Saturday, April 14, 2012

New airport won't take off, writes Paul Howes

By Paul Howes 
The Sunday Telegraph 

Most mornings I am woken up at six by the noise of a large jumbo jet flying over my house preparing to land at Sydney Airport.

They seem to line up for landing with the palm tree directly opposite our house, and by age four my son could differentiate between a 747 and a 737.

By now, after five years, he can tell the difference between planes based on engine noise alone - a mighty Rolls-Royce engine has, apparently, a particular sort of drone. And to me, it's a beautiful thing.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Sydneysiders, I live right under the flight path for Sydney Airport and like most of those residents I moved into a suburb under the flight path with the full knowledge that I was going to be experiencing aircraft noise.

We're used to pausing mid conversation. We're used to school assemblies stopping for a few moments when the planes are in their final descent. We don't have soundproofing but, with the curfew, we don't really need it.

We barely notice the planes. We're used to them.

I grew up in the lower Blue Mountains where the only aircraft noise was the occasional sound of a C-130 Hercules landing at Richmond RAAF Base, and the peace and quiet was lovely.

And when I go back to the mountains I always marvel at the peace and tranquillity of the place. However I made a conscious decision to move away from that peace and tranquillity to live closer to the city and to reap all the benefits that come from living in a major international city like Sydney.

Great food, a multicultural community, good facilities and a relatively short commute to the office are just some of the benefits that my family and I get from living in the inner west.

And if you want to reap the benefits then you also have to take the negatives, such as they are.

And the reality is that if you want to live in a major metropolitan area with a large population then there is going to be noise. Unless you moved to the area before Mascot airport was opened in 1919, then you moved to the area with the full knowledge that there was an airport there. But that doesn't necessarily mean there should be more noise.

As long as I can remember, there has been talk about building a second airport in Sydney.

For decades there has been discussion about Badgerys Creek, Wilton, Newcastle, Richmond or even Bankstown, and while in principle I would love to see a second airport built (after all, there would be lots of jobs for AWU members in the construction), I don't think it's ever going to happen.

No politician wants to transplant aircraft noise to other parts of the Sydney basin and, really, where are the several billion dollars to pay for it going to come from? I find it hard to believe that we will ever see more than just papers and announcements about studies for the airport. There's no political will and there's no cash.

That's why I've always been attracted to the idea of building a high-speed rail link between Canberra and Sydney.

The lack of quality high-speed rail infrastructure is criminal. Decades of neglect by governments on both sides in rail infrastructure have left Australia behind the rest of the world.

In most other developed countries, fast rail is being built to link major cities and to provide relief from our crowded skies.

The fact that it still takes almost four hours to take the train 287km between our nation's capital and our largest city is ridiculous. Comparative trips in Asia, North America and Europe would take less than half the time. Last year more than one million passengers flew between Sydney and Canberra - if we had appropriate rail infrastructure I think most of those would have taken the train.

We have a unique opportunity for federal, state and territory governments to work together to build a piece of infrastructure which will benefit Sydney, help grow Canberra and assist in building more viable regional communities.

 And that's why, once again, I find myself inexplicably agreeing with Barry O'Farrell. While many on my side of politics have lambasted the Premier for his refusal to countenance building a second airport, I reckon he is spot on.

A second airport is never going to be built - it's politically impossible - therefore our leaders should work on projects that actually have a hope of being built. The time has come for the political posturing to end. All levels of government should sit down and work with the private sector to get on with it.

Let's just declare the second Sydney airport dead and hop on board the train to Canberra.

Paul Howes is national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union

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