Chapter 5, The ACT Government Misled

From 2005 until 2009 there were a series of enquiries about the Williamsdale airfield proposal directed to the ACT Government.

The responses to these enquiries were handled either by Mr Cox, director of the ACT Government Business and Economic Development unit or Mr van Aalst, an officer in the same unit.

 Not surprisingly, the responses were as disingenuous and incompetent as the response generated by Mr Cox and discussed in Chapter 4.

In this chapter I will examine two more of the responses,  the first of these written by Mr van Aalst in June 2006.  There are others that are little more than a cut and paste of this one.  For example, this one from September 2006.

Mr van Aalst appears to have made no effort to determine the facts around this proposal before writing his opinion.

The crux of his argument in this his first offering on this issue is that two of the reasons for supporting the proposal are no longer valid.

His first claim is that the Canberra Airport Flying School withdrew its support for the proposal.

Shortly thereafter it closed its operation at Canberra International Airport (CIA). This was one of seven flying schools operating at the airport, all of which have now closed.  A number of other aviation businesses have also closed or relocated.  Most of the small aircraft that were parked at CIA have also left.

Mr van Aalst did not attempt to find out the state of the industry before offering this argument.

His second reason was that the ACT Emergency Services Authority (ESA) had signed a contract to relocate to Canberra International Airport (CIA). 

There are three points to be made about this.  Firstly, CIA as the only Canberra airport was the only choice. Secondly, CIA is as far from the likely genesis of a fire in the Canberra region as you can get.  This is discussed at length in this paper commissioned by the ACT Government, referred to earlier, which points out the problems with this arrangement.  Thirdly, fires approach Canberra from the west or south-west of the ACT, that is, through NSW, and Williamsdale is particularly well-situated for NSW Fire Services fixed-wing water bombers.  Mr van Aalst either did not read this report, or did not want to contradict the opinion of his boss, Mr Cox, by introducing facts.

Another paper was on file, dated 30th June 2005.  This paper describes the specific problem of operating water-bombing aircraft from CIA, in relation to the 2003 fires.  The problem is that the cycle time required between water-bombing events is 12 minutes, and the distance of CIA from a likely fire would mean that many aircraft would be required to fill this criterion.

Mr van Aalst states:  “Despite support for the Williamsdale proposal from 80 small aircraft owners, the GA community is a select and small segment of the ACT population and many are NSW residents.” 

This is another stunningly incompetent statement from an officer of a business development unit.  Surely it would be reasonable for him to actually scope out the industry situation.  Even the most cursory examination would have shown that general aviation was disappearing from Canberra.  There are 850 pilots resident in Canberra owning some 250 aircraft, of which only around 40 are parked at CIA.  Why was this basic easily-available information not included in his advice to the Chief Minister?

He also lists as one of his reasons for recommending that it is not:   “in the government’s interest to progress the project at this stage…”

“The potential for ongoing operational costs where user fees are inadequate”

There is no evidence whatever concerning such a risk.  At the time of writing the economic feasibility study had not been completed.  On the basis of this reasoning, we might as well put an end to it all right now.

It is worth also looking at a similar response written by Mr Cox in June 2007.

Mr Cox describes the issues in this paper.  He states again:  “ACTPLA believe up to five rural leases would be impacted, not one or two as argued by Mr Price."  In all of the documents obtained through a number of FOI enquiries, there is not one where ACTPLA actually offers written advice.  However, this map, produced by ACTPLA shows that just one block, 1482 needs to be resumed.  So, where did this statement come from?

He states:  "The development costs are likely to be significantly higher than estimated by Mr Price."

Mr Cox gives no basis for this statement.  In Mr Price's original submission he included the costing for the earthworks required.  This quote was obtained from a major Canberra contractor who undertakes a considerable amount of ACT Government work.  It is the only costing included in the submission. While there are other costs, there was no basis for suggesting any problem with the costs obtained.  This is another part of the strategy to critique Mr Price's submission in such a way as to reduce his credibility.

He states:  “There is potential for operational deficits.” 

At the time this statement was made there was no evidence concerning operational costs and income other than the positive case Mr Price made in his original submission.  The subsequent Access Deloitte enquiry shows this statement from Mr Cox to be false and the original submission mde by Mr Price to be substantially correct.

He states: “ACTPLA cannot see how the public purpose clauses of the Lands Acquisition Act 1994 could be satisfied to justify the resumption of privately held leases.”  

Again, despite the substantial public interest case being made, there is no documentary evidence of where this statement came from.

He states:  “the ‘public benefit’ arguments are weak, and seem to rely on the airfield’s use as a fire-fighting contingency.” 

Again, this statement is simply false, as described elsewhere.

He states: “Neither the NSW RFS or ACT authorities are particularly supportive of Williamsdale and have other and better contingencies.”

This statement is also completely false and this situation is summarized in the consultant’s report authored by Air Vice-Marshall Dick Bomball in 2005 referred to above.

He states:

“The viability of the proposal is predicated in the Government providing land at no cost, which the Department of Treasury will not support.”

At no point has the proposal involved the transfer of land to anyone other than the government.  The argument of the proponents is that a second airfield is a basic piece of infrastructure that all cities such as Canberra have.  It should remain in Government hands.  This point is dealt with in Chapter 3, where it is shown that Mr Cox either had not done the most basic or research into the proposal, or deliberately chose to mislead his colleagues and minister.

He then goes on to say, correctly, that governance models are unclear.  Surely, as someone looking at the situation, he is in a position to examine what might be possible here.  Governance is a second-order issue.

He claims that a powerline development will have a direct impact on the ability of planes to take-off and land.  This is also simply incorrect, although ACTPLA did discuss moving a proposed powerline so that it would stop the airfield development.  This is discussed in the Chapter on ACTPLA.

He states:  “It should be noted that the Williamsdale site falls under Canberra international flight paths, which is problematic.”  This is simply incorrect, as this map shows.  

The map is the Canberra Visual Terminal Chart (VTC), produced by Airservices Australia, which describes airspace zones.  In fact, scheduled aircraft have to remain in controlled airspace, which specifically requires them not to enter the zone around the proposed site.  Williamsdale is at an altitude of 2,400 feet.  Aircraft are required to join airfield traffic at 1500 feet above ground level, that is, at 3900 feet.  Circuit height is 1000 feet above ground level, that is, 3400 feet. The map shows that CIA airspace starts at 4500 feet, some 600 feet above the higher operational limit of Williamsdale.

Further, Mr Price's submission includes this advice from Airservices Australia, which unequivocally states there is no conflict.  the key paragraph from this letter states:

"An assessment of potential airspace management requirements and the impact they mave have on aircraft operators and Airservices Australia indicates there are no impedements or restrictions that may apply to the location of the airfield."

The letter then explains why this is the case.

So what are these Government officers on about?  Are they simply incompetent or do they have some other agenda?


Home Chapter 6