The long anticipated NSW government approval of a housing estate just over the state line near Canberra that will cripple the national capital’s airport creates huge opportunities for new economic growth in Melbourne and Brisbane.

For those who may have been on Mars in recent years, this is because the Barry O’Farrell government in NSW sees Sydney’s 2nd airport as being Canberra airport connected by a fast rail network but has also decided to approve a housing development over the border near Queanbeyan which will prevent this ever happening.

The consequences of this decision are dire for NSW but will be welcomed in Queensland and Victoria, and because no city can prosper and grow without convenient and competitive air services, it will inevitably downgrade Sydney as a centre for the business and leisure travel and deprive it, and the state, of the economic activity that supports government revenues as well as jobs.

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As anyone who is observing current proceedings in the anti-corruption ICAC hearings in Sydney could conclude, where past Labor governments appeared to have been corrupt, the new conservative state government is stupid, and apparently clueless about, and deaf to, the needs of business and the opportunities of the Asian Century.

In truth, Canberra was never going to be Sydney’s 2nd airport anymore than either Paris airport is going to be an alternative to any London Airport, and London and Paris are connected by a frequent and fast high speed rail service.  Canberra is about 40% of the way to Melbourne or the Queensland border from Sydney Airport, even on a good day, and Premier O’Farrell’s delusional pronouncements about making it Sydney’s 2nd airport were a public embarrassment, which at least he has ended by taking steps to totally stuff up Canberra Airport.

But Canberra could have used its airport as a foundation for a hopefully well planned expansion of the city into a much larger centre for business, public administration, learning and tourism than it is today, especially for those enterprises that might find a location where Sydney was a side trip was a more viable option that being located in Sydney and suffering from its infrastructure failings, which include port, rail and highway links, and a disgracefully neglected public transport system.

O’Farrell is wrecking that ambition as well. Sydney is stuffed, and so is Canberra, unless it goes down the path of finding its own 2nd airport site, which we can safely assume, will not be in Sydney.

The current minority Federal government ought not be let off over its unintended supporting role in this dark comedy of fools. Having secured total ownership of what is the obvious site for a 2nd Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek, it insists that it should instead built somewhere near Wilton, an inferior site in terms of accessibility from Sydney, where all the good bits are now under fully or partly constructed housing estates, as well as being located in catchment zones for part of Sydney’s water supply, and located very close to and even above extensive coal mining leases which in most cases, continue to be developed.

It is often said that air services to Sydney are critical to the entire Australian economy. That 1960s mind set has been literally outflown by the rise of point-to-point air services that can connect Melbourne or Brisbane non-stop to all of northern, eastern and central Asia and most of the Americas. Perth has always been tricky for airline route planning given its remoteness from alternative airports, but its rising economic importance and new generation airliners are similarly laying siege to the legacy of second rate policy settings that have screwed up its airport potential for decades.  Perth, like Sydney, deserves better, but unlike Sydney, seems certain to get it.

In this broader context, no-one should feel sorry for Sydney, or particularly worried about its problems. It is time for the rest of the country to move on.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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