Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Repeal Bill

This week, despite NSW Labor backflipping and siding with the Liberal-National Government, the Greens stood firm with the Warnervale community against the proposed expansion of the Central Coast airport.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (21:50): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Repeal Bill 2020. At the outset I state clearly that The Greens do not support the repeal of the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act. We will move amendments that we believe address concerns that have been shared with us by the community and key stakeholders alike. The history of Warnervale Airport is a pretty colourful one, to put it politely, and one that most residents of the Central Coast are quite familiar with. The community has seen it all, from outlandish development proposals by a range of very strange characters to establish the site as a gateway for a theme park, all the way to dodgy undertakings from previous councils in an effort to establish some kind of broadscale commercial airport facility. They have lived through Mike Baird standing with a person who was said to be part of a United States aeronautics company but who, it turned out, had bought a trademark or a design but had no experience whatsoever in the industry. This is the sort of thing that the local community has seen in relation to the Warnervale Airport, so we have to give them some leniency when they say they are not very trusting of the Government when it comes to the airport.

Throughout all of those proposals, on which almost no part of the local community was meaningfully consulted, the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act has been largely effective. Whether pursuant to its terms or simply due to it being there in the first place, it has continued to prevent the construction of a broader‑scale airport. It has continued to send a signal, both to the community and to the council and its staff, that the idea of a larger airport is off the table. Originally passed by this place in 1996, the Act came about as a response to decades of back-and-forth by the then Wyong Shire Council, which had very real plans to expand the facility into either a commercial or a freight airport. There were—and there continue to be—significant concerns about such an expansion, and there are a number of very good reasons why that facility would not stack up.

Firstly, the very geography of the location places significant constraints on any potential for expansion of the airport, with the ecologically sensitive Porters Creek Wetland restricting the size of the current runway. Secondly, the area surrounding the airport continues to be developed, with growing residential communities in Warnervale and Jilliby. Those residents' amenity would be severely impacted by such an expansion if it was allowed to proceed. In addition, the impacts it would have on the ongoing development of the Wyong Employment Zone, which continues to creep closer to the facility, would be significant and potentially would put at risk the creation of hundreds of jobs—jobs that are desperately needed in the Wyong area. Finally, there is no business case for a commercial airport on the Central Coast. We know it would not work. The demand is not there to sustain such an operation and it would be doomed to fail from the start, but that will not prevent people from trying. We have seen that in the past 20 years.

Many in this place argue that we simply do not need the Act anymore, that it has outlived its usefulness and that its provisions and protections are now duplicated in more modern legislation. However, as we heard during the recent inquiry into the bill, it is clear that many in the community desire the additional administrative hurdles that would be required before an expansion of the airport could be undertaken. That is a really important point. This is not a complete overlap with provisions elsewhere. There are unique provisions in the Act that require additional community consultation to be undertaken and additional steps to be taken before any airport expansion could take effect. The additional protections afforded by the Act should not be repealed lightly.

Despite all of the history, one could argue that the real reason that a full repeal of the Act is on the table today is in large part because the then Wyong Shire Council extended the existing runway of the Warnervale Airport without approval back in 2015. In doing that, it triggered a number of specific restrictions that exist within the Act. It was really clear at the inquiry that we held into this bill that everybody agreed that the flight restrictions that had been triggered were not something that anybody wanted to keep. There was broad support to remove the flight restriction and no-one is arguing with the element of the Act that triggered this problem in the first place. Overnight the airport, which had been successfully used by recreational flyers, training schools and other hobbyists for lots of years, had a number of restrictions placed upon it that capped the total number of take-offs and landings that could be performed in a single day and introduced tight curfews. The restrictions that were triggered by Wyong Shire Council were designed to make the expansion of the airport into a commercial facility unviable, not to prevent the facility from being used in the way in which it was. As I say, there is broad support for the existing use.

This technical triggering of the restrictions by Wyong Shire Council is the sole reason why a second statutory review was undertaken into the Act and its aims. The review somewhat surprisingly found that the best course of action to address those particular restrictions—this one aspect of the Act—being triggered was simply to repeal the Act in its entirety. When I questioned the authors of the report at the inquiry into the bill, neither of them could justify exactly why we could not simply amend the Act so as to deactivate the specific restrictions that had been triggered by the unauthorised runway extension in 2015. I was instead met with vagaries about the importance of streamlining legislation and the removal of red tape.

Put simply, the Government wants to take a sledgehammer approach to a problem that could be easily fixed with a few minor additions to the Act. The result is that the community, which has for many years enjoyed the additional protections it provides and the signal it sends to the council, council staff and the surrounding community, would once again be exposed to the potential expansion of the Warnervale Airport. It is not the best outcome and that is why The Greens oppose the repeal of the Act. It is why we have tabled amendments that seek to address the concerns of the community and stakeholders to ensure the successful and appropriate use of the airport for many years to come. I urge the members of this place to accept those amendments.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (22:20): By leave: I move The Greens amendments Nos 1 to 5 on sheet c2020‑215C in globo:

No. 1 Act not repealed

Page 3, clause 1, line 3. Omit "Repeal". Insert instead "Amendment".

No. 2 Act not repealed

Page 3, clause 2, lines 5–9. Omit all words on those lines. Insert instead—

This Act commences on the date of assent to this Act.

No. 3 Replace references to Wyong Council

Page 3, clause 3. Insert after line 12—

(1A) Sections 8(4), 10(1), 11(3) and 12(2) and (3)

Omit "Wyong Council" wherever occurring.

Insert instead "Central Coast Council".

No. 4 Act not repealed

Page 3, clause 4, lines 13 and 14. Omit all words on those lines.

No. 5 Long title

Omit "and to provide for the repeal of the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act 1996".

We have heard lots of evidence around the flight restriction aspect of the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act 1996, which triggered the review and all of these problems. Perhaps I should have another career as an independent reviewer of Acts because what The Greens have done here is actually create what we believe should have been the bill that came to us in the first place. The amendments moved simply remove the flight restrictions while leaving the rest of the protections in the Act in place, rather than the sledgehammer approach of the bill. The five amendments on this sheet are designed around that basic concept. We have of course updated the name of the council, given we intend to keep the rest of the Act, but members will see the remainder of it simply removes that restriction. That is the bit that has been causing the uncertainty and the bit that everybody objects to.

Interestingly, I asked witnesses appearing at the inquiry what they had responded to in community consultations and surveys—including the survey from Portfolio Committee No. 7 – Planning and Environment—around whether they thought the Act should be repealed. It became clear they had never been given an option to have just the bit of the Act that was causing a problem repealed. Even a number of those witnesses who were previously in support of repealing the Act said that they would have gone for an option just to repeal the flight restrictions aspect of the Act with immediate effect, had it been given. But instead of bringing that to us, which we would have passed straightaway, we have this sledgehammer approach and what sounds like a very expensive review. Those are the reasons for these amendments. I encourage members to support them so we can actually do what the Government should have done in the first place.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD (22:23): On behalf of the Government I oppose the amendments moved by The Greens. While thanking them for their contribution, I note that The Greens amendments seek to modify the Warnervale Airport (Restrictions) Act 1996 rather than repealing it. The Greens amendments will remove section 6 of the Act, which legislates a cap of 88 flight movements a day, but retain the remainder of the Act. This amendment is not supported by the Government because it fundamentally does not resolve the issue at hand and is not consistent with the recommendations of the independent review and the community's views.

The airport is governed by a raft of existing planning, environmental and aviation legislation and regulations that already provide the necessary checks and balances for public safety and amenity, land use zonings, environmental protections—especially to the highly sensitive wetland area—and aircraft movements. The remainder of the Act merely duplicates the other primary legislation and regulations that are frequently reviewed.

I am dealing with all the amendments at this time. The independently undertaken review asked the question: Does the Act remain relevant? The review's findings noted that the Act, though introduced as an instrument to enhance community confidence in the legislative system, is outdated, duplicative and no longer relevant. It has not provided the community with the certainty that it was intended to. Put simply and in conclusion, the Act is not fit for purpose and no amount of amending will make it so. For those reasons, the Government opposes the amendments.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE (22:24): For the reasons that I outlined in my second reading contribution, the Opposition will not be supporting the amendments. The three-year time frame before the Act is repealed gives adequate time for those additional and necessary protections to be put in place for the benefit of the community. Should that not happen, the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces—who I note is in the President's gallery—has given a commitment to put in place a State environmental planning policy to provide those protections if the council "doesn't get its act together" in the time frame provided by the legislation. The other changes that have occurred in the planning system over the past two decades provide the protections that the community legitimately needs, which did not exist at the time the legislation was put in place. The amendments would stop the repeal of the legislation; the Opposition does not support that. The Opposition supports the legislation in its current form.

The Hon. TAYLOR MARTIN (22:26): With these amendments, The Greens are persisting with the erroneous assertion that the only thing wrong with the Act is the movement cap. The review by Goldberg and Fiegehen found a long list of problems with the Act, outlined on pages 29 to 32 of the report, which include the fact that legislation is duplicated; definitions are lacking; pilots do not refer to legislation when planning flights, nor should they have to; enforcement is unrealistic and expensive; penalties are poorly defined; there is no exit plan when restrictions are triggered; the council is no longer the consent authority for its own developments; and superior community, environmental, noise and safety protections exist elsewhere.

The review reflected on whether the Act could be improved by amendments instead of being repealed. If members look at the report, on page 30 there is a list of amendments that could be made to update the Act if cost or complexity was not an issue. It is right there in black and white. Basically, the reviewers did The Greens' job for them. It is clear The Greens have not read that report because instead we have the amendments before the Committee that simply remove the movement cap and change the wording to reflect the current local government area while leaving the rest of the Act, with all of the issues I have outlined, intact. The Central Coast deserves better and should not continue to be held back unnecessarily any longer.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (22:27): I thank the Hon. Taylor Martin for his contribution. I have in fact read the report from cover to cover. I wish the honourable member had, because he would then see that the aspects he referred to are predominantly in relation to flight restrictions and not to the rest of the Act. I commend the amendments to the Committee.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR (The Hon. Shayne Mallard): Ms Abigail Boyd has moved The Greens amendments Nos 1 to 5 on sheet c2020‑215C. The question is that the amendments be agreed to.

The Committee divided.

Ayes 4

Noes 32

Majority 28

AYES

Boyd (teller)

Hurst

Shoebridge (teller)

Faehrmann

 

 

     

 

NOES

Ajaka

Franklin

Moselmane

Amato

Graham

Nile

Banasiak

Jackson

Primrose

Borsak

Khan

Roberts

Buttigieg

Latham

Searle

D'Adam

Maclaren-Jones (teller)

Secord

Donnelly

Martin

Sharpe

Fang

Mason-Cox

Taylor

Farlow

Mitchell

Tudehope

Farraway (teller)

Mookhey

Ward

Field

Moriarty

 

     

 

Amendments negatived.

 

For the full Hansard transcript please see here.

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