While Labor is united behind the wrong solution to Sydney’s need for a second airport by preferring a Wilton site, the Coalition is in disarray over conflicting solutions, including Tony Abbott’s doubting that it needs one.

Hello, Tony, it’s 2013 — we’re in the Asian century. Village Australia is long gone.

The disharmony extends to NSW’s Coalition government, with Premier Barry O’Farrell in the Abbott camp. Meanwhile, Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull differ diametrically with both leaders and argue for selling the Commonwealth-owned Badgerys Creek site (selected by Labor in 1986) to the private owners, who will develop it into a second airport ASAP.

On top of this, the debate continues to struggle with Sydney’s emerging east-west divide over the issues, which may not have been helped by the study du jour over the inadequacy of the current airport management’s grip on reality, by Commsec infrastructure analysts. Commsec, not surprisingly, found Sydney Airport would be turning away business from 2025.

But Commsec didn’t pick up on the growing east-west divide in Sydney over the issue, which has been highlighted in recent reports in the Sydney media discovering that support for Badgerys Creek is growing in western Sydney (starved of job and road and rail infrastructure). Western Sydney is experiencing the largest growth in housing in the metropolitan area and would provide the new airport with a market catchment of more than 1.5 million people, if convenient access by all modes of transport was the metric determining a choice between the western or eastern airports.

It is the pressure on rail and road links from western Sydney on current airport access which even Sydney Airport, and a recent NSW transport planning review, have identified as major causes of congestion for metropolitan commuters and air travellers at large.

The federal Coalition’s spokesperson on infrastructure and transport Warren Truss has not yet responded to requests for an interview on his Sydney Airport-friendly response to the Commsec study.

One of Truss’ problems, which he has in common with Abbott and O’Farrell, is a lack of attention to detail. His acceptance of Sydney Airport’s stance that the airport can cope with the Asian century right up to 2049 involves going along with their killing off rural flights by his own constituents, which deprives the airport of  the profits it can make off 500-seat A380s compared to 33-seat regional turboprops.

Truss is seriously conflicted by the detail behind Sydney Airport’s continual lobbying against having to meet its legislated obligations to protect rural access to Sydney airport at times that would allow day trips between the city and the bush. Not at 3am, if its other objective, of lifting the curfew restrictions, was to be achieved.

The curfew is also engraved in granite in the Howard government’s legislated rules on the sale of Sydney Airport in 2002. If Abbott or O’Farrell want to lift the curfew, or do the more sensible thing of lifting the cap on hourly movements from 80 flights to at least 120,  that exposes the state and federal Coalitions to the voter fury over jet noise along the Bennelong corridor and other flight paths that Howard promised to curb.

Not to mention Labor fury in electorates such as that held by the the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, who has always personally supported Badgerys Creek because it neatly shifts the consequences of such relaxations of the rules to a place where the political mood increasingly favours more jobs and better surface transport dividends from a new airport.

As all recent serious studies of Sydney Airport issues have confirmed, a relaxation of the jet curfew achieves little for international flights and nothing for domestic services, where many passengers are setting out on day return business flights from a city that claims to be the economic hub of Australia (however challenged by the resource sector that claim may become).

An increase in noise, er, movements, above the 80 flight an hour limit now engraved in political granite would relieve the pressure on Sydney Airport for maybe five to eight years, as international growth continues to dilute the actual share of traffic generated by domestic flights.

Such an efficiency gain at the existing airport would not do anything to solve the transport chaos caused by travel originating in the western hemisphere of greater Sydney.

Neither side of politics appears to have noticed that all of the stakeholders in the effectiveness of Sydney Airport are now calling for the Badgerys Creek site to be built. Until recently Qantas officially opposed Badgerys Creek, and the tourism lobbies fell into line behind Qantas. Now that Qantas wants Badgerys Creek built,  everybody with financial rather than political capital at risk wants it built.

There is not just a sense that it would benefit tourism and business activity, but it would also break the monopoly pricing abuse by Sydney Airport that is monitored and identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Sydney’s airport problems require more than platitudes and an obsequious acceptance of any claims that its owners may make for their own short-term objectives. They don’t fit into slogans or bumper stickers, which politically may be incredibly inconvenient for the current state of Australian political discourse.

But they are problems that require immediate action.

Peter Fray

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