FactCheck: is Rudd to blame for delays at Brisbane Airport?

Queensland’s deputy premier blames the prime minister for the delays at Brisbane airport. AAP/Brisbane Airport Corporation

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is the cause of delays at the very airport at which he now wants a second runway to proceed… “Kevin Rudd ran a damaging campaign against a second runway in the late ‘90s and since then Brisbane Airport has experienced some of the worst delays of any airport in Australia.” - Queensland’s Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, media release, 1 July.

If you haven’t flown into Brisbane lately, Twitter can tell you what you’ve been missing.

‏@sophbenj 45 min delay coming into Bris airport. Captain of my Tiger flight just had a spectacular rant about #bnelateagain

@AlexJSmithy Captain on @QantasAirways into @BrisbaneAirport tonight said “it wouldn’t be a flight to BNE without an air traffic delay” #bnelateagain

In March, The Courier-Mail reported that more than 2.5 million passengers using Brisbane Airport had been affected by flight delays over the previous year, including record delays in February.

The newspaper responded by launching a Twitter campaign to speed up construction of a new runway - and the #bnelateagain hashtag has been used more than 3000 times since.

But how much, if any, responsibility does Prime Minister Kevin Rudd bear for delaying Brisbane Airport’s expansion?

Rudd first ran for federal election in 1996, campaigning hard about airport noise affecting the inner-southside Brisbane suburbs of his electorate, Griffith, should a proposed new parallel runway go ahead. Although he failed to win the seat in that election, Rudd succeeded in giving prominence to the issue.

In 1998, Rudd ran again and continued to campaign against the construction of the new runway. He was elected as the member for Griffith on the back of a strong grassroots campaign that has seen him permanently associated with Brisbane’s runway debate.

Hansard records show that between his first speech to parliament in 1998 and 2006, Rudd continued his campaign. He eventually succeeded in gaining the assistance of Labor party senators to set up a Senate inquiry into the Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) master plan.

In 2000, Rudd told parliament the Senate inquiry had identified “a number of adverse observations in relation to the manner and method through which… the master plan was approved by the Minister”. He subsequently appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against the minister’s approval of the airport master plan.

In November 2006 in a statement to Parliament, Rudd effectively conceded the runway decision had gone against him:

“Since [the Brisbane Airport Corporation] first put forward this proposal for a new parallel runway, on four separate occasions I have been in court either with the federal government or with the Brisbane Airport Corporation, through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and then the Federal Court, in an attempt to stop this runway proceeding. In fact the substantive matter that I put to the Brisbane Airport Corporation is that they should not proceed with the construction of that runway until they had conducted a proper cost-benefit analysis of all alternative runway options.”

Rudd also noted that court costs awarded against him were $32,000, a substantial amount of which was raised on his behalf by Brisbane’s southside community. He added:

“I have stated repeatedly on the public record that I do not believe that I can now stop this thing from proceeding, because I have been defeated in the courts on this question.”

Since then, Rudd has said little about the issue. But early this month, the newly returned Labor prime minister said he now [agreed that regular delays at the airport were hurting Queensland’s economy]((http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/prime-minister-kevin-rudd-backs-parallel-runway-plan-for-brisbane-airport-expansion/story-fnihsrk2-1226672203037). Rudd also said Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese would be pushing Qantas and the Brisbane Airport Corporation to strike a funding deal over the runway, similar to a 10-year deal signed by Virgin Australia last month.

Given the history, it is understandable that Rudd’s political opponents would seek to blame him for some or all of the current problems with Brisbane Airport.

However, there have been a number of major problems that have affected the new runway’s construction, particularly the $1.3 billion cost, which have nothing to do with Rudd.

The airport’s private operators and airlines have been in dispute over increasing current passenger charges to pay for the runway, even though it will not be built before 2020. In addition, the airport’s former chief executive has said he warned the airport as far back as 1999 that it would hit capacity by 2007.

The Brisbane Airport Corporation has had clear air to proceed with the runway since at least 2007, when it was approved by the Howard Government - yet construction only began last year.

Verdict

While most of Jeff Seeney’s full media release is correct, his most serious claim - that Kevin Rudd has been “the cause of delays” affecting Brisbane Airport’s new runway construction - goes too far. In the bigger picture, funding and planning problems have been the most significant cause of #bne being #lateagain.


Review

This article is accurate, and right to point to a series of other more substantial challenges that have delayed the new runway’s construction.

These have included arguments between the Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) and airlines concerning the $1.3 billion cost: who should pay and when they should pay. The BAC has been asking airlines to pay significant costs well in advance of the runway opening. Most airlines have seen this as an unreasonable demand from the private operator.

In addition, there are technical challenges. The BAC is trying to build the new runway on unstable waterlogged land on a low-lying coastal site. Some of the challenges of the new runway site and its history dating back to 1970s are summarised here.

The BAC indicated a few years ago that it had reduced its expenditure by delaying the runway. My recollection is that when the BAC made this announcement, it was in the context of the global financial crisis, and not because of political opposition.

It is appropriate for Kevin Rudd or any other MP to advocate about issues that may affect their electorate - in this case, airport noise and the likelihood that this will increase with Brisbane’s new runway. However, I do not think it is reasonable to say that Rudd has been a significant cause of the delays in constructing the new runway, or for the current flight delays at Brisbane Airport. - Greg Bamber

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