The Guardian July 3, 2002


Sky piracy.
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.

Back to index page