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Senator Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
20 March 1996
These are the reasons relied on by me for the grant of the exemption from the Administrative Procedures that I have given on 20 March 1996 concerning certain actions involving Sydney airport.
2. I am satisfied that the residents of some communities in Sydney are suffering grievous hardship because of the existing arrangements at Sydney (Kingsford- Smith) Airport ('Sydney Airport'). In particular, the use of the parallel runways and the requirements to use legislated flight corridors, combined with the effective closure of the east- west runway other than in some limited weather conditions, has resulted in a concentration of aircraft movements and related noise impacts in certain suburbs. This concentration of aircraft overflights represents, in my view, an inequitable distribution of aircraft noise impacts.
3. I am informed that in the last full year for which data is readily available for the Airport operating with intersecting runways (1993), there were approximately 49,000 landings from the north or take- offs to the north on the main north- south runway. During the first year with the parallel runways this number (take- offs to the north on the old north- south runway and landings from the north on the parallel runways) more than doubled to around 116,000 while the total number of movements on the east- west runway fell to approximately 5,500. In 1993 there were about 85,000 movements on the east- west runway.
4. Introduction of the flight corridors to the north of the Airport has resulted in all jet aircraft overflights being concentrated over the suburbs which fall along the extended centre- lines of the north- south runways. Abolition of the northern corridors and increased use of the east- west runway will significantly reduce the number of aircraft movements over these suburbs.
5. The Commonwealth actions in respect of which an exemption is sought were set out in a draft exemption from the Minister for Transport attached to his letter to me of 19 March 1996. In addition, I have subsequently been provided with a draft direction to Air Services Australia that the Minister proposes to issue if an exemption is granted.
6. I will refer to these actions as 'the proposed Commonwealth actions.'
7. The proposed Commonwealth actions will, if taken, have the effect of providing significant and immediate relief to the residents of those communities in Sydney which are at present most affected by the existing arrangements at Sydney Airport. In particular, increasing the use of the east- west runway will help ensure a more equitable distribution of the noise impacts associated with Sydney Airport.
8. Details of the operating procedures for the east- west runway have yet to be worked out. I am informed, however, by way of example, that if the number of annual operations on the northerly runways were cut by 50% and these movements transferred to the east- west runway, take- offs to the north and landings from the north would be reduced to around 58,000. The total number of movements on the east- west runway would increase to about 63,500.
9. In determining whether to exempt the proposed Commonwealth actions from all of the requirements of the Administrative Procedures, I am required to take into account whether the application of the requirements of the Administrative Procedures to the proposed Commonwealth actions would be contrary to the public interest (see paragraph 11.3.1(a)).
10. I accept that the applications of the Administrative Procedures to the proposed Commonwealth actions would delay the provision of immediate relief to the communities who, under the current arrangements at Sydney Airport, are exposed to the greatest number of aircraft overflights. In particular, it would delay an increase in the use of the east- west runway and so would delay the redistribution of the impacts, which is required to achieve a more equitable outcome. In my view, it is contrary to the public interest for there to be any delay in the provision of immediate relief to the communities who are suffering most from the adverse noise impacts associated with Sydney Airport.
11. Accordingly, I believe that the application of the Administrative Procedures to the proposed Commonwealth actions would be contrary to the public interest. (I note that the issue I must consider is not whether an increase in the use of the east-west runway is in the public interest).
12. I note that in considering how the application of the Administrative Procedures will affect the 'public interest' there may possibly be competing 'public interests'. In this regard, I have to regard the following: . An increase in the use of the east- west runway and the repeal of flight corridors to the north of the airport will have an adverse effect on some communities in that it will increase the impact of aircraft noise on residents in those communities. In this respect, the fact that, if I grant an exemption, the Administrative Procedures will not be complied with in relation to the proposed Commonwealth actions means that:
13. Nevertheless, any public interest in having an environmental assessment of the impact of aircraft noise in these communities is, in my view, outweighed by the need for the immediate relief of those most directly affected by aircraft noise as a result of current arrangements.
14. A number of assessments or inquiries have examined issues associated with runway usage at Sydney Airport. In addition, I am informed that it is intended that a review be conducted by Airservices Australia with the assistance of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority leading to a long term operating plan for the Airport and associated airspace. The existence of the assessments and inquiries which have already been conducted and of the proposed reviews - combined with the obvious need for a more equitable distribution of aircraft movements associated with Sydney Airport - reduces the need (from a public interest perspective) for compliance with the Administrative Procedures.
15. I have now also had regard to the general principle that it is desirable in the national interest that the requirements of the Administrative Procedures should, as far as reasonably possible, apply to all Commonwealth actions. See paragraph 11.3.2 of the Procedures. However, this principle is overridden in this case by the public interest I have identified above.
16. I have also had regard, as required by paragraph 11.3.1(b) of the Procedures, to the views expressed by the Minister for Transport as to the public interest reasons he sees as justifying an exemption. I consider that these reasons, in all the circumstances, generally further support an exemption on public interest grounds. In particular, I note his view that the availability of existing material and evidence as to the relevant environmental effects suggest the application of the Administrative Procedures would represent an unnecessary use of public resources.
17. After considering all of the above matters, I am satisfied that the application to the proposed Commonwealth actions of the Administrative Procedures would be contrary to the public interest. In the circumstances, the need to avoid any delay in providing immediate relief to the communities most affected by aircraft overflights and to ensure that, as soon as possible, there is a re- distribution of aircraft noise across Sydney outweighs the fact that, as a result of my granting an exemption, some other communities in Sydney will be adversely affected by the increase in the use of the east- west runway and there will be no assessment under the EPIP Act of those impacts.
Minister for the Environment
20 March 1996