Leading article Australia

Up Badgerys Creek

6 May 2017

9:00 AM

6 May 2017

9:00 AM

It would probably be wrong to predict that the Turnbull government’s decision to build an airport at Badgerys Creek will be a white elephant. It is more likely to be a large, white, steppe mammoth. Common sense should have told the politicians that if the company which enjoys the existing airport monopoly had worked out that this is risky, how on earth could they think that they could make it profitable? Instead of waiting until the private sector judges a second airport worthwhile, politicians in this and future governments will now borrow many more billions than the $6 billion indicated, just as government debt approaches and then exceeds half a trillion dollars, with no German government around to bail us out when the creditors start calling our debts in.

The Coalition has been down this path before. Based on the proposition that anyone wanting fast broadband will pay for it and private companies will provide it, they should have handed the NBN to the private sector. This was, after all, a folly designed on an ‘Air Force 1’ drinks coaster by Stephen Conroy for Kevin Rudd’s comprehension. But that sort of fidelity to principle requires a Thatcher, a Reagan or a Howard. Instead, the Coalition marched in lockstep with Labor to give the nation a dodgy, off-budget, third rate, minimalist NBN. Now they are going to do the same with Badgerys Creek. What is planned for both projects is that when they are completed, they will be sold off to the private sector. There is every chance that this will be at a monumental loss, perhaps to the client of a favoured lobbyist. The losers of the many billions of dollars ‘invested’ in this folly will of course be − you guessed it−the taxpayers. This scenario is worthy of some banana republic, not the Commonwealth of Australia, an entity once free of such appalling mismanagement and incompetence.

The plain fact is there is no demonstrated need for another airport for many decades yet, just as there was no need in Montréal where the second airport, Mirabel− which when built was the largest in the world − had to eventually be closed for passengers. There were similar disasters created by the politicians in Madrid and Valencia. Instead of a passenger need, there is a political need. Apart from the representatives of those electorates where some people choosing to live in a city don’t like aeroplanes flying over them, there is now the ludicrous belief among politicians that the people of western Sydney will vote for them if they give them an airport they don’t want and have the Powerhouse Museum ripped out of its home and plonked down in the middle of downtown Parramatta .

If the constraints which do not apply overseas were lifted, Kingsford Smith could be satisfying Sydney’s needs well into the foreseeable future. The land at Badgerys Creek should be held in reserve until the private sector is ready, willing and able to build a second airport.

Bowing to Gonski

It is difficult to know whether Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s resurrection of David Gonski is a stroke of genius or the stripping away of the last vestiges of what remains of the Prime Minister’s rapidly diminishing credibility.

On the one hand, it is clear that – as with so much of what passes for ‘conviction’ and ‘policy’ on the Left these days – the mere word ‘Gonski’ has become an article of faith to Labor and the Greens; a religious relic to be bowed and scraped to and the very utterance of which is laden with the promise of bountiful educational riches and learning success.

By this way of thinking, Mr Turnbull has pulled off a cunning sleight of hand, akin to the genius of those early Christians who cleverly co-opted pagan festivals and re-purposed them, so that the majority of folk simply carried on worshipping the new God, er, Gonski. Undoubtedly, there will be any number of frail-minded luvvies out there who buy the Coaltion line that Gonski has risen again, hallelujah. Praise be to Malcolm.

But on the other hand, Mr Turnbull runs the serious risk that he will be seen by a large swathe of conservatives as simply capitulating to a Labor shibboleth.

What is ‘Gonski 2.0’ if not the perfect synonym for the dreaded term ‘Labor-lite’? And in what strange universe does the Turnbull Coalition Team exist that it believes it can defeat Mr Shorten’s Labor party by offering itself up as a mere shadow of the real deal, rather than opposing Labor in every way as ferociously as it can?

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