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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 2098..

Canberra Airport Business Park

MR HARGREAVES (1.24 am): Some members may recall that last year I spoke in the adjournment debate in this chamber and expressed concern about the growth of Canberra's airport business park. My concern was that the Commonwealth's regulation of the office park meant that the airport company did not have to comply with ACT planning and land regulations. I also expressed concern that, because the terms of sale of Canberra airport by the Commonwealth did not separately value any component of the land for commercial office space, the airport is able to offer very cheap rents at the expense of investors in Civic and other town centres. Indeed, the airport has itself said that the airport town centre would only be bigger than Tuggeranong and Gungahlin. I drew attention to the impact of this on the Y-plan which has, for almost 40 years, provided the essential framework for infrastructure and investment decisions in the ACT.

In simple terms, the airport was never intended to be a town centre. I suggested that it was scandalous that the Commonwealth had allowed this to occur to the extent that we now have a business park where more than half the tenants are public servants whose agencies have absolutely no connection with aviation. I do not mind saying that I felt a bit lonely at the time because very few people seemed to share my concerns. I am very pleased to say today that attitudes have clearly changed. There have been clear public and private expressions of concern from significant elements of the local and national business community. Several national industry associations have questioned general policies in relation to the regulation of commercial development at airports. This has become a national issue. Accordingly, I thought it only fair that I share my sense of vindication with this Assembly.

I am very conscious of the work of the ACT's Better Planning Group, as I am sure my colleagues are on the other side of the chamber. I am also aware of the national links which that group has established and the general movement of private sector opinion about the privileged position of privatised airports. It seems that even the National Capital Authority may now have a better understanding of the implications of its excessively helpful attitude to the regulation of Canberra airport's non-aviation activity. I have said before that some elements of the ACT business community operate in a very cosy manner. I am not alleging dishonesty, but I do express concern about small-town practices. That is why I think it would be helpful if the Commonwealth made a practice of appointing national business leaders to the board of the National Capital Authority. It has not been a good look to have an NCA Chairman, a former local Liberal candidate in 1987, regulating the business interests of prominent members of the Liberal Party who own the airport. We do not need another local from the Kate Carnell cheer squad succeeding him.

I am fully aware that the owners of the Canberra airport will whinge and carry on about unfair attacks. Let me just say to them that I will be happy when we are able to see some delivery on aviation and freight issues. What has happened to the freight hub? Where is the growth in aviation? Where are the new carriers? All we hear is good PR about the environmental quality of the office park and constant bleating about the need for the airport to be allowed to invent its own noise regulation. Let us see some action on the fundamental business of an aviation industry and a transport hub for the ACT and region.

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