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 AirportĀ “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.

Public Transport in Brisbane…Grrr…

I’m in Brisbane on a short visit at present and I can’t let my experiences on the suburban trains today go unheralded.

The first thing of note was the sign at Central, saying return train fares are no longer sold – fair enough, I thought, but one could always buy a return ticket when I lived here.

Next came the shock – the sheer usury of the ticket prices. I took two trips today – one to Indooroopilly and one to Toowong, both from Central (for the uninitiated, six stops and four stops respectively). The first ultimately cost $9.20 return (after buying a ticket back at the other end); the other $7.80.

And we complain about fares in Melbourne! We have a bargain basement regime weighed against this.

Taking the escalator from the concourse at Central to the platform, I was struck by how grimy, dingy and neglected the whole place looked. OK, so it’s a train station and a public place, but it made Flinders Street, in its notorious state of disrepair, look like a palace by comparison.

Toowong station was even worse, and looked like it hadn’t had a cent spent on its maintenance since I last took a train from there ten years ago.

But back to Central. As the first train went by whilst I waited for my train to Indooroopilly, I noticed a grotesquely crass piece of spin that made anything from our recently-departed Bracks/Brumby government pale by comparison: the carriages were emblazoned “No. 12 of 64 new trains for SEQ,” replete with Queensland Government logo. How nauseating.

Once aboard the newish train that arrived to take me to Indooroopilly, I saw the filth, the ripped velour on the seats, the carpet on the floor of the carriage that was worn through and which had had an appalling attempt at a patch job done on it with ducting tape and what appeared to be Nikko pen to try to match the background colour.

The other three train trips were on equally or more neglected trains; in total all four carriages I travelled on had faulty doors that had been locked and sealed with tape.

And does Queensland Rail pay cleaners? The amount of half-eaten food liberally strewn around the trains, food wrappers, old newspapers and – in one case – what looked like a piece of “utilised” toilet paper, was a disgrace.

Indeed, on the train from Toowong tonight on the way back to my hotel, one fellow passenger noted aloud that the carriage smelt “like spew.” Quite.

Add in the surly attitude I was given by the station staff at Central, the disrepair evident in stations I passed along the way, and even the noxious “Doors closing, please stand clear” recording I’d happily long forgotten ever existed until today, and I can see that travelling by train in Brisbane must incense the unfortunate inhabitants forced to endure it.

I thought the standards on the Melbourne metropolitan train network had fallen far during the eleven years of Labor government in Victoria. The standards would need to fall far further to reach the level of those in Brisbane.

Yes, I took two shortish trips on one of seven suburban train lines: how representative is that? My answer is what is routinely thrown at me by friends who still live in Brisbane and don’t like what they find on visits to Melbourne.

And that is simply that as a visitor in Brisbane, my impressions count, as do those of any visitor. That public interfaces like its trains are opportunities to sell a destination or tarnish perceptions of it. And they are a reflection on those who provide services, in this case the Queensland state government.

Public transport is a modern hot-button issue electorally on so many levels. I left Brisbane at about the time Peter Beattie was becoming Premier of Queensland and would be lucky to have spent a month in total in Queensland in the 13 or 14 years since I headed south.

All I can say is that if the Beattie/Bligh government has applied itself as assiduously and as competently to other aspects of its jurisdiction as it apparently has to Brisbane’s trains, then it is small wonder Queenslanders have been looking for a reason to throw it from office – a reason that the conservatives, for so long until very recently, have been unable or unwilling to provide.

An old mate today asked me what I thought would happen at the looming Queensland state election in light of Anna Bligh’s flood boost and the unorthodox arrangements being undertaken by the LNP.

I said that I thought Campbell Newman would win in a canter in Queensland. The swing in Ashgrove will be nearly double that required to take the seat, and whilst I don’t go along with current polls predicting the ALP being left with as few as 10 of 89 seats, I think a nett loss of some 25 to 30 seats is what the ALP can look forward to in the none-too-distant future.

Based on what I’ve seen today, it’s no wonder the natives are angry. And waiting on their balconies with the baseball bats.