Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

A disaster waiting to happen

Federalism sometimes doesn’t work:

THE [NSW] Minister for Planning, Kristina Keneally, has been accused of making the wrong call on a development near Canberra Airport after she made a site visit during a mid-afternoon lull in air traffic when planes were flying in from another direction.In December Ms Keneally endorsed a change to the Queanbeyan residential and economic strategy allowing a proposed development of 4800 homes at Tralee.

In a letter to the broadcaster Alan Jones obtained by the Herald, Ms Keneally apologised for not getting back to him sooner before defending the Tralee development.
She wrote: ”And when I visited Tralee a few months ago, standing on the site of the proposed school, I must say that the aircraft noise was hardly significant.”
But the managing director of the airport, Stephen Byron, said Ms Keneally did not make a proper assessment of the site because she visited it on the wrong day, at the wrong time…. ”had she visited Tralee on any of the following eight days [February 11-18 inclusive] she would have been able to experience the level of aircraft noise created by aircraft operating directly above the Tralee site.”

It has since been revealed that the Minister for Emergency Services, Steve Whan, lobbied for Village Building Company, which is involved in the project, before being elected to Parliament, and he and the NSW Labor branch have received more than $90,000 in donations from the company.

There’s no question Queanbeyan is growing and needs new space. However the proposed Tralee development, right under the flight path for the Canberra airport is an absolute joke. Canberra is the capital city of the 14th biggest economy in the world, a G-20 country, a regional leader, a major resource hub and one with a proud record of international involvement from serving in war to peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. And you still need a domestic connecting flight to get into the city. They are only finally getting around to improving some of the roadway to and from the airport (woe betide anyone foolish enough to try and get from the airport to the city quickly on a sitting week for parliament). The airport is looking to expand, but with Tralee about to be built under their major flight plans not only will that be a hazardous and difficult achievement, it spells 50+ years of heartache for the airport owners and the residents of Canberra.

If you click through to this PDF you can see the impact of Tralee. The airport is the X in the middle of the red path, with Tralee at the bottom, smack bang along the high noise flight corridor. There’s no reason Tralee has to be there, Canberra and Queanbeyan are still ringed by sheep paddocks as much as they were 100 years ago.

Right now in canberra it’s still rare to hear airport noise. But despite the forewarning, the new owners of properties in Tralee will soon (and rightly) complain about the noise and a noise sharing agreement will be reached. The airport will be able to service less traffic (perhaps shutting down from 10pm) and will be forced to equally share the punishment of aircraft noise across canberra’s leafy suburbs. No one will be happy, no one will feel any solution adequately solves the problem, but that is the inevitable future of building in Tralee. The developers will get their funds, the politicians their re-election funding and every citizen from Tralee to Canberra will be annoyed and unhappy at their environment.

Federalism was the deal that guaranteed nationhood, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. States constantly screw other states when it comes to issues that flow across the border. The giant Murry River is being strangled upstream because the effects hurt residents of other states, and so can be safely advocated and enforced by state politicians. Given the critical importance of Canberra getting an international airport, and having room for its expansion and consistent operation, Rudd needs to step in an stop the Tralee development any way possible. Not only will NSW and ACT voters love him for giving the finger to the failed Rees Government, it would be a big sign he takes fixing the problems of federalism seriously, as he promised in his 2007 election campaign.

2 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Fhakk

     /  October 28, 2009

    No sympathy from me. Having lived under a flight path in Sydney (which, mind you, was much closer to the airport than Tralee is in Canberra) I can only surmise that people are just going to have to get used to it. It’s their choice to buy a cheap block of land under a flight path (well…they may have no other option, but thats another argument).

    It’s like the debate about live music and pub noise. Residents who move next door will have to expect a bit of fricking noise. Yet they feel they have the god-given right to bitch and moan.

    Same with the airport.

    Canberra is blessed with calm blue skies, and even with the expansion of the airport, that’s not going to drastically change.

  2. Yes it is blessed, and with a modicum of sensible planning will remain so, with opportunities for extensive growth.

    The noise distribution is both the most likely and least worrysome outcome. What could cripple this city is long term legal action against expansion of the airport (already a controversial topic with piallago)that could prevent an international terminal being built for a decade or more.