Airport sale a criminal act
by Nathan Barnes In a thieving act of sky piracy, the Howard Government has sold Australia's biggest, and one and only profitable, airport, Sydney Airport, to a business consortium led by a bank. The terms of the sale include an underhand piece of corporate welfare. The Government is to use $1.36 billion of the $5.6 billion paid by Macquarie Bank-led Southern Cross consortium, to pay the Airport Corporation's debt on behalf of the new owners. The Government has now sold almost every one of its major publicly-owned asset, with only the ABC, SBS, the Reserve Bank, Medicare, Medibank and a majority of Telstra shares still in majority public ownership. Airport charges will be deregulated from July 1. This will see increased charges to airlines, which in turn will result in increased airfare prices. The Government is making a big play about using the money from the sale of public assets to pay off debt — debt which could have been paid off by not slashing corporate taxes or by reducing corporate welfare. Not that some debt, if it is manageable, is a bad thing. It is a disgrace that the Government is crying poor, selling off public assets and paying off the debt while cutting funding to services across the board and handing over fists full of money to the big corporations. It is a ruse to dress up government figures while inflating big business profits. The irony is, that when the Government has finished selling off all its properties and major assets, and is paying through the nose for services and rental, it will not have the means to bail out the corporate collapses. People living in suburbs near the airport — which is the densely populated inner southern suburb of Mascot — are rightly up in arms about the sale, knowing from long experience that it foreshadows increases in noise and aircraft fuel pollution. Current regulations confine aircraft movements to no more than 80 per hour and impose a curfew on flights between 11pm and 6am. But the new owners will want to squeeze the biggest profits possible from their new prize and that will require open skies for unlimited flights. No doubt there is a guarantee of just that in the sale contract. "The reality is the sale's going to mean less public control over one of the most significant polluters in Sydney", said Marrickville mayor Barry Cotter. One local resident, Steve Goldberg from Dulwich Hill, noted that the Transport Minister John Anderson had promised that any future developments at Sydney Airport would involve community consultation. "I remember the last time there was `community consultation' over the development of Sydney Airport", said Mr Goldberg. "Residents in the suburbs closest to the airport ended up with a third runway, more noise and a shorter curfew." Southern Cross has already said they are "frustrated" by regulations governing noise levels and intend immediately to increase runway capacity for larger jets. The ongoing saga of a second airport for Sydney has officially been put off the agenda by the Government until 2005, but even this is superfluous as Southern Cross have veto rights over the construction of a second airport. Sydney Airport was the last Australian airport in public hands. All other major airports have already been sold. As the big profit-maker it returned tens of millions of dollars to government revenue and cross-subsidised the other airports. All that is gone now. What will happen to Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and even Melbourne's Tullamarine? Will they sink or swim depending on taxpayer-funded handouts to their private owners, increased charges to airlines, cutting corners in spending (including compromising safety) and cutting staff? And what if the Southern Cross consortium becomes another HIH or Enron? Will the public fork out billions or will Sydney airport come to a halt, as Ansett did. All infrastructure fundamental to the proper operation and workings of society — telecommunications, aviation, health, education, water, electricity — should be in public hands, properly funded and publicly accountable. The sell-off by governments of these crucial assets is a disgraceful and criminal act.