Press conference - Western Sydney airport

08 Jun 2023
Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government
Western Sydney Airport Announcement; Interest rates; Economy; Brittany Higgins; Flight paths

AUNTY GAIL SMITH: Good morning and welcome to the Western Sydney International Airport for the 50 per cent milestone of completing the airport. I would like to acknowledge the families of the Cabrogal clan as the traditional custodian of the land we are on. As we gather here for this important occasion, I pay my respect to the elders past, present, and all First People here today on our border community. We stand here this morning to acknowledge the traditional owners and to recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. My name is Aunty Gail Smith. I'm a proud Goori Gulbun from the Dunghutti nation, Kempsey North Coast. I'm also a board member of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council based in Liverpool. I am proud of being given the privilege of being able to stand here before all of you, on behalf of the board, the members we serve, and our community. I would like to acknowledge Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese. Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Catherine King. Member for Werriwa, Anne Stanley. Western Sydney Airport Chair, Paul O'Sullivan. Western Sydney Airport CEO, Simon Hickey. Western Sydney Airport Chief Public Affairs Officer, Scott MacKillop. First Nation Engagement Manager, PJ. Qantas Group CEO, Alan Joyce. Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council Chair, Tony Scholes. Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO, Dr Melissa Williams. This invitation that we accept is a treaty to two things: a respect for the deep, rich history of Aboriginal people in the region; two, commitment to mutual respect. The unique identity established by the interplay of culture, economic, social and deep history of people in the region is a real as the community we continue to walk upon. The airport we're planning will be able to serve as a gateway for those visiting our shores, connect with many of Australia's First People. The Cabrogal people have interchanged with neighbouring clans, including the Dharawal people. Our paths cross over thousands of years through trade, through celebrations, through marriage and the pursuit of many other common goals. The airport is a continual meeting of our people's nations. Gandangara Local Council works are to improve our members’ lives in real, practical ways. The development of the airport will create jobs that become careers and houses that become homes. To see through our intentions to have our culture and history embrace and celebrate a unique future of this continuous story. Our work with you in planning and exciting the vision of the airport is a key triangled action driven by that single objective – respect. We show it with respect to receive it. These intentions are reasonable, feasible and defined, well-trained perceptions of Aboriginal people as individuals, as communities throughout Australia and the rest of the world. As we walk together towards our common goals, I urge you to walk carefully in the footstep of our elders. In delivering this Acknowledgment of Country this is the ultimate symbol of respect I extend to you. I would like to acknowledge our CEO of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, Melissa Williams, who is present with us today, who is overseeing a growing land council that offers social service to the Aboriginal wider community of south-western Sydney. Through Melissa's leadership, we are forming new and initiative partnerships to collectively work together with our community and stakeholders to advance our First Peoples. Thank you for attending today's event and welcome. Thank you.

CATHERINE KING, MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Well, welcome, everybody. It is a fantastic day. Can I too acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we gather. I thank Aunty Gail very much for that warm Welcome to Country and the deep engagement First Nations people have with this country and commend Western Sydney International for the great work that they are doing to ensure that First Nations people are involved very heavily in this project. I'm going to hand over to the Prime Minister, but this is a terrific day. I've been coming up here, I think this is my fourth visit out here, third as Minister, and the sort of progress we are seeing here at Western Sydney International. We've got the code, but we're now and truly well underway for the construction. 50 per cent today in marking the milestone of getting there, opening by 2026. We've still got a long way to go, but this is a terrific milestone to recognise. Being here with Qantas Group, with Paul, the Chair, and Simon, the CEO of Western Sydney International, really being able to celebrate both the 50 per cent, but also the deal with Qantas to actually agree to start flying planes out of this airport as at 2026. So, this is a great day for Western Sydney International and I'm going to hand over the Prime Minister to commence the proceedings. Anne first, sorry.

ANNE STANLEY, MEMBER FOR WERRIWA: My name’s Anne Stanley and I'm the Federal Member for Werriwa. And I am so excited to be able to have the Prime Minister in Werriwa at the new Western Sydney Airport. It has changed so much since I was elected in 2016. And all the locals that have got jobs and are going to benefit from this airport and just everything that is going to happen when it opens in 2026 is fantastic for our part of the world, but particularly for the residents who live out here. So, it's my great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well thanks very much, Anne. And thank you for being such a champion of local jobs for your local community here. It is a remarkable day today, and in my first speech way back in 1996 I spoke about the importance of Western Sydney Airport here at Badgerys Creek. Some 27 years later, we see it taking shape here. On previous visits here this was a whole lot of earth that had to be moved as one of the first tasks at this airport. Perhaps the largest ever earth moving of any infrastructure project that has occurred anywhere in Australia. But this is a transformational infrastructure project for Western Sydney. This is not just about a runway, although it's important that we're able to see the runway here today. This is about jobs and economic activity and changing the focus of Sydney. So that instead of always looking inwards towards the east and towards the city, it looks outwards to Western Sydney where most of the population of this great, global city live. This project, I know, has such a long history but I well recall having a look way back at the master plans in 1994 and 1995. The master plans have basically stayed the same, just about. And some 30 years later we are getting there. Today, we say we are halfway there. Halfway to the milestone of achieving actual planes operating here, carrying passengers, carrying freight as well. Western Sydney hit the halfway mark at the end of May, and is on track to commence in late 2026, with freight, as well as moving people. Hitting the halfway mark on construction is more than just something to mark on a calendar. It allows us to point to the benefits that this project is already bringing to Western Sydney. Over $400 million has already been awarded to businesses in Western Sydney for the work that has happened on this very site. Some 4,300 direct jobs have already been created by the construction of the airport, with over 11,000 direct and indirect jobs expected to be created throughout the construction period, up to the airport opening in 2026. To give you some idea of the scale here, the business park that will be placed in this airport site, let alone on the surrounds of the metropolis, will be bigger than Parramatta’s CBD. Bigger than Parramatta’s CBD. What that means is economic activity and jobs where it is needed most. More than 250 Western Sydney businesses have been engaged by contractors across construction, catering, security, and the other sectors here at the airport.

So what we can see is a vision becoming a reality before our very eyes. Western Sydney International Airport will change the dynamic of Sydney. It'll change, as well, with the public transport infrastructure which will be here, with the businesses that will be here, particularly to the north of the airport, but will really transform this great global city. And I'm very proud that today we are celebrating the milestone. But today, there's another important announcement as well. And I'm very pleased to be here with Alan Joyce and the Qantas team, with the Western Sydney International Airport team, to announce that Qantas and Jetstar are the first airlines to sign up to operating domestic flights out of this airport from 2026. This agreement that's about to be signed by Qantas is expected to support more than 25,000 flights, carrying more than 4 million passengers through Western Sydney International Airport each year. It will support 700 jobs, including, of course, pilots, catering staff, flight attendants, baggage handlers, all the staff who will operate here, making an enormous difference. And I well remember as a former Infrastructure and Transport Minister, sitting down with Alan all those years ago, talking about the importance of the operations at this airport. This airport will have a number of advantages as well. Its taxiing times will be far less than that of existing airports anywhere in Australia. Its baggage handling will be more efficient than any airport in Australia. This will be top of the range, from day one, which will make an enormous difference. It will make a difference for people in Western Sydney in particular. And I'm very pleased that Qantas is making this announcement today. But I'm also pleased that we can see the reality of what is happening here. And that this airport also has such broad community support, who understand the difference that it will make to local jobs and economic activity here in Western Sydney, as well as being, of course, a major boost for productivity – it seems to be the word of the moment. Well this is a productivity enhancing project for Sydney and for the nation.

ALAN JOYCE, QANTAS CEO: Well, can I first of all acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet. I pay my respects to elders past and present. Can I thank everybody for being here, particularly the Prime Minister for his vision and support of this airport, but the Minister and the local member, and Simon Hickey and Paul O’Sullivan, who have done amazing leadership here to get this so close to completion. I’d also like to acknowledge my colleagues, Vanessa Hudson, who is the CFO and the CEO-designate. Vanessa will be helping me with some of the questions, because her and her team have helped negotiate this deal. And we have Steph Tully, the CEO of Jetstar, and having the senior managements here from Qantas shows how important this is. And I think it's absolutely amazing, absolutely breathtaking that in less, in just over three years, we're going to have Qantas and Jetstar aircraft rushing down this runway. So don't be here when that happens please. They are going to be here operating from day one. We've made the commitment that Qantas and Jetstar both will operate in this airport when it's open for business from that first day. But the commitment is bigger than that. It says, within a year of operations, we will grow our services here to 15 aircraft. This will make this airport the sixth-largest airport of the Qantas network. As they say in the music charts, it's right in there at six, it's a big entry for an airport that’s just being created. And I have absolutely no doubt it will be the biggest airport on the Qantas network one day. And that is amazing to think that we're standing on that. Now, this will complement what we're doing in Kingsford Smith. This is growth to the Sydney basin. This is extra seeds to the Sydney basin, which will give our customers more choice and more frequency and more destination. And what we know from our research is that in the catchment area for Western Sydney, there's already 2 million trips taken each year from people that live in that catchment area. We think that can grow to a lot more as people have the have the facilities of direct services from the region. And as we stimulate demand, we're putting lower airfares into this airport.

Now we've got to be doing it with the new aircraft that we're taking delivery of. Qantas has one new aircraft arriving every three weeks, between now and when this airport opens up in over three years’ time – one aircraft every three weeks. And we know that with those aircraft, we'll be able to operate a whole range of routes, because the aircraft are, these new aircraft are capable of flying to anywhere in Australia, to any destinations in Australia, direct from here. We also are very keen to obviously grow the employment here. So as the Prime Minister says, this commitment alone will create at least 700 new jobs. We know they're going to be well sought after in this region. Qantas has just hired over 7,000 people in the last year, we had 161,000 applicants for those 7,000 jobs. We think the jobs here will be even more sought after. So if you're in this area, you're thinking of a job in aviation, pay attention to Qantas ads coming up closer to that date, because there's going to be great opportunities for you to work here. And there is a multiplier effect. For every job we create, there's two or more jobs that are actually created in other industries, which is great for employment in Western Sydney.

Finally, can I say a big thank you to, again, Simon and Paul, for this amazing facility. Paul, I feel like we're back in Ireland, I believe this is an Irish airport, we've got the fog and we’ve got the cold weather. We're probably the only two that can cope with this. But it's absolutely great this facility that they’re building. As the Prime Minister has said, it's going to be a very efficient facility. And that makes a big difference for us. It'll have shorter block times, shorter taxi times, it allows us to turn around aircraft faster. And that means we can keep the airfares lower. And from a customer experience, the new baggage design system, and the customer experience through the airport, I think our customers are going to love it. Today, we're only talking about a domestic commitment. And that's 15 aircraft dedicated here. We're still talking to the airport about international. And we're still talking to the airport about freight. And we have a very big desire to operate both from this airport. We just have to get more commercial terms that are sensible. And once we get there, we're going to be very happy to make that commitment. So can I really thank the Government for the vision of building this airport. As the Prime Minister said, we've been talking to him and previous transport ministers and future transport ministers about this facility. It's great to see it come true. This is a big achievement. It's going to be one of the biggest airports in the world. And we're very happy to be the launch customer for it. And hopefully, this will be the biggest airport that Qantas will operate one day. So congratulations to the Government for the strategic vision of this, and to the management team for building such an airport, on time, on budget, and doing it as efficiently as this. Thank you.

SIMON HICKEY, WESTERN SYDNEY AIRPORT CEO: Thank you, Alan, for those remarks. And thank you, Prime Minister and Minister King, for your earlier remarks. I'd also like to thank Aunty Gail for her Acknowledgement to Country. So, as the newest airport in Australia, we think it's our responsibility to actually represent that 60,000 years of continuous cultural history that is in this place. And we hope to take that responsibility on as we build the airport out. Today is an historic day for Australian aviation and for Western Sydney. The announcement by Qantas and Jetstar today is a real proof point around the world about the benefits that will come from this airport, and what it will deliver for people in Western Sydney. The benefits of this airport, WSI will be a modern airport, a technologically-enabled airport, an efficient airport and a sustainable airport. And so that makes an enormous difference to Qantas and Jetstar who will be operating here. From a passenger perspective, that means it'll be an enjoyable and more seamless experience. And from an airline perspective, that means it will be efficient and reliable. Technology at this airport, such as a new modern cat IIIB landing system, which means in a fog like today, you can land and take off and maintain operations through the foggy morning that we've had today, which will be only the second airport in Australia to have that system. Qantas and Jetstar passengers are going to love flying through Western Sydney Airport, and we can't wait to welcome them. But WSI is also designed for growth. And over the decades ahead, we will actually become the same scale and size as JFK and Dubai today. And so we're really thrilled that Qantas and Jetstar will be on that growth trajectory with us from day one. And while WSI will be serving all of Australia, all of Sydney, sorry, it's actually important to consider that the major benefit of WSI will be Western Sydney. We've already invested, as the Prime Minister announced, over $400 million in local businesses. And through construction, we continue to deliver on that promise to local community, where 50 per cent of our workforce of thousands of workers today, live and reside in Western Sydney. And 30 per cent of our workers are learning workers, whether that be through apprenticeships, traineeships or other vocational training. And so that purpose of delivering socioeconomic uplift and benefit, we know is so important to the Commonwealth, but it's actually the purpose that drives everybody that works at Western Sydney Airport. Today we’re announcing, as well, that we're 50 per cent of the way through construction. After completing the bulk earthworks, which was we think the largest earth-moving project in Australia's history, 26 million tonnes of earth, 6 million tonnes of sandstone, 26 million cubic metres of earth moved around the site, 6 million tonnes of sandstone brought onto this site. We're 30 per cent of the way through the terminal build, 30 per cent of the way through the runway build, and 30 per cent of the way through the land side. So we're on track to open in 2026. And with Qantas and Jetstar here from day one, we can't wait to welcome Australians and people from across the globe to Sydney through the cultural heartland of Sydney, Western Sydney. And Alan, with that, we might sign some agreements.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the economy. The budget predicted interest rates had peaked at 3.85 per cent. Economists now say that could get to 4.85 per cent or above. Is this the correct strategy by the RBA?

PRIME MINISTER: Economists will have, if you have ten economists they'll have ten views. The RBA have made a decision that they make independent, of course, of government. They're responsible for monetary policy. What my government has done is make sure, as Treasury and indeed the RBA Governor have acknowledged, has put that downward pressure on inflation. Our energy price relief plan alone took three quarters of a per cent off inflation according to both the RBA Governor and according to Treasury estimates. So, we'll continue to do our job of taking pressure off inflation, but also to do our job which is provide cost of living relief and a range of measures in the budget, including cheaper child care, the energy price relief plan, fee free TAFE were all aimed at doing just that.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you though that we might be heading towards a recession?

PRIME MINISTER: I am optimistic about Australia's future. I'm optimistic that we can seize the opportunities through areas like this that we are doing. What you see before us here is an example of Australian ingenuity. This will be a world class airport, providing jobs, boosting productivity, making sure that we lift living standards by providing good, secure employment at this airport. This airport being a catalyst for further investment in business in the region, including the Science Park to our north and all the other activity that we will see here. A business park that will be bigger than Parramatta CBD just here at the airport. That's before you look at the flow on effect for businesses in the region that will be located in places like the Science Park. I'm very optimistic about Australia's future, I remain that. I think that we can be positive going forward and that's my approach, and that's the approach that my government is taking. We want to shape the future, not allow the future to shape us.

JOURNALIST: But between now and this airport opening Prime Minister, there is a real possibility of a recession if we continue to slow isn’t there?

PRIME MINISTER: I am very positive about Australia's future. I think that we need to continue to invest in our education and training, to invest in our infrastructure, to invest in our people, and we have a range of advantages. We're not immune to global impacts and the global inflation impact is there for all to see in all of the G7 countries who I met with just a few weeks ago in Japan. This is a global phenomenon but Australia has a path through our budget in turning around what was anticipated to be, bare this in mind, just previously a year ago, in 2022 the Coalition's budget predicted a $78 billion deficit, and our forecast in the budget that we produced just a month ago was a $4.2 billion surplus. And that's because we made sure that the revenue gains which had been made we returned to the budget bottom line. That is what was the responsible thing to do and that will put us in good stead. We know people are doing it tough at the moment and the decision by the Reserve Bank this week will place further pressure on families, but we need to continue as a government to do what we can to take that pressure off working families.

JOURNALIST: On interest rates, the RBA often says as they go up that, you know, Australians will be worse off in a recession. But how do you think that's really resonating with families right now?

PRIME MINISTER: I think Australians are doing it tough. We know that that's the case. The Reserve Bank are independent of the government, but the government, what we can do is to do our bit to put downward pressure on inflation. We produced a budget last month that did just that.

JOURNALIST: Did Senator Katy Gallagher mislead Parliament in June 2021 when she was asked whether she knew of the allegations regarding Brittany Higgins before they became public and replied, ‘No one had any knowledge. How dare you?’ and do you still have confidence in Senator Gallagher?

PRIME MINISTER: I have absolute confidence in Senator Gallagher.

JOURNALIST: Did Brittany Higgins and her partner use Labor MPs to get publicity? Are you, Tanya Plibersek, and now Katy Gallagher being dragged into the story?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't take advice from, I had not met Brittany Higgins until I met her publicly, publicly on the same day that she met Scott Morrison.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Anti-Corruption Commission should look into the payment to Ms Higgins?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, one of the things about the Anti-Corruption Commission, that people mightn't have noticed in the Coalition, is that it's independent of parliamentarians. And it in fact could be regarded as an entirely inappropriate action by the Prime Minister, or any other politician for that matter, to try to direct the Anti-Corruption Commission into what to do. We set it up as an independent body. The former government, of course, promised one in 2018 and didn't deliver one. We have delivered one.

JOURNALIST: But do you think this saga could end up in that National Anti-Corruption Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: I just answered the question. Which is that you're asking me to do something that's entirely inappropriate because the Anti-Corruption Commission is independent of politics, that's the idea. If it's in with politics, then that itself is a problem.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just in terms of the airport, is the federal government going to fund noise insulation for residents who live nearby?

PRIME MINISTER: There's a standard position of ANEF of when insulation and those measures, indeed, acquisition come in. That's a standard formula. That's the same for every airport in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Just on the flight paths, do you know if we’re any closer to deciding how that’s going to look?  

MINISTER KING: The preliminary flight paths will be released this month.