Sydney’s airport solution doesn’t fly

28 June 2016

Since the Coalition won office at a state election in New South Wales in 2011, numerous construction projects have begun in Sydney.  The mass of building makes the Coalition pride itself as appearing to get things moving, after years of incompetence and inertia while the Labor Party was in office before.

But nobody seems to have asked whether the Coalition is building what Sydney actually needs.  And I believe that much of the stuff being built is wrong.

Sydney doesn’t need new inner city motorways or road tunnels, and it doesn’t need a railway line with tunnels just over a foot too small for the city’s existing trains to use.  Nor does Sydney need the monstrous eyesores which are the new convention and exhibition facilities at Darling Harbour.  But the Coalition has been building them, purely for the sake of appearing to be doing something, and hardly any questions have been asked on whether Sydney actually needs them.

Another thing on course to be built, despite years of questioning about the need for it, is a new airport at Badgerys Creek on Sydney’s outer western fringe.  This proposed airport has been on drawing boards for decades.  The thought has been that Sydney’s existing airport, beside Botany Bay at Mascot, should close because of how near it is to residential areas, and that a new airport should be built elsewhere in the Sydney basin.  For longer than I can remember, politicians have sent mixed messages about whether Sydney would get another airport, whether at Badgerys Creek or some other part of the city’s outer fringes, where populations are smaller and spread out over wider areas.

Certainly during the time of John Howard, who was Prime Minister for nearly twelve years and remains highly regarded in Coalition circles long after his departure from politics, plans for an airport at Badgerys Creek were off agendas.  But after Howard left the political scene, the plans were revived.  The Labor Party has seemingly been in two minds over building an airport there, but it’d arguably like to close the airport at Mascot because it holds many seats near the airport and residents have long complained about noise from planes there, even though it’s been there longer than anyone living near it.

In my opinion, arguments surrounding this issue have yet to be resolved.  One of these is that Sydney Airport doesn’t operate to its capacity.  Whether due to noise curfews at night or other factors, many people have argued that the airport is able to handle more planes coming and going than it currently does, although I don’t support a lifting of nighttime curfews as such.  Ideally, we shouldn’t be looking at a second airport unless we know, beyond question, that the current airport is operating at its capacity, and I don’t believe that the capacity question has been answered.

Yet it seems that the proposed airport at Badgerys Creek is going ahead, purely because of politicians wanting to appear to be doing things.  The NSW Premier, Mike Baird, has been particularly active getting various construction projects started, regardless of whether Sydney really needs them or not, and with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull being of the same political colour as the popular Baird, he seems to have hitched himself to Baird’s bandwagon, possibly because of being unable or unwilling to suggest alternative ideas.

Apart from the question of whether or not Sydney Airport is operating at its capacity, I note that suggestions have been floated to build or upgrade airports well outside Sydney, with high-speed rail links, so as to take pressure off Sydney Airport.  While there’s long been opposition to the Badgerys Creek idea, other localities outside Sydney have been suggested.  Both Goulburn and Canberra have among the suggested locations, and both lie more than two hours away from Sydney by road.  And a few years ago I saw a proposal to build an airport north of Sydney at Wyong, on the Central Coast, also with a high-speed rail link.  I’d ask if people in those areas really are willing to have airports capable of supporting Sydney Airport, before we think of forcing a new airport on Badgerys Creek, where much opposition exists to it both there and in nearby areas like the Blue Mountains.

You might argue that building an airport at Badgerys Creek would create jobs in Sydney’s outer west.  But are these jobs really the right ones when questions linger over whether the airport is really necessary?  I feel the same way about the argument about jobs when it comes to the issue of mining and coal-seam gas on quality farmland – it might generate local jobs in the short term, but there’s too great a long-term cost in having some sort of accident at a mine or gas site potentially damage the land, and leave it forever unsuitable for growing food.

When looking at Badgerys Creek and various other questionable things being built, I feel that Baird looks too much like the character Jim Hacker from the television comedy YES, MINISTER.  At one point, Hacker has his traits described as “lots of activity but no actual achievement” – this could well describe Baird, who looks popular but is misguided.

And with Turnbull seemingly right behind Baird and his questionable agenda, the two of them together make me think of a line in the popular film STAR WARS, where a question comes up on who’s more foolish – “the fool or the fool who follows him”.

For the time being, the notion of Badgerys Creek as Sydney’s airport solution simply doesn’t fly – if you’ll pardon the pun.  It doesn’t make sense, unless the airport at Mascot is proven to be operating at its capacity.  Mascot must be utilised fully before we waste resources on a new airport with benefits still questionable.



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