16 December 2009

Déjà vu on second Sydney airport. Ennui too.

The news emerging from the Government’s Aviation White Paper, that we are to resume the quest for a second Sydney Airport (not at Bankstown and not at Badgery’s Creek) brings back some memories and a certain amount of ennui as well.

In 1973-74 I was a section head in the then Local and Regional Affairs Branch of the Revenue, Loans and Investment Division of the Treasury, and occasionally acted as the head of that branch or the closely related Development Projects Branch.

In one of these capacities I prepared briefing notes for the Treasurer on a Cabinet Submission from Whitlam Government Transport Minister Charlie Jones. The message from Charlie was that by the end of the decade (the 1970s) Sydney Airport would be pressing on its capacity and as the lead times would be long it was high time to do some thinking about the strategy for expanding Sydney’s capacity to receive passengers arriving by air.

As I recall it Charlie was not at all keen on the notion of building a third runway at Kingsford Smith. I distinctly recall that he made the point quite forcefully that no one in their right mind would want take on the political nightmare of attempting to build a second airport in the Sydney Basin.

Charlie’s solution was to build a second international airport near Goulburn, linked both to Canberra and to Sydney by a high speed train – an approach which would have the incidental benefit of linking Sydney and Canberra by high speed rail and taking some pressure off Sydney Airport.

I thought that was a great idea (still do) but everyone who mattered thought it was crazy. Charlie was rolled and on 28 August 1973 he announced that a second Sydney Airport would be built at Galston, northwest of Sydney. The mayhem that announcement created was such that on 10 May 1974 Mr Jones was obliged to make an announcement ruling out construction of a second Sydney airport at Galston.

It took more than ten years (until 17 February 1986) for Badgery’s Creek to be announced as the alternative. By this time it was too late to do anything but construct a third runway at Kingsford Smith. The only actions taken in relation to Badgery’s Creek were (i) imposing hardship on a number of landowners by acquiring their land, and (ii) filling up the surrounding area with so much new housing that Badgery’s Creek could no longer be considered a suitable site.

So the matter has not been taken very far in the 36 years since Charlie Jones lodged his Cabinet Submission.

For a Commonwealth Parliamentary Library chronology of this dispiriting tale, see here.

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