Ruddwatch: Populist Airport Pitch Cloaks Ambition

LEADERSHIP TROUBLEMAKER Kevin Rudd has surfaced for the first time since the election, revisiting the issue he initially used in 1996 to seek attention as a candidate. Rudd’s pronouncements on airport infrastructure are wrong, and suggest he may yet retain ambitions of a return to high office.

Anyone who has lived in Brisbane or flown in and out of its airport — and I’ve done both — knows that dear old Brisvegas is poorly served for air travel infrastructure, with flight delays the norm and too much time spent circling overhead before landing a standard feature of any travel involving Brisbane Airport today.

And this problem is not unique to Brisbane; Sydney Airport in particular is operating at full capacity, with its congested airspace, restricted runways and 11pm-6am curfew all conspiring to make travelling in and out of the harbour city a nightmare.

All this makes the public utterances this week of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd all the more interesting: for what he hasn’t said as much as for what he did.

Make no mistake, the cretinous Rudd still hankers after the Prime Ministership.

Back in 1996, prior to that year’s election, Kevin Rudd had been parachuted into the “safe” Brisbane seat of Griffith as Labor’s candidate after the retirement of long-time MP Ben Humphreys; his Liberal opponent was Brisbane City Councillor Graeme McDougall.

Fresh from his stint at the apex of bureaucracy under former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss — which won him great plaudits in ALP circles, and was regarded as a disaster with near-unanimity elsewhere — Rudd had made a name for himself locally by belting the can over the issue of aeroplane noise, which is a perennial issue in Griffith.

Even then, people around Brisbane called the Rudd campaign for what it was: despite living in the electorate, noise from flight paths has been an “old faithful” horse to flog on the hustings for decades for those desperate to generate a bit of attention.

It turned out to be for nought; at the election that swept the Keating government away in 1996 McDougall beat Rudd, and once elected at his second attempt in 1998, Rudd’s public ardour for something to be done about noisy flight paths dimmed. Considerably.

And this is why Rudd’s pronouncements on a second airport in Brisbane, runway duplication at the existing airport, and a curfew to boot are so revealing.

Everyone knows that something has to be done about Brisbane Airport. Sydney too, for that matter, and we will refer to it along the way.

There has been a public push in the past week or so to upgrade Archerfield Airport, in Brisbane’s inner/mid-southern suburbs. It is no solution, and its proximity to residential communities will make the kind of noise people complain about because of the existing airport at Eagle Farm seem mild by comparison.

In one of the reports I have seen, Rudd makes no mention of the Archerfield option. This is a shame, as I would love to know what he makes of it.

Because the warped version of a “solution” he now says he supports for the existing Brisbane Airport is ridiculous; taken at face value it represents a case of two steps forward and one step back, and could only be seriously advanced by a lunatic.

The single runway at Brisbane Airport — last upgraded 20 years ago, save for more recent modifications to prepare it for use by Airbus A380s — is in urgent need of duplication, with growth in aircraft movements far outstripping capacity.

Belatedly, preliminary works on a parallel runway began earlier this year, with the new airstrip due for completion in 2020.

Until very recently, Kevin Rudd was opposed to any expansion of capacity at Brisbane Airport at all, although as readers will see from the Courier Mail article I have linked to, this opposition was abandoned when he briefly reclaimed the Prime Ministership in June.

(Rudd’s position on many issues underwent U-turns at about the same time, but I digress).

Yet Rudd wants a curfew slapped on Brisbane Airport’s operating hours between 11pm and 6am as soon as the new runway is completed.

The position makes no sense whatsoever: one runway, currently available for use 24 hours a day, is to be doubled — with 14 hours’ effective capacity instantly chopped out?

I tend to think the airlines, the Queensland government, the Brisbane Airports Corporation and other stakeholders footing the $1.5 billion bill for a new runway would be less than impressed to find the money had purchased a capacity increase of just 40%.

That result would do little to advance Brisbane’s claims to be a “World Class City;” as it is, there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest Brisbane ranks behind Perth in international perceptions of which Australian cities, after Melbourne and Sydney, measure up against those elsewhere.

What Rudd says he wants to see happen is therefore bewildering.

Moreover, such a position would immediately set Brisbane Airport on course for the same problems that currently bedevil Sydney Airport.

Some of the additional capacity from a new runway will be immediately absorbed to remedy the present situation of delays, cancellations and the like; more again will be eaten away as the rapid growth in air traffic to and from Brisbane quickly fills the extra slots that even a curfewed expansion will enable.

But then it’s back to square one, and sooner than many might think. What then? The availability of land around the existing Brisbane Airport isn’t exactly plentiful.

Rudd claims Sydney Airport “remains an entirely viable airport” despite having a curfew since 1995. But this ignores the fact the curfew was introduced by the Keating government in its death throes to try to salvage a few marginal Labor seats, and it ignores the fact that Sydney Airport as a consequence is simply a far bigger version of the problem currently facing the Brisbane facility.

He also claims that “sleep disruption” will become a far greater problem for residents in communities beneath aeroplane flight paths, but this problem is already being dealt with to some extent by Airbus and Boeing as they introduce quieter, more efficient aeroplanes into their product ranges.

The point has to be made that anyone who buys a house in the noise footprint of a major airport can’t say they weren’t warned; in any case, people have to make choices: do they want quiet skies, or do they want airline services and the benefits (trade, tourism, investment etc) that flow from the facilities that enable them?

There are no magic puddings on this issue, which is why it’s praiseworthy that the new federal government seems set to bite the bullet and build Sydney’s second major airport at the same Badgery’s Creek site that Keating’s government should have 20 years ago.

It is also why the notion of Archerfield Airport as a second major airport in Brisbane is a red herring.

But it brings up a neat summary of Rudd’s position on the issue, and from that a clear picture emerges.

Rudd has campaigned against aeroplane noise, intermittently, for nearly 20 years.

He opposed expanding Brisbane Airport, but now supports a second runway.

His support depends on the benefits of expansion being immediately cruelled by a curfew.

There is a very real problem here, but Rudd’s posturing adds up to virtually nothing.

It’s reminiscent of Rudd’s “termination” of a carbon tax…only to replace it with the (far higher) eventual European trading price, allowing him to sate both the anti-carbon tax and pro-ETS lobbies — semantically at least — at a stroke.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see Rudd is still trying to promise all things to all people.

The mighty Rudd, fighting off aeroplanes on behalf of his constituents, yet sending the signal — however half-baked — that he’s a friend of airport expansion to everyone else.

He wouldn’t bother if there was nothing in it for him, surely?

Heavy Kevvie still harbours thoughts of another stint in the Prime Ministership, methinks.

And with Rudd’s longstanding history of subterranean destabilisation of Labor leaders as good a pointer to future conduct as any, it will be interesting to see how Showbag Bill deals with Rudd as the latter gets up to all of his old tricks.

This could be Rudd’s first move in his latest leadership game. We’ll keep an eye on him.