Chapter 6, The Recommendation

Following the advice from his business and Economic development unit the then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope wrote to the original proponent of the Williamsdale airfield Mr Price and stated that the ACT Government would not be progressing his proposal.

It appear that Mr Stanhope was at the very least intrigued by the idea, but this was not a fight he was prepared to undertake.

There is a very curious take on Mr Stanhope's attitude in this email.  Apparently, Mr Stanhope did not direct his officers to "make it work", and so they decided to make it not work.

The idea of a second airfield for Canberra was established in the mid 1950’s with the introduction of prop jet services to Canberra, and the need has only increased over the years.

Over these few years the question of the Canberra second airfield was raised a number of times, and Mr van Aalst provided the Chief Minister with the same negative response as that described in the previous chapter.

So, in 2009 an association, Canberra Region Aviators Association (CRAA), was formed to promote the idea of a second airfield for Canberra.

A meeting was arranged with Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, who was enthusiastic, and indicated that such an association was necessary to forward the idea.

The CRAA managed to convince Deloitte Access Economics to perform a desktop study of the feasibility of the proposed airfield.

Based on the positive results of this study the ACT Government commissioned a full study from Deloitte Access Economics into the feasibility of a second airfield for Canberra.  The report is available here

Jon Stanhope retired early in 2011, before this report was completed.  The responsibility was handed to Andrew Barr, Deputy Chief Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation.

The CRAA asked for a meeting with him, but only managed to meet some of his staff. He refused to meet with members of the CRAA.

In September 2011 Mr Dan Stewart, Director, Minister, Cabinet and Policy submitted this paper to Minister Barr.

While Mr Stewart signed the paper, he did not actually author most of it, and this is clear from the convoluted logic of the paper, and the style.  The bulk of the paper was written by Mr Andy Wilson, mentioned as action officer at the end of the paper.  He had drafted this response and then taken leave.  Mr Stewart then added the recommendation on the paper and presented it to his minister while Mr Wilson was still on leave.

The sections authored by Andy Wilson have sub-headings in a bold face sans-serif font.  The recommendation has sub-headings in italics.  Even the most cursory reading of this document indicates that the recommendation is not based on the information provided in the preceding section of the paper.

The beginning of the paper, the sections authored by Andy Wilson, points out all of the reasons so far canvassed in this website, the emergency services case, the loss of aviation industry from CIA, the appropriate site and the positive rate of return on investment, sufficiently buffered as shown by a sensitivity analysis.

Then the following paragraph appears:


 Allow the proposal to lapse

The business case for government investment is this project does not appear particularly strong given the substantial investment required, the relatively small number of users and the low project IRR.  You may wish to consider formally advising CRAA that the government will not be progressing this project any further at this time – the Deloitte report could be released in support of this decision.


The problem here is a complete misunderstanding of the project.  Commercial aviation is supported at CIA.  Williamsdale would cater for those elements of aviation that cannot be supported under the fully commercial model, or mix with regular commercial jet aircraft.  That is why they have disappeared from CIA.

 This was the underlying principle of the Deloitte study.  It is why the modelling done in that study was based on the not-for-profit airfield operation at Wedderburn in Victoria.  What the Deloitte study shows is that for a relatively modest investment of less than $2,000,000 an aviation infrastructure can be built that will replace the industry lost from CIA, provide opportunities for young people interested in aviation careers, provide the forward emergency services base, and do so at no recurrent cost to the Government.

 Mr Stewart does not appear to have read or understood the study.

 But there is more.  Mr Stewart then goes on to describe this option:


 Encourage a private sector development

Whilst the Deloitte report indicates that the rate of return on a GA development at Williamsdale would not be sufficient to attract a private sector development per se, it is possible that the GA community in and around Canberra is enthusiastic enough to fund such a development.


This is an extraordinary statement.  Mr Stewart has made the claim that the “relatively small IRR” is sufficient reason for the Government not to support this project.  The Government already holds over half of the land required, and so the purchase cost of sufficient land to develop an airfield elsewhere would be around $1,000,000, a figure we have already determined.  So, he is arguing that we can add 25% to the cost of the project, borrow at commercial rates and make this thing work, where the Government at lower capital and borrowing costs cannot.

For the first time in the advice proffered to the Government ministers, he correctly describes the land acquisition situation. He point out that only one block needs to be resumed, not the five referred to in earlier correspondence to the Chief Minister.  This is contained in this document referred to earlier.  That block is no longer farmed, and no one lives on it.  However the owners are not keen to sell.

He makes no other real objection, other than some vague discussion about a “number of issues”.

It is ostensibly on this basis that Mr Barr determined, refusing consultation, not to continue with this project.


Home Chapter 7