On 9 December 2020, the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 30 June 2022:
The planning, construction and management of the Western Sydney Airport project, with particular reference to:
probity planning and management, risk assessment frameworks and management;
land acquisition and related leases, including transactions related to the Leppington Triangle;
the role and performance of WSA Co Limited;
site preparation, including the realignment of the Northern Road;
environment and heritage management;
transport links and supporting infrastructure;
training and employment; and
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry on its webpage, and set Friday, 19 February 2021 as the closing date for submissions. Details of the inquiry and associated documents were made available on the committee’s inquiry webpage.
The committee also wrote to key state and federal government agencies and organisations, industry stakeholder groups, community groups and individuals to invite submissions. The committee received 41 public and 6 confidential submissions. The public submissions are listed at Appendix 1, and are also published on the committee’s inquiry webpage.
The committee held two public hearings in Sydney as part of its inquiry, on 10 March 2021 and 29 April 2021.
A list of witnesses who appeared at the hearings can be found at Appendix 2. The Hansard transcripts of evidence can be accessed through the committee’s inquiry webpage.
After due consideration, the committee has determined to table this brief report and to refrain from making recommendations.
The committee thanks all the organisations and individuals who made submissions to the inquiry and appeared before the committee to provide evidence.
Structure and scope of the report
The report is divided into two chapters. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the committee’s inquiry. It also provides an overview of the Western Sydney Airport Project, and summarises the evidence provided to the committee by submitters and those who appeared at hearings.
Chapter 2 examines the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications’ (Department of Infrastructure) acquisition of land from the Leppington Pastoral Company (LPC). This includes an overview of the Australian National Audit Office’s report into the Purchase of the ‘Leppington Triangle’ Land for the Future Development of Western Sydney Airport.
Chapter 2 also sets out the committee’s views in relation to the inquiry.
The need for a second Sydney airport
Since the 1940’s, various studies have been conducted into the airport needs of Sydney. With facilities at the existing Kingsford-Smith Airport (KSA) (or Mascot as it was initially called) becoming stretched, several possible locations for a second Sydney airport have been considered. The ongoing deliberations in relation to a second airport for Sydney raised a number of questions, including:
whether resources should be put into a second airport, or the already existing facilities at Kingsford Smith Airport be further developed;
the most appropriate location for a new airport;
the impacts a new airport would have on residents;
a new airport’s potential impact on the environment; and
the most appropriate type of airport development.
Over the years, various priorities and locations have been identified for a second Sydney airport. However, these plans have been delayed for a variety of reasons – including insufficient funding or changes of government.
Timeline of recent events
The following timeline – commencing in March 2012 – provides a snapshot of the Western Sydney Airport Project’s most recent history:
March 2012 – the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity in the Sydney Region (undertaken by the Commonwealth and NSW Governments) identifies land in Badgerys Creek (acquired by the Commonwealth from 1986 to 1991) as ‘the best site for the development of a supplementary airport within the Sydney basin’;
April 2014 – then Prime Minister, the Hon. Tony Abbott MP, formally announces Badgerys Creek as the site for Western Sydney’s new airport;
April 2014 – the Commonwealth Government commits to jointly funding – with the NSW Government – the then $3.6 billion Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan (which includes major road and transport linkages);
June 2015 – the Commonwealth Parliament passes the Airports Amendment Act 2015, which accommodates the master planning and relevant approvals for the construction of Western Sydney Airport;
October 2015 to December 2015 – a draft Western Sydney Airport Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) are released for public consultation;
September 2016 – Western Sydney Airport Environmental Impact Statement is presented to then Minister for Environment and Energy, the Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP;
August 2017 – Western Sydney Airport Corporation Limited (WSA Co) established as a Commonwealth-owned company under the Corporations Act 2001 and tasked with building the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek;
October 2017 – the Commonwealth and WSA Co execute the Western Sydney Airport Project Deed, ‘which sets out the role and responsibilities of the parties and under which WSA Co is fully responsible for the development and operation of the Airport’;
May 2018 – the Commonwealth grants a site lease to WSA Co for an initial 50‑year period (with the option to renew for an additional 49 years);
July 2018 – Leppington Triangle land purchased by the Australian Government for $29 839 026 (GST exclusive), to provide future options for a second runway;
September 2018 – Main Construction Works on the site commence;
June 2020 – the Commonwealth and NSW Governments announce the development of the Western Sydney Airport railway line;
2026 – operations expected to commence at Western Sydney Airport.
Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport
In March 2019, the Federal Government announced that the new airport would recognise one of Australia’s greatest aviators, with the proposed facility at Badgerys Creek to be named the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport. Nancy-Bird Walton was, in 1933, the youngest Australian woman to gain a pilot’s licence, and in 1950 she founded the Australian Women Pilots’ Association (AWPA) and became its first president.
Urban development in Western Sydney
As part of the planning for the Western Sydney Airport, the Department of Infrastructure advised that a deliberate effort was made to ensure that the land around the airport was protected from urban development for approximately 30 years. It noted, for example, that the distance from the end of the runway to a built-up suburban area will be over 10 kilometres. It argued that this ‘protected space will allow Western Sydney International to operate without a curfew, ensuring 24/7 connectivity, more jobs and increased economic benefits’.
In addition to the new airport, a proposed new central business district – the Western Sydney Aerotropolis – will be built next to the airport to take advantage of its 24-hour operation, and improved connectivity to global markets. It is proposed that the Aerotropolis will house advanced manufacturing, aerospace and defence industries as well as an agribusiness precinct and a food production hub.
According to the Department of Infrastructure, a 20-year partnership involving all three levels of government, and a $11.2 billion investment is expected to deliver:
the Sydney Metro-Western Sydney Airport rail line to the airport;
city-scale infrastructure projects to enhance the natural environment and provide entertainment and cultural spaces;
businesses and entrepreneurial hubs; and
health facilities and housing.
Building the Western Sydney Airport
The Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport is being developed on approximately 1800 hectares of Commonwealth-owned land at Badgerys Creek, approximately 50 kilometres from Sydney’s central business district. The site is bounded by Elizabeth Drive to the north, Willowdene Avenue to the south, Luddenham and Adams Road to the west and Badgerys Creek to the east.
In accordance with section 96C of the Airports Act 1996, the Airport Plan for Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport (the Airport Plan) consists of two main parts: the concept design and the details of the specific developments authorised by the Airport Plan, which are referred to collectively as ‘Stage 1’ or the ‘Stage 1 Development’.
Stage 1 of the Western Sydney Airport development commenced in September 2018. In accordance with the Western Sydney Airport Construction Plan (and given the existing terrain on the airport site was made up of undulating topography) substantial earthworks were required to create a level surface to allow for the construction of the runway, taxiways and support services. The first stage of the development therefore included major site preparation, including earthworks, and removing or relocating infrastructure from the site.
Early works have also involved the realignment of Badgerys Creek Road, to minimise the impact on traffic flow around the site while the airport is being constructed. As part of the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, funding was provided for a major upgrade and realignment of The Northern Road (located between the Old Northern Road, Narellan, and Littlefields Road, Luddenham), and to construct the M12 Motorway.
A single, 3.7 kilometre runway is located in the north-western portion of the airport site. Further development at the airport will happen in stages, as demand grows. A terminal, and other support facilities will be constructed to service around five million passengers a year. It is predicted that this will increase to 10 million passengers by around 2031.
Issues raised by stakeholders and submitters
The committee received a number of submissions which expressed strong opposition to the building of the Western Sydney Airport. Submitters argued that the health of those who live in the areas surrounding the airport would be adversely affected by increased air pollution, water pollution, aircraft noise, the lack of a curfew and traffic congestion. It was also argued that increased air traffic had the potential to cause environmental damage, particularly to areas such as the Blue Mountains National Park.
The committee also received submissions from several landholders for whom the NSW Government’s decision to rezone land within the Aerotropolis precinct was causing significant levels of stress. Submitters indicated that following the release of the precinct plan for the Aerotropolis – which outlined the NSW Department of Planning’s vision for the area – a large amount of open space/public space had been identified and allocated and that various tracts of land had been rezoned from ‘Rural’ to ‘Environment, Enterprise or Urban’, and therefore directly and negatively impacting on the resale value of the land held by submitters (discussed further below).
A number of submitters were particularly critical of the Western Sydney Airport Project in terms of its financial integrity. The airport project was described by various submitters as being ‘mired in unethical practices’, not displaying ‘proper use of funds’, and appearing ‘to involve corruption’. A key issue raised by submitters was the purchase of land in the Leppington Triangle. Stakeholders were particularly scathing of the acquisition process, and described it variously as ‘a disgrace’, a ‘scandalous, wasteful, questionable action totally lacking in transparency’, and a ‘misuse of taxpayer funds’.
Submitters to the inquiry detailed their reasons for opposing the establishment of a second Sydney airport. For example, while acknowledging the need for air travel, Residents Against Western Sydney Airport (RAWSA) pointed to the harmful effects of aviation on Australia’s climate crisis.
RAWSA argued that aviation’s detrimental impacts, including environmental degradation, the loss of social amenity, noise disturbance, and a number of other undesirable health outcomes was well documented in global research. The group suggested that in order to overcome the problems associated with aviation, other developed countries have built high speed rail (HSR) networks to service short to medium haul transportation routes. The group argued that Australia should take a similar approach:
Various past Australian studies have shown the wisdom and benefits of building a HSR network to initially link Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, with extension later to the Gold Coast and Brisbane. A HSR network should be a priority of governments in lieu of developing more airports, runways and aviation capacity.
Impact on landowners of rezoning
In acquiring the land for the Western Sydney Airport, the NSW Government undertook a process of rezoning the rural land in and around Badgerys Creek. Landholders asserted that this process was badly executed and resulted in their land greatly decreasing in value, and having little prospect of a successful sale to investors or developers.
Submitters also told the committee about the impact the rezoning of land around the new airport had on their lives. They raised concerns about a lack of consultation, the lack of respect, the difficulties of seeking clarity around land valuations, and unfair and inequitable treatment.
For example, Mr Jacob Farrugia, a landowner in one of the precincts around the Aerotropolis, gave evidence at a hearing and spoke on behalf of his family and other impacted landowners. Mr Farrugia provided a summary of the situation, noting that the Aerotropolis had been rezoned into different precincts – either environmental, enterprise or urban (and no longer rural). He also explained that under the precinct plan, there had been ‘enormous and unprecedented amounts of open space and public space allocated in people’s land’ and which had not been reflected in the SEPP rezoning.
Mr Farrugia indicated that the landowners he represented were not against the airport, open space or public parks, and welcomed the forecast employment arising from the airport. However, he argued that the rezoning made it very difficult for the landowners to sell their properties to a developer or investor, and it was the view that the state government was not offering appropriate compensation to landholders. In addition, he told the committee that:
although some residents’ properties have been zoned ‘urban’ or ‘enterprise’, the precinct plans indicate that 100 per cent of their properties are allocated as open space – which, to a private investor or a developer, would render their blocks unsellable;
some landowners have a portion of open space on their property (under the precinct plan) which reduces a portion of their potential sale price; and
some landowners who fall within Winamatta South Creek have been zoned ‘industrial’ and also face the problem that their blocks are unsellable.
In summary, Mr Farrugia told the committee that most landowners felt stuck in limbo:
A lot of their properties are unsellable or worthless. There’s no clear compensation strategy or acquisition strategy in place. For a lot of people, their lives have been put on hold. … If the land is zoned as environmental under the SEPP or even if it does have good zoning but is marked as open space under the precinct plan, still making it unsellable, the community want a fair compensation plan put in place by the government so that, that way, they’re able to move on if they’re presented with circumstances where their families are suffering or they’ve got hardship. I know it’s probably unrealistic to compensate every single landowner immediately. But if a clear compensation strategy were in place, everyone would know where they stood.
Rossmore resident, Mr Andrew Gayed, told the committee that his property had been on the market for some time, but due to its classification, he had not had any inquiries. Mr Gayed noted that this was in stark contrast to properties one street away, ‘which were going for multiple times what the landowners purchased them for and multiple times what they could even imagine they were worth’.
At the April 2021 hearing, Mr Gayed described the situation that neighbourhood landowners found themselves in, telling the committee that:
… across the other side of the creek from us, the properties behind us where the creek separates our property, for some reason or another, haven’t had the turmoil that we’ve gone through. Only three-quarters of their property can be developed and only a quarter of it can be zoned as environmental. That seems baffling to us.
Mr Greg Warren MP, the NSW Shadow Minister for Western Sydney, who provided a specific example of how the rezoning and subsequent land acquisition process was causing alarm and financial distress within the community:
… I spoke to a gentleman yesterday who's piece of land is looking to be rezoned under the draft precinct plan. The market valuation came back that it was worth $1 and it's unsellable. This family have invested, like I said before, their entire livelihoods into this area of land. For many of them, it's their superannuation for their retirement. To say they're devastated would be an understatement. No-one wants to take anything away from any other landowner. Whether they are large, wealthy or small homeowners, all they're asking for is to be treated with the same equitable approach as all landowners, irrespective of how wealthy they may or may not be or size of their land. If they're associated with the Western Sydney airport and the required acquisitions, they just want a fair go and they just want to be treated equitably—and I don't think that is an unreasonable request by the affected local communities.
The impact on the community, the specific problems associated with rezoning, and the inequitable treatment of landowners was the subject of discussion at the April 2021 hearing:
Senator Chandler: Because the main rezoning issues that we’ve been talking about today are where it’s a residential property that will apparently become green space in the aerotropolis so that’s why it’s perceived as having a potentially lesser value, because what you can do with it once it is no longer yours is so much more restricted.
Mrs Markuse: Yes.
Mrs Zucco: There is also the inequity of how people are treated. This is why I’m still in this fight. The inequity is absolutely beyond anything you can imagine. We have one land landowner for who they have realigned a whole road for – the Northern Road has been realigned – and put five or six sets of traffic lights along it so that his developments can be maintained. At the finish of his land, there is another landowner who has 90-plus hectares – not 100, but over 90. They have been zoned green. This particular landowner has an underpass built under the Northern Road so that his cattle could go from one property to another. That has not been to us, to anybody. Where is the equity?
Impact of the land acquisition process
One of the consistent concerns raised during the inquiry by small and medium landholders was about the consultation (or lack thereof) and other processes involved in the land acquisition process, undertaken by the NSW Government.
Mr Warren expressed support for the airport, arguing that the airport project is ‘a once‑in‑a-lifetime project that provides much opportunity’. In addition, he argued that the project has the potential to have a positive impact on the region, in terms of job creation, tourism and industry – including agriculture, transport and manufacturing.
Mr Warren acknowledged that given the scale of the project, it was inevitable that compulsory acquisition of land would occur. He indicated, however, that he was ‘deeply disturbed’ at the way that the land acquisition process had been approached, particularly for smaller landowners. He raised concerns about the level of community consultation by the state government and drew attention to the concerns held by impacted landowners, telling the committee that:
What we've seen is home owners being treated with what they feel is a complete lack of regard and respect, and an acquisition process that has not been a fair, equitable or transparent. That is the strong view of the community out there. We've ultimately seen small landowners or home owners not being consulted or treated with the same element of respect or regard that larger and perhaps more wealthier landowners have been.
Mr Warren emphasised that the proposed draft precinct plan would have ‘serious adverse and social effect’ on the livelihoods of hundreds of local families. Mr Warren also explained that many of the residents and their families in Badgerys Creek, Orchard Hills, Kemps Creek, Leppington, Rossmore, Bringelly, Luddenham (and all the other associated areas around the airport that were being considered for the acquisition) had been there for generations, and that:
Many laid the bricks for their homes with their own bare hands. Literally blood, sweat and tears went into building those homes by many of these families. Like I said before, these residents deserve the same degree of respect and dignity and a fair deal for their homes, and I am of the view—and there's a very strong feeling about this out there—that they have not received any of those.
In her submission of February 2021, Ms Anne Stanley MP, Federal Member for Werriwa, echoed the concerns raised by Mr Farrugia. Ms Stanley submitted that while many small landowners within the Werriwa electorate accept both the airport and the Aerotropolis, ‘they are however, upset with New South Wales Government’s lack of transparency regarding property acquisition’. Ms Stanley noted that large areas of the Aerotropolis’ precincts have been zoned ‘Environment and Recreation’, a new zoning categorisation created specifically for the Aerotropolis.
Further, Ms Stanley submitted:
Landowners demands are not unreasonable, if their land needs to be acquired, they are happy to work within the process and receive fair compensation, They simply want certainty, transparency and a timeline.
When will their properties be acquired and by which agency? To date [as of February 2021], this information hasn’t been forthcoming. Understandably, this is causing stress, anguish and health issues.
On this issue, Mr Farrugia stated that he felt compelled to reach out on behalf of a community which was directly impacted by the land acquisition process of the NSW Government, with community members:
… currently suffering great emotional and psychological toll, due to the way they are being treated and the way the Aerotropolis has left them in limbo for an indefinite amount of time.
The process of land acquisition in the Leppington Triangle was the subject of an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audit. The acquisition process undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure, and the ANAO’s report and findings into the Purchase of the ‘Leppington Triangle’ Land for the Future Development of Western Sydney Airport is outlined in more detail in Chapter 2.
Lack of an appropriate curfew
The lack of an airport curfew was of specific concern to stakeholders – particularly Western Sydney residents. Ms Sandra Newham, for example, noted:
I do not believe a second airport should have been placed in the Sydney Basin … As a local resident I am disgusted that the people of Western Sydney have been treated like second class citizens and had a ‘no curfew’ airport dumped on our doorstep. Rightfully Sydney Airport has a curfew to protect the rights and quality of life of people nearby and under flight paths yet people in the West are being denied the same right.
Mr Roger Grealy also indicated that it was of concern to him that the airport was slated to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He argued that:
… as Sydney airport has a curfew from 11 pm to 6 am then residents in the area of Badgery’s Creek should also have some quiet time during the night. Disturbed sleep is known to produce illnesses.
In her submission, Blue Mountains resident, Ms Julie Fisher, pointed to the Airservices Australia website which ‘acknowledges that residents within 75 kilometres of an airport can experience aircraft noise’.
Ms Fisher pointed to the arguments made by those who support the airport, which say that it is necessary for the project to go ahead – and for it to be a 24‑hour airport – because it is a project that ‘has been in the pipeline for decades and was always meant to operate without a curfew’. She argued that:
This reasoning may have been valid if the airport had been built in the 1950s or 60s, but it is incorrect and irrelevant now due to the way in which Sydney has spread.
Being planned as far back as the late 1940s, the airport has been rejected on several occasions in the 1970s and 1990s. When you consider the huge increase in the development of residential areas over the last 6 decades, that will be affected by a 24/7 airport in Western Sydney, you have to challenge the common-sense, trustworthiness and competence of those in government circles who decided on or support the airport project.
Increased air pollution and water pollution
Amongst those submitters opposed to the airport development, the issue of air and water pollution were raised as significant problems.
Ms Sandra Newham argued that Western Sydney lies ‘in a low level basin that traps air pollution’, and that a second airport will trap more hazardous particles which cause respiratory illness and heart disease, and increased levels of asthma. Ms Newham also argued that flight paths as outlined in the EIS, indicate that aircraft will fly over the Blue Mountains, and ‘aircraft by-product will land in the catchment for 80% of Sydney’s drinking water’.
RAWSA provided similar comments regarding air quality, and argued that:
Due to geographic features of the Sydney basin, Western and Southwestern Sydney communities are already subjected to the worst air quality in the metropolitan area. As coastal breezes do not penetrate these areas, coupled with the mountains forming a barrier to the west, air pollution tends to stay stationary for days on end.
Broadly available research indicates a link between the resultant pollution levels and its impact on above average health issues that are common to the Western and Southwestern areas of the Sydney region, including childhood asthma and respiratory problems as well as adult cardio‑vascular disease.
The operation of a 24 hour airport at Badgerys Creek will do nothing to improve pollution levels, will increase the amount of toxic particulate matter in the air and will add substantially to the pollution and health problems of Western and Southwestern Sydney.
Similarly, Ms Maria Arranz noted that Australia has high rates of asthma and expressed concern about how the air pollution from a 24‑hour airport, and increased road traffic around the proposed Aerotropolis would impact people – particularly children and other vulnerable groups.
Submitters also argued that in addition to the pollution from air traffic, there would be increased air pollution from fuel trucks, including those transporting fuel from Botany. Concerns were raised about pollution from an increasing number of large trucks, particularly those carrying cargo from the airport, and heading west through villages in the Blue Mountains.
Communication and transparency
One of the issues raised by submitters – particularly residents impacted by the rezoning – was that there had been a lack of consultation by the state government on the process.
In evidence, representatives of the Community Liaison Group described to the committee the negative impacts the Western Sydney Airport Project was having on the community, with major concerns about what was described as both a lack of transparency and a lack of community consultation. The Group told the committee that:
As a community, we have for many years enjoyed close relationships with neighbours, families and local support services. All this has now been turned on its head by the stroke of a bureaucratic pen, having no concern or care for residents, and the human factor in all of this is being totally ignored and overlooked. We were told at the very first public exhibition by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment – in future, to be referred to as the department – that the area was deemed as a blank canvas by the Greater Sydney Commission, led by Ms Turnbull. Residents were told by the department’s staff that they are collateral damage for the aerotropolis project, with no regard for the mental health and anguish inflected on residents through lack of transparency, consultation and deprivation of basic human rights.
The Community Liaison Group acknowledged that while the community had been made aware of a submission process, this had proved to be ‘a complete failure with regard to obtaining information, surety or clarification of any kind from both the department and the planning partnership’. The Group noted that:
Frustration is being felt very strongly throughout the entire community. This was evidenced by the contempt shown to the community even when over 600 submissions were lodged to the department, and they were condensed to only a minute paragraph within the Western Sydney Aerotropolis brochure. The same contempt was shown in the second public WASP – again, over 700 submissions were lodged to the department. And now we wait, hopefully, for an informed view of the third public exhibition precinct plans, where over 664 submissions have been lodged to the department.
The NSW Shadow Minister for Western Sydney, Mr Greg Warren MP submitted that:
There is little doubt that both the Commonwealth and NSW governments have failed to adequately consult, communicate and engage with the community in Western Sydney. A project of this scale that will impact hundreds of thousands of residents needs to occur with adequate consultation, communication and engagement.
The community in and around the WSA and Aerotropolis – including councils like Penrith, at times – have been left completely in the dark regarding major infrastructure plans and developments. Those, be it relevant Ministers at a Federal or State level, must be held accountable for their repeated blindsiding of the community.
Commonwealth and state responsibilities
Major infrastructure projects such as the Western Sydney Airport are by their very nature, complicated and consist of many ‘moving parts’. Managing a project the size and scale of the Western Sydney Airport is made even more complicated as it involves stakeholders, such as affected landholders, navigating multiple levels of government and related bureaucracies which are engaged in the project.
Throughout the inquiry, landowners described how difficult it had been to navigate through multiple levels of government and the associated bureaucracy. The problems experienced by landowners were made even more difficult because of a lack of clarity around Commonwealth, state and local government responsibilities, and an almost perfunctory consultation process. Some submitters were particularly critical of the community consultation process, which they argued had failed to provide any clarity.
The committee was told, for example, that when the airport zoning decision was made by the state government, their properties changed in value, as did the situation regarding whether they were able to leave their properties. For acquisitions, landowners had no knowledge of whether the purchasing entity would be the Commonwealth, or the state government, or when a purchase would happen. It was noted that various decisions, having a direct impact on landholders (and made by different levels of government) could present specific risks and accountability challenges for landowners.
Members of the Community Liaison Group noted, for example, that in an attempt to get answers for the community in regard to proposed rezoning, they had sought meetings with NSW departmental officials, with the requests declined. Mr Ross Murphy, a member of the Community Liaison Group told the committee:
The representations officially through the department and the community consultation process didn’t get us anywhere, so I approached Tanya Davis myself and got a meeting with her. As a result of that, we have been able to have a number of meetings with members of state government and there has been some good dialogue coming out of that …
Mr Andrew Gayed of Rossmore argued that there was a lack of information to explain why certain properties and landowners were being treated differently. He also expressed frustration at how difficult it was for landowners to communicate with authorities and engage them in discussions – even when they were provided with expert analysis by owners.
Mr Gayed explained that in an effort to engage with NSW Government authorities, neighbouring landowners had submitted a number of consultant reports, which showed that land and properties on both sides of the creek behind Mr Gayed’s property were similar, but treated differently by the NSW Government. He noted that:
The submissions we put to the department of planning and to the council were completely ignored and not addressed. We commissioned our own slab studies and we have combined slab studies with all of May Avenue to show that there are alternative paths. These are expert reports. They are not emotional. They are not invested in coming from another angle. They really showed that the department’s and the council’s reports were lack a lot of historical data and a lot of information. Again, they were completely ignored. So there’s a lot of frustration from landowners, myself included. We have no voice. We don’t have the political power or pull that some of the larger landowners have. So we’re just ignored, even though we have done everything the correct way. That really makes us feel like we are in hardship. Even though we want to be heard, we want the development, and we want the area to progress, we’re just treated as a by-product or as a nuisance that can just be ignored.
Forum on Western Sydney Airport
According to the Department of Infrastructure’s website, the Forum on Western Sydney Airport (FOWSA) was established:
… to enable the views of the communities of Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains to be heard and taken into account in the planning and development of Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport. It will also provide the opportunity for industry, local government and other stakeholder groups to be informed and provide feedback on the opportunities and challenges presented by the introduction of a new major airport in the Sydney Basin.
A key objective of FOWSA is stated to be providing a mechanism for the Department of Infrastructure and WSA Co to update residents affected by airport operations, as well as local authorities, airport users and other interested parties on a range of issues relating to the broader planning and development of the airport and their associated impacts.
There are up to 25 members on the Forum. Membership is made up of nine broad stakeholder categories, including representatives from the community, local and NSW Government, airport operators, aviation users and airlines. FOWSA meets approximately three times per year in Western Sydney, and the secretariat for the service is located within the Department of Infrastructure.
In evidence, FOWSA’s Chair, Ms Lee de Winton, informed the committee that while Forum members are briefed on matters such as land use and acquisition, biodiversity plans, noise impacts, health impacts, construction progress, employment figures and engagement and communication with key stakeholders, the Forum has no determinative capacity in relation to these issues. Ms de Winton described the Forum as a ‘communications piece rather than a decision-making body.’
Western Sydney residents can contact FOWSA members and have their questions tabled through the Forum, and then either provided to the Department of Infrastructure or to the NSW Government (through FOWSA’s NSW Government member).
When questioned further, however, it became clear that the Forum itself is not responsible for accepting questions and information from stakeholders, nor is it responsible for providing feedback to stakeholders or the community. Rather, it is a ‘portal for questions and answers’ and any information, updates or presentations that are given at FOWSA meetings are communicated ‘via the members to their own constituencies’.
While FOWSA’s primary role involves issues that are in the federal sphere, a number of the issues raised by witnesses were not federal, but state responsibilities. When asked about whether there was a similar consultation group that is being run by the NSW State Government, Ms de Winton indicated that she was not aware of what either the Aerotropolis or the state government were doing.
At its March 2021 hearing, officials from the Department of Infrastructure acknowledged that there had been some confusion about the roles of the Commonwealth Government and the New South Wales Government in regard to the Western Sydney Airport. Deputy Secretary, Mr David Hallinan clarified government roles, and advised:
There was a bit of confusion around acquisitions in particular. The Commonwealth has acquired properties associated with the airport and is in the process of acquiring easements attached to the airport site for the purposes of building the airport. Outside of the airport site, the Commonwealth isn't involved in acquisitions. The residential property acquisitions and other matters identified are a matter for the state government.
Mr Hallinan also noted that:
For the airport construction itself, that's a matter for the Commonwealth. For the development of the Western Parkland City, that's a matter for the state. When it comes to transport, roads, rail lines and acquisitions attached to those, as a general principle that's a matter for the state as well.
The committee notes that stakeholders have expressed a range of views in relation to the Western Sydney Airport Project.
There were also several submitters who expressed support for the airport development, with many arguing that the Western Sydney Airport Project will have positive impacts, with capacity to support job creation, provide opportunities for the community, and further develop industries such as agriculture, transport and manufacturing.
Conversely, some submitters expressed their strong opposition to the project itself, and argued that the health of those who live in the areas surrounding the airport will be negatively impacted by increased pollution, noise and traffic congestion. They also raised concerns about the potential environmental damage that could be caused by increased air traffic – particularly to areas such as the Blue Mountains.
The committee acknowledges the concerns raised by residents, who pointed to the proposal to operate the new airport without a curfew. Residents noted that this would have a negative impact on a significant number of people, and many argued that in the interests of fairness, a curfew similar to that which operates at Kingsford Smith Airport should be introduced.
The committee also received specific evidence from stakeholders – particularly Western Sydney landowners – who signalled that while they were supportive of the airport development, their lives had been severely impacted by the decision to rezone large tracts of land around the airport and the Aerotropolis precinct.
The committee recognises the negative impact the rezoning of land by the NSW Government has had on a significant number of people. In addition to the serious financial difficulties and uncertainty these individuals and their families have been experiencing, the lack of certainty has also had a significant impact on their mental and emotional wellbeing.
The committee observed first-hand the distress caused to landowners due to the land rezoning process, and by the publicity which has surrounded the acquisition of land in the Leppington Triangle: land that was purchased for substantially more than its market rate. The committee can only imagine the level of frustration felt by those who are being told that the value of their own land is about to decrease considerably – or in some cases become worthless – when they read the media’s reporting in relation to the Leppington Triangle land purchase.
The committee acknowledges the concerns raised by submitters in relation to the lack of appropriate consultation, the lack of respect shown to small landholders, the difficulties associated with obtaining land valuations, and the unfair and inequitable treatment of landholders. It is also apparent that navigating multiple levels of government and the associated bureaucracy has created a lack of clarity and a lack of readily accessible, clear and concise information about the Project.
The committee encourages the NSW Government to reflect on its actions throughout this process and to implement any changes needed for the duration of the Western Sydney Airport Project, to ensure that landholders are consulted, engaged and compensated in an appropriate and fulsome way. The NSW Government should also improve its channels of communication about the Project, through the development of more user-friendly and clearer information for Western Sydney communities to readily access.