ACT News

License article

Canberra Airport boss Stephen Byron sounds warning on arrival numbers amid federal budget cuts

Canberra Airport boss Stephen Byron has sounded a renewed warning about the impact on federal government cost cutting on the ACT, citing falling passenger numbers each year since the airport's new terminal opened.

Airport figures show in 2011 annual passenger arrivals totalled 3.17 million, down 3.4 per cent on 2010. They fell a further 4.5 per cent to 3.03 million in 2011 and were down 3.2 per cent to 2.93 million in 2013.

Last year arrivals fell a further 4.5 per cent to 2.80 million and in the year to October, arrivals are down 0.3 per cent.

Passenger numbers at other Australian airports have grown at about 4 per cent a year. Canberra would have more than 4 million arrivals for the year with similar growth.

Mr Byron said the figures showed how fragile the city's economic recovery was, blaming job cuts from both Labor and Liberal governments and restrictions on public service travel.

After construction of a new $350 million terminal, the airport is profitable and has benefited from economic activity in the newly developed business parks and shopping precinct.


The aviation sector was a reliable mirror of broader economic activity, Mr Byron said.

"There is a responsibility the federal government has to the national capital. We are the tool through which they implement their policies.

"In one sense, the more they strangle the public service and Canberra, the more they strangle their ability to deliver their objectives. Nowhere is that more clear than in terms of travel.

"If federal public servants are not really permitted to travel, or it is incredibly difficult for them to do so, then they're not participating in the broader business community or politics around Australia," Mr Byron said.

The comments come after the federal government introduced a new 3 per cent "efficiency dividend" on Canberra institutions including the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of Australia, National Library and National Archives.

Last week's federal government mid-year budget update included cuts of $192 million from Australian Public Service spending, as the budget was shown to have blown out to $37.4 billion.

On Monday it was reported a new pay deal for public servants at the Immigration Department would likely come at the cost of about 680 jobs. A recent report by ANZ showed below trend economic growth in the ACT, while other eastern states were growing at or above trend. 

The territory budget deficit was revealed to have worsened by $71 million in the mid-year economic update on Friday, $479 million in the red for 2015-16.

Mr Byron called for the federal government to understand the economic impact caused by cuts in Canberra. He said the national capital was a tool for implementation of public policy and the public service could not work without appropriate travel, effectively causing isolation from business and the community.

"We've proved pretty resilient but I think there is a limit in all of this," he said.

Procurement spending in the public service rose by $10 billion in the 2014-15 financial year as Commonwealth agencies spent about $60 billion. In the same period, public servant employment numbers fell from 166,000 to 152,000.

"Clearly some businesses have already reached that point. We are looking to see when there might be a change in the federal government's approach," Mr Byron said.

"Somewhere along the line you have to decide, you're interested in a national capital, you believe in it and you also believe in a public service as a critical conduit for achieving public policy objectives."