Western Sydney Airport

August 13, 2018

It's safe to say that the issue of airports is a hot one for my electorate in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, so I look at the Airports Amendment Bill 2016 in the context that it probably does little to reassure communities I represent, particularly in the Blue Mountains and those who value their night-time silence in the Hawkesbury. But I also look at it from the perspective of other airports I know quite well, including Hobart, Alice Springs and Darwin, which are keen to see appropriate commercial development around their sites. I will speak of Western Sydney Airport later.

In terms of meeting the needs of other airports, I want to talk about the additional measures Labor has indicated that we are moving with this bill. One is the monetary trigger. It's pretty reasonable to see $25 million, rather than the $35 million that the government proposed, as a trigger for a separate major development plan. It reflects CPI but also maintains the commitment that we have to have to people who live alongside an existing airport. They need to be assured that their scrutiny won't be reduced.

The other amendment—which the government has seen the merit of and, I understand, will support—is around proper consultation. At the moment, with draft major development plans, the public consultation period is 60 business days. The minister, though, can approve a shorter period of not less than 15 business days if asked in writing by the operator to do so, as long as they are satisfied that the proposed development is consistent with the approved airport master plan and that it doesn't have significant impact on the local or regional community. The government has proposed that, if the minister doesn't make a decision on the request within 15 business days, the minister be deemed to have approved that shorter period. We can't support that. It has the potential to take away the rights of local communities to have their say. I think a minister should be able to consider a request for reduced consultation within 15 business days—that's three weeks. But where that doesn't happen, rather than the request being deemed approved, it should be deemed not approved. A lack of decision should go not in favour of the airport operators but in favour of the community's right to scrutiny. Certainly Labor has increased the rights for communities when we've been in office. It was Labor that required federal airports to establish community aviation consultation groups. Before then, they just didn't exist. Whilst some airports do it better than others, it's right that they're all required to have a robust consultation process.

That brings me to the fact that, in spite of having a set of rules for existing airports, none of this will really help the residents of the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury who are concerned right now about Badgerys Creek Airport. One of the key issues is flight noise. The legislation talks about noise, and the ANEF is the official Australian measure of flight noise. More importantly, the ANEF standards suggest that, outside the ANEF 20, housing construction doesn't need to be modified due to aircraft noise. But I want to put on the record concerns about the ANEF. A former Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, Ron Brent, appointed by the Australian government in 2010 to help improve the handling of complaints around aircraft noise, to improve the information about aircraft noise and to improve the consultation about changes in air traffic that alter the impact of aircraft noise, is considered something of an expert. I've turned to his work, as I struggle to convey to people who live outside the Blue Mountains the genuine fear about the impacts of 24-hour aircraft noise, which will ultimately be the result of building an airport at the foot of the Blue Mountains.

As Mr Brent points out, the first thing to note about aircraft noise is that the experience of it—or any noise for that matter—is highly subjective. Unbearable noise for one person might not be of concern to another. He points to research in the US that has shown that, even in areas below the ANEF 20 noise rating, up to 45 per cent of residents are likely to be moderately or severely affected by aircraft noise. The other really important thing about noise from planes is that it's different to the noise created by railways or roads. It will reach a much wider area. It can't be shielded by barriers along the route, and it's not restricted to a narrow and predictable path. It doesn't fall in a straight line but spreads over an area that gets wider as the aircraft gets higher. It also gets quieter as the aircraft climbs. This means that the noise can reach more people once the aircraft is further from the airport, yet it can be many kilometres from take-off before the noise stops being intrusive for most people.

We are living that experience in the Blue Mountains right now with A380s and the newer aircraft. There's been a marked increase in the annoyance factor from planes travelling from east to west across the mountains. At the same time, people say, 'Oh, the new planes are so much quieter!' Well, they might be quieter on the ground, but the heavier planes take longer to get to their cruising height and so are now flying over the mountains at not 20,000-plus feet but as low as 13,000 feet, and they are much noisier. Many people tell me that they don't bother with an alarm clock, because the first flights out of Sydney airport in the morning head across at about 6.20 am and serve as a wake-up call. The same can be said of the last flights, crossing the mountains usually before 10.30 pm—and of course they are at those times because Sydney airport has a curfew.

Back to ANEF: the ANEF comes from a complex formula, including how loud the noise is, how frequent it is, and the distribution of the noise across the day and the night, because aircraft at night make more noise than in the day, when there are fewer competing noises. Mr Brent explains that the final average level won't tell you whether you'll get occasional loud noises, frequent quieter noise, lots of high noise or most of the noise between six and seven in the morning, when you hope to sleep in. What's more, the ANEF level will not tell you how bad things will be on the worst days. So, it's important to ensure that when evaluation is done on the Western Sydney airport's proposed flight paths it's not based on ANEF alone. N70 contours, which outline areas within which there'll be a given number of times a day that will get noise loud enough to disrupt a reasonable conversation— something that will drown out conversation around the barbecue, which is around 70 decibels—must be included, as well as maximum and minimum daily forecasts.

But of course we're not going to see these things for the Blue Mountains or the Hawkesbury for years. There is an airport under construction, yet there are no flight paths. The community is not going to be given this information about a 24-hour airport. Heathrow Airport has certainly realised that as flight volumes grow and more communities are more profoundly affected they need to do more. Their Fly Quiet and Green program focuses not just on noise but also on emissions, which would seem to be a sensible thing to be targeting. My point is that there is much more to be done by this government in the context of its plans for a huge new airport in Western Sydney. This bill is based on the idea that there must be a social compact between airports and the communities that live around them. Unless this government is transparent about the true impacts the airport will have on the Blue Mountains, there will never be a social compact.

Let's start with community engagement—the forum on Western Sydney airport drop-ins. This was multiple boards of information put around the room on a Friday night so that people could come and see it—lots of pretty pictures but, I have to say, I could find only one mention of the fact that the airport is a 24/7 airport with no curfew. It might suit the government for hundreds of thousands of people to not know that the planes will fly all through the night, but it is not an honest way of moving forward. In fact, I know that not everyone in this chamber has really got the message that this is a 24-hour airport in one of the most densely populated parts of our country. It is a blatant lack of transparency.

I'm going to quote from D Southgate from Airport Operations in the Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Services, writing in the year 2000—18 years ago—about aircraft noise, which should serve as a warning to this government. He said: 'There is little doubt that if the public believes it has been misled on noise predictions then there's going to be a negative reaction which far exceeds that which would otherwise be expected from a particular level of noise exposure.' I think that warning holds true, if we don't see honesty and transparency.

Nor has there been any attempt to really address publicly why there is no curfew—why it's okay for the people in the west of Sydney to have planes flying above them as low as a few thousand feet, even across the Blue Mountains, when it would be completely unacceptable in the east of the city. For goodness sake! The Prime Minister got upset with his local council for considering a skate park operating in daylight hours because the noise would disturb local residents. Yet he has not a qualm about subjecting the ever-growing Western Sydney population to sleep-disturbing noises through the night.

Given the 24-hour nature of this airport, nor can I accept that the project is barrelling on ahead without the release of flight paths. We're told that the ones in the IES were not the real ones. Really? Can anyone tell me that 100 per cent of incoming flights to this airport won't go across the Blue Mountains at any hour of the day? No-one is able to give that guarantee. Even with the promised night-time no-fly zone, where is the data to show how many nights of the year it will be able to be implemented? The reality is that, given a single runway, there are only two ways that a plane can fly in and take off—and, given prevailing winds, probably only one way most of the time. I was concerned to hear the previous speaker talk about how many times the long-term operating plan at Sydney

Airport is not kept in the way it's meant to be. Is that the sort of thing we can expect to see in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury? These are all questions that people deserve the answers to, so be honest, get real and tell people so they can make their own judgement about whether the price they pay is an acceptable one.

People also expect transparency around the jobs figures that are being touted. A research report for the Jobs for Western Sydney working group written by Dr Ian Watson, who specialises in labour market research, has found that, contrary to the claims of a jobs bonanza, only 120 construction jobs and 800 airport jobs would be targeted to Western Sydney workers in the first stages of the project. That is a lot lower than the expectations people in the community have about how readily they're going to be able to get work, and it's been confirmed to me that anyone who takes a job on the airport project and relocates to the region for the duration of that work will be considered a local. So you don't have to have been born in that area or gone to school in that area or live in that area now with your family. You just have to be able to move into the area, and they can tick a box and say, 'Oh, there's another local.' So there isn't even any guarantee that the local jobs will go to an existing local employment pool. Dr Watson's report, to be released in the next week, finds the overall job claims, such as 8,700 aviation jobs by 2031, are vastly exaggerated, and his analysis is that the proposals for the adjacent business park and for the aerotropolis appear unrealistic. I congratulate the group on the serious work they've done to work through the numbers and what they're trying to do to get behind the spin, to get to the bottom and to paint a realistic picture, because that's what people deserve.

Nothing in what I have learnt of this airport plan since it was first talked about, nothing I have seen in the data and nothing I have seen in researching projects around the world has given me very much peace of mind. Nothing I've seen or been told changes my view that there are profound negative impacts from the flight paths across the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. As a community, I believe, we will have to fight hard to protect the peace and silence that we have until now been able to take for granted as something that we have when we choose to live in a World Heritage area. But you can't only stand here and fight for the things you know you are going to win, so I'm here to fight for what I believe is right for the community that I'm privileged to represent. The community is concerned not just for itself but also to ensure that future generations have the same privilege of being able to live and play peacefully in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury.