site.
But his office has not, as of this morning, said what the position will be if Wilton is found wanting? Will the Gillard government then endorse Badgerys Creek, or will it just tell Sydney it’s “lights out”, and that the growth and prosperity that requires adequate airline access to Sydney will now inevitably go to its economic rivals Melbourne and Brisbane.
Local intelligence is not on the side of Wilton. The site there that was declared the second preferred site for a new airport in 1986 now has new housing estates spreading across it. And the wooded areas that co-join it have remained wooded since European settlement because they are not flat, but wrinkled by rocky undulations.
Maybe those wrinkles will also swallow the Wilton option, and let the government choose the option at Badgery’s Creek that Albanese so passionately argued for while in opposition.