Western suburbs grounded by politics of Badgerys Creek
Illustration: John Shakespeare
THE Minister for Western Sydney turned the first sod of the $115 million Wet'n'Wild project near Blacktown in September. He proudly trumpeted the 300 construction and 300 theme park jobs it will create along with the economic boost from drawing 900,000 visitors a year.
That's the sort of development-focused, forward thinking minister the 1.9 million people of Sydney's west need.
Now put the Minister for Western Sydney's other hat on - that of Premier.
In that role he's all for cynical politics and all against helping western Sydney get ahead. That, strangely, is what the words ''second airport at Badgerys Creek'' can do to a politician.
It's about time Barry O'Farrell used his dual role as Minister for Western Sydney and Premier to end the game playing.
Sydney needs a second airport and the best option by the combined length of 8am traffic jams on the M4 and M5 is federal-owned land at Badgerys Creek, between Penrith and Campbelltown.
For six decades governments of all levels and colours have squibbed on what has the potential to be an economic boon to the western suburbs and the whole state.
Labor backed Badgerys Creek then didn't. The Liberals have been just as bad. O'Farrell insists his government does not support a second airport in the Sydney basin, ''which is why we need to ensure the existing asset is being fully utilised''. Even his federal Liberal colleague Joe Hockey thinks that's a stupid idea.
Now the Premier stands accused of telling two long-standing aircraft noise campaigners from his Ku-ring-gai electorate that ''votes in the western suburbs'' prevent him from backing a second airport.
The Premier denies it.
But times have moved on. The political backlashes against an airport a decade or more past were based on aircraft noise, not-in-my-backyard politics and a sense that it's not our problem.
Today the western suburbs are the aspirational heart of Sydney where opportunities abound. But population growth has outstripped infrastructure. The region needs better transport, its own financial hub and jobs closer to home. An airport can deliver these without jeopardising quality of life, especially now that technological change has quietened aircraft.
Study after study has shown that Mascot won't meet the state's medium- and long-term demands. Tinkering with flight numbers and curfews creates more disputes for little to no return.
State and federal leaders need to sell the Badgerys Creek option to the people of western Sydney.
If NSW cannot deliver the unmet demand for air transport, the Joint Study into Aviation Capacity in the Sydney Region, released in April, estimates the state stands to lose $30.6 billion in forgone expenditure. If demand is not met, NSW is estimated to lose 12,700 jobs and growing each year.
Yet the rapid population growth that is projected to occur in western Sydney over the next 25 years is estimated to require 384,000 new jobs for the area. At present the jobless rate in the western suburbs is well above elsewhere. The average commuting time for western Sydney residents is 35-50 per cent longer than the Sydney average.
Western Sydney residents can expect more jobs and shorter commutes if local, state and federal governments commit to Badgerys Creek. There can be less congestion getting the children to school, more opportunities for when they grow up, easier access to tourist destinations, cheaper exports to Asia.
The joint study highlights that non-primary airports such as Badgerys Creek are likely to attract new low-cost airlines at first, then existing operators for growth services.
It's a no-brainer - and the joint study concluded that the ''opportunity to secure a suitable site is likely to disappear altogether if action is not put in train now''.
Yet Badgerys Creek is still off the agenda. The Premier's 20-year transport plan, released earlier this month, pretended that the second airport option did not exist. The west received insufficient funds for too few projects.
O'Farrell needs to rally his Liberal and independent western Sydney mayors behind the second airport. A meeting in February between western suburbs councils looms as a crucial test.
The federal Labor government, which has the ultimate decision on Badgerys Creek, has also held out. The Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, said this month that Sydney needed a second airport sooner rather than later. He has commissioned yet another study, this time into the second best option, Wilton, near Appin. That study will reject Wilton as too far away and too hilly. That's when Labor has the perfect chance to see sense as well.
Voters will surely support a bipartisan approach to jobs, growth and a chance for the western suburbs to get the economic boost they need and deserve.