As speculation mounts that Wilton will be crossed off as a site for a second Sydney Airport, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, must be looking around for a Plan B.
Albanese, in his years as a member of the opposition and his five years as Minister for Transport, has worked hard to manage Labor's message about the future of Sydney Airport. His seat of Grayndler covers Marrickville and other suburbs to the west of the airport and his constituents have to put up with excessive airport related noise.
The minister presents himself as committed to reducing noise pollution that his constituents have to endure. However, the solutions offered for locals have been a mirage and if realised would have expanded the reach of the noise, air and water pollution to many new areas.
The problems at Sydney Airport are of Labor's own making. It was the Hawke-Keating government that approved and built Sydney Airport's third runway. This escalated the noise and air pollution burden as well as increasing the crash risk for locals.
Over the past two decades Albanese has been adept at alluding to airport solutions, particularly coming into the next election, but never actually delivering. Meanwhile residents in Sydney's inner west continue to suffer from aircraft noise, while those living in sites named for a second airport have their lives disrupted, as Wilton locals are now experiencing.
The people of Badgerys Creek became central to the airport debate in the 1990s as both federal Labor and the Coalition trumpeted claims that they had found a site for Sydney's second airport. The dual myths that airport noise for Sydney residents would be reduced and that the second airport would be built served many Labor and Liberal MPs contending with angry residents.
Albanese led this charge, assuring locals that "Labor has a plan for you". The minister's message was designed to lure voters into thinking at least some of the aircraft noise would be reduced as there was another airport ready to be built.
Even if Badgerys Creek Airport had been built it would have only been a supplementary airport taking smaller planes and freeing up capacity at Sydney Airport for more large jets. The end game would be more noise for inner city residents plus the regional disruption.
This is the scenario the people of Wilton now face — years of uncertainty while Albanese follows a trajectory similar to the decade-long Badgerys Creek fiasco of endless reports, planning and announcements.
The 2012 Joint Study on Aviation Capacity in the Sydney Region has declared Wilton would be a "supplementary airport". The stated aim, to allow Sydney Airport to operate at maximum efficiency and capacity, is code for more big jets. This would be achieved by moving regional and general aviation, about 26 per cent of Sydney Airport's air traffic, to Wilton.
The outcome for Sydney residents would be more conversations drowned out by aircraft noise. Albanese's implied promises of less noise will not eventuate.
This all adds up to a lose-lose for residents around the existing and proposed airport sites.
A solution is needed — but that requires a transport minister with vision, not one who puts managing expectations in his own electorate before responsible airport planning.
Overseas cities have grappled with this challenge and have relocated inner city airports to reduce problems such as air, noise and water pollution and crash risks. Hong Kong, Oslo, Athens and Bangkok have all moved their airports away from densely populated areas.
This requires long term planning and high speed rail linking Australia's east coast cities. This would help reduce air traffic. Airport plans designed to deliver messages for the next election are non-solutions. If Albanese's latest "we have a plan for you" at Wilton falls over as expected, it will just another example of Labor's failed airport policy.
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