Under a new public health order, Melbourne residents living in virus hotspots could face a maximum penalty of up to $11,000 and/or six months imprisonment for crossing the NSW border.
“This morning we found somebody with symptoms who had actually been tested in Victoria and then got on a train and came to Sydney,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters.
“Now, that’s about as silly as it gets.”
Mr Hazzard said the woman was now in self-isolation and awaiting the results of her test.
“If you’re feeling sick, and have any symptoms of a cough, cold or flu-like illness – do not go out, do not travel,” he said.
The woman was spared the penalties because “it would appear that she was on the train before the order started”.
Mr Hazzard said passengers arriving from Victoria will be “screened” at airports and train terminals, but it is still not clear what that actually means.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday she didn’t “want to say anything definite” about temperature checks at Sydney airport, but said the measures would be in place to keep NSW residents safe.
Speaking to Channel 9’s Today Show, Ms Berejiklian said patrols will be ramped up in a bid to keep high-risk visitors from Victoria out of the state.
“We’re saying to those people in those hot spots, while the community transmission is where it is, you’re not welcome in NSW,” she said.
In a subsequent interview with Channel 7’s Sunrise, the Premier said checks at airports will start from today.
“We are looking at what we can do additionally and we understand health officials will be conducting some checks at the airport as we speak,” she said, adding that officials may check ID to determine a visitor’s residence before entry.
On Thursday morning, a tweet from Mr Hazzard showed how staff were gearing up for the border task, decked out in protective equipment and forms for disembarking passengers to sign.
Ms Berejiklian’s comments come after she was pressed further about what NSW was doing to keep people safe amid a spike in cases in Victoria.
The NSW Premier was forced to defend a decision not to check people arriving in Sydney from Melbourne on Wednesday.
“We’ve seen people come into the airport from Melbourne,” host Allison Langdon said. “They weren’t asked any questions at all. At the baggage check, no-one has spoken to him. Are you going to change this at the airport so the borders are tighter?”
Ms Berejiklian said authorities would “talk ” about the best way to manage new arrivals.
The Premier said she could not confirm whether new arrivals would be asked questions at the airport.
“I don’t want to say anything definite because I do know as at very late last night, the health authorities with our police were talking on what the best way would be to proceed on this,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Berejiklian government said they would ban Victorians in coronavirus hot spots from crossing the border into NSW. She said anyone who disobeyed the rules could face an $11,000 fine and six months in jail.
NSW residents returning from those hotspots will also be forced to quarantine for 14 days
Broken election promises, fruitless feasibility studies and vested interests have stalled the project, making it a common gripe for many Melburnians. Sydney and Brisbane have one, the complaint goes, so why don’t we?
The answer to this question should soon change. After months of negotiations, lobbying and the odd disagreement, the state and federal governments are on the cusp of announcing their preferred design for airport rail. Each are offering to spend $5 billion on the project.
Sources familiar with negotiations expect the governments to back a new, above-ground line between the airport and Sunshine, 12km west of the CBD. Trains would then run along existing tracks to the city via the new Metro Tunnel. This option would kill off a proposal from superannuation giant IFM Investors to build, fund and operate a $7 billion tunnel between the city and Sunshine, allowing fast express airport services on dedicated tracks.
The politicians might be opting for a cheaper build, but they’re coming closer than their predecessors to sending a train to Tulla.
A question of timing
With so few flights leaving the tarmac at Tullamarine because of coronavirus restrictions, some may question whether a multibillion-dollar airport rail link stacks up.
Total travellers at the airport were 97 per cent fewer in April compared with 2019, prompting S&P Global Ratings to downgrade the airport’s credit rating, citing reduced cash flows and increased debt.
Travel numbers are not expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024 but Melbourne Airport’s landside access chief Lorie Argus says the rail link is still needed.
“We’ve seen global shocks to the industry before,” Argus says. “We want to build capacity ahead of the demand.”
Fifty years of waiting for a rail link to the airport have locked taxpayers into a far more expensive project than would have been possible decades ago.
A swag of Victorian premiers have investigated getting it built: Sir Henry Bolte in the ’60s, John Cain jnr in the ’80s, Joan Kirner and Jeff Kennett in the ’90s and Steve Bracks, Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine over the past two decades. They commissioned numerous taxpayer-funded feasibility studies on the project, but to no avail. In the ’90s, the project involved extending the Broadmeadows line by five kilometres to the airport. That’s no longer feasible because of development in the west and reduced rail capacity.
“We talk about spending $5 billion now, that’s 10 times what was being discussed 30 years ago,” Public Transport Users Association spokesman Tony Morton says.
Politicians say airport rail has long been popular among voters. So why the delay?
The long take-off
Kennett, a long-time proponent of airport rail, says the reason for the project’s delay is simple.
“Other pieces of infrastructure had higher priority and were simpler to deliver,” the former Liberal premier says. “It’s a lot of money for a fairly short piece of infrastructure.”
Victoria has explored the likes of a French-built monorail and Dutch-inspired fast tram but time and demand hasn’t justified the expenditure, especially in the face of a high-performing SkyBus service.
Bracks won the 1999 election promising airport rail as Sydney and Brisbane were setting out to build their own. He envisioned a public-private partnership model, as did fellow Labor premier Kirner.
“Internationally, most places had this and it was a gap we could easily fill,” Bracks says. “There were certainly vested interests lobbying against our proposal” he says, referring to the taxi industry and the airport’s operators who were seeking to protect substantial car parking revenue.
More pressing though, Bracks says, was a clause that Kennett locked into the CityLink contract blocking a public transport link. But ultimately, it was the collapse of Australian airline Ansett – reducing the high number of airport workers set to use the link – that put the project “on hold”.
“Ansett was key,” Bracks says. “I was very disappointed it couldn’t go ahead.”
Virgin rose to become a major airline that was competitive with Qantas after Ansett’s demise.
Lyndsay Neilson, a former state infrastructure department secretary who oversaw a study into the project under Bracks, recommended a boost to SkyBus over rail. “Suburban rail has in itself fallen so far behind that investing in airport rail was considered a luxury,””he says.
But bureaucrats underestimated the airport’s growth: “Nobody anticipated the extent to which China would open up as a source of international tourism,” Neilson says.
He promised $5 billion – beating Premier Daniel Andrews to the punch. Turnbull was a technocrat known to get hooked on the finer details of infrastructure. His announcement was paving the way for the type of big, city-shaping construction projects he hoped would become his legacy.
It caught Andrews off guard, forcing the state to match the funding promise. Andrews had iced Denis Napthine’s airport rail plans in 2014 to pursue level crossing removals and the Metro Tunnel.
“The Commonwealth was pushing hard to get airport rail on the agenda,” said Mike Mrdak, who was secretary of the federal infrastructure department at the time.
In 2019, Andrews outlined his vision for airport rail. It would probably involve a tunnel from the city and Sunshine and not stop at suburban stations. The project would be a boon for the regions, including Geelong and Ballarat, he said.
As if on cue, an IFM Investors-led private consortium proposed to build a $7 billion tunnel, allowing 20-minute journeys running 24/7, that would service regional fast rail. It seemed like a done deal but the state went cool on the proposal, preferring a cheaper, above-ground route that put it at loggerheads with the federal government.
Canberra wanted to keep costs down while building an express, high-speed service that was competitive with SkyBus.
Torn between Victoria and behind-the-scenes lobbying by IFM and regional Coalition MPs, including Victorian senator Sarah Henderson, Education Minister Dan Tehan and, more recently, Nationals MP Damian Drum, Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided he would not go to war with Victoria on airport rail.
The airport rail link is important to Coalition MPs keen to score points on infrastructure. They want a tunnel to secure fast trains to their regional seats, with Henderson calling for “high speed dual track rail tunnel” to deliver 32-minute services to Geelong as she fights to win back her marginal seat of Corangamite. Drum says the north-east rail line, which run through his seat of Nicholls, is the state’s “worst performing” and that he wants faster services to Bendigo, Shepparton and Albury–Wodonga.
But Morrison is determined to build infrastructure with Andrews, sensing it is a winning formula with voters. If federally-funded projects build car parks at train stations in Victorian Liberal seats are to go ahead, the Victorian Premier has the keys.
Arun Chandu, who has written a PhD on the airport, says a rail link has traditionally been pushed by the Liberal Party. “Andrews is the first Labor person to start talking about a railway line seriously,” Chandu says.
Kennett rejects this idea, saying support for the project isn’t a “Liberal or Labor thing”.
But Kosmos Samaras, a key Labor election strategist from 2006-2020, disagrees. “It’s always been the Liberals’ flagship because the business community has generally always asked for it.”
The economic argument for an airport rail link falls flat without providing additional stops to stimulate the western suburbs, says Samaras. The question of whether the train runs express to the airport can be viewed through the prism of traditional Labor values.
In 1965, Labor joined the Country Party to stop Bolte’s express airport route in favour of a suburban service stopping at Keilor East, Avondale Heights and Airport West. Former Labor member for Broadmeadows John Wilton accused Bolte of building a “glamour project” for a “selected few who travel by air”.
Treasurer Tim Pallas has signalled airport trains may stop at suburban stations to boost sluggish patronage, despite Andrews previously ruling this out. This option would also use existing tracks between the city and Sunshine, which risks clogging any spare capacity for extra trains to the west.
A suburban service is at odds with what is being proposed by the IFM-led consortium made up of Melbourne Airport, Metro Trains Australia and Southern Cross Station. IFM is fiercely pursuing an investment trifecta: a rail link connecting its two assets, the airport and Southern Cross Station.
The consortium insists they want a low return on revenue, that tunnel access charges will be modest and they will absorb the construction risk.
To Kennett, turning down IFM’s $7 billion is reckless. As licensees of the airports, the superannuation funds “should be investing in the provisions of the infrastructure,” he says. “And who better to own it than hundreds of thousands of Australians.”
But RMIT professor of urban policy Jago Dodson cautions against allowing the private sector to run airport rail.
“Private companies don’t get into building infrastructure for virtuous public purposes, they build it because they see a profit,” he says.
The airport link should be part of the suburban service accessible with a myki, with the cost on par with a regular zone 2 service and not be “fragmented out into separate rail systems,” Dodson says.
Baillieu, who promised rail links to Avalon and Tullamarine when he was premier, says that, express airport services on dedicated tracks are more costly, but without a dedicated line, “you’ll probably stay in a cab”.
“Commuters will judge this very quickly and very harshly,” he warned. “It will be judged on frequency, speed and cost to them – not to the taxpayer – and what happens at each end. That’ll be it.”
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The Prime Minister (Mr. Gorton) announced the lifting of the night flying curfew yesterday when he pushed a button to open Melbourne’s $50 million international jetport.
But the terms of Mr. Gorton’s announcement left his audience, including reporters and aviation officials puzzled.
Many, including the Premier (Sir Henry Bolte) interpreted it as a hope that the night ban would be lifted, rather than a definite announcement.
Finally Mr. Gorton’s Press Secretary (Mr. Tony Eggleton) made a statement “to clarify the situation”. He said that the ban was officially off.
The puzzling part of Mr. Gorton’s speech was a condition that State authorities did not allow housing near the airport which could lead to noise discomfort.
Mr. Gorton’s words were: “And there is no need for an airport not to operate providing those living around it are not harassed by the noise of such operation.
“Those living around Tullamarine now, I believe, would not be so harassed.
“And it is our intention as a Government that this airport should so operation, subject in the future to just this one qualification that the State authorities concerned see that there is not built up around the perimeter of this airport housing settlements which, in the future, might lead to great noise discomfort to those living in them.
“Having the airport, let us have a buffer zone around it, and it then will operate as an international airport should.”
Mr. Gorton said that he hoped the jetport – officially called Melbourne Airport – would keep the name Tullamarine.
“I hope and I believe… that the lovely, liquid name Tullamarine will not be discarded from our vocabulary,” he said.
Sir Henry Bolte and airlines spokesman welcome Mr. Gorton’s announcement. But the mayor of Keilor (Councilor G. Fullarton) said he was terribly disappointed.
“Large enterprises have won the day and left the ordinary people to suffer,” he said.
“There should have been a trial period to ascertain the noise levels before the curfew was lifted.
“Keilor council will keep a close look at the situation. If local residents are disturbed at night, we will let the Government know about it.
“Our greatest concern is that the curfew was only lifted to serve freighting interest rather than overseas passengers.”
Sir Henry said the airport was surrounded by a buffer zone which would always remain.
He said, “I found Mr. Gorton’s remarks very encouraging.
“I don’t think Mr. Gorton would have said any more than he said today. There are two committees examining the problem.
“No one could have expected him to come out and say definitely that the night curfew against flights would be lifted.”
More than 1000 people waited outside the airport – listening to the national anthem, a fanfare of trumpets and 20 minutes of speeches over a loudspeaker system.
The first overseas jets to arrive in Melbourne for more than five years roared into Tullamarine within hours of the opening.
An Alitalia DC-8 took line honors when it touched down at 8.45 a.m. Qantas had the first plan out – a Boeing 707 headed for San Francisco.
The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) disclosed that Melbourne may soon be the base for two more international airlines – bringing the fleet to 10.
He said he expected Lufthansa of Germany and KLM of Holland soon to complete negotiations with the Government for landing rights.
Dnata provides 90 per cent of airlines catering in Australia and is owned by the UAE government-controlled Emirates Group.
Labor senator Tony Sheldon said it was lunacy that workers who handed people meals on flights were included while the people who made the meal missed out.
“Australian workers have been short-changed by this heartless government that have broken a compact with the people,” he said.
He accused the government of doublecrossing employees by changing the eligibility to exclude foreign state-owned companies on May 1.
“They were playing by the rules only to have the government move the goalposts on them midgame,” Senator Sheldon said.
The Greens, Centre Alliance and independent Jacqui Lambie backed the disallowance but it wasn’t enough.
Labor and the Greens also pushed for university workers to be included in JobKeeper, but that was shot down for the second time in a week. Government minister Richard Colbeck said the scheme offered unprecedented support to millions of workers.
“Eligibility has focused on maximising the reach of JobKeeper while ensuring that the program is able to be implemented as quickly and efficiently as possible, while remaining sustainable,” he said.
Government efforts to build an airport rail link go back a long way. It was 1965 when the Bolte government introduced a bill into the State Parliament calling for the acquisition of land for a rail link from Glenroy to Tullamarine at a cost of no more than £100,000. The opposition was quick to raise concerns about its ability to attract enough patronage and arguments over possible routes proliferated. History does have a way of repeating itself.
In every decade since that bill was written there has been a repeat of the wrangling over the pros and cons of constructing such a crucial piece of Melbourne’s transport infrastructure. Fast forward to today, and the debate rages on. Except now the most contentious issue is whether a tunnel should be built between the CBD and Sunshine station, which would then connect with a new above-ground track to Tullamarine. Without the tunnel, trains along the the CBD to Sunshine section would need to share already congested suburban routes, but the project’s cost would be significantly less.
While the state government has backed an airport link for some time, it has never shown a lot of enthusiasm for the tunnel, baulking at the extra cost, and is hesitant to allow private funding to be part of the mix. A superannuation consortium, including IFM Investors, Melbourne Airport, Metro Trains Australia and Southern Cross Station, has proposed contributing $7 billion to the project to ensure the tunnel is built. In return, the private consortium would operate the rail link and charge the state government for usage of the lines.
The Andrews government is shying away from handing over another major piece of transport infrastructure to private hands, with Transurban already raking in substantial profits on the back of the CityLink and EastLink tollways. It is also committed to getting the North East Link under way, is facing cost blowouts on some of its big builds already in progress and could face court with Transurban over contaminated soil on the West Gate Tunnel project. It has its hands full.
Yes, some of us are flying but passenger numbers through Melbourne Airport plunged to record lows during COVID-19 restrictions.
In April — the latest month tallied — there were 63,240, not including transiting passengers, which airport CEO Lyell Strambi said was the lowest ‘‘since the airport first opened 50 years ago’’.
It was an extraordinary 98 per cent drop on the 3.1 million passengers in April, 2019.
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Mr Strambi said the low in flight numbers during COVID-19 came on Easter Saturday, April 11, when there was just 29 flights taking off and landing.
But on Wednesday, almost eight weeks later, there were still just 31 passenger flights — 16 departures and 15 arrivals.
‘‘The lack of passengers is not only hurting airlines, but also our café and restaurant owners and their staff, our transport operators and hotels,’’ Mr Strambi said.
‘‘The flow-on effects are huge, especially since the airport supports around 20,000 jobs.
‘‘A full recovery is going to take time but we know demand for air travel is strong and we’re supportive of a domestic re-start as soon as it is safe to do so.’’
Another passenger on Wednesday, Rod McKenzie, 65, said Melbourne Airport seemed ‘‘like a ghost town’’.
On the bright side, ‘‘normally there’s queues everywhere and you have to allow a lot more time’’.
Mr McKenzie, from Aireys Inlet, was flying to Brisbane with Qantas to pick up a $50,000 motor home imported from Japan, which he plans to drive back to Melbourne.
Mr McKenzie needed a special pass to enter Queensland, giving ‘‘a good reason’’ for travelling.
‘‘And they accepted it,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t think I’d get one, I was shocked.’’
Meriana Ferris, 39, said the airport seemed ‘‘so empty’’ compared to her last time here late last year when it was ‘‘packed’’.
On Wednesday, she and her five children, ages 6 to 17, were returning to live in Brisbane, after trying out Melbourne for eight months.
Her husband Anaru, 38, will follow in December.
Ms Ferris said Melbourne was ‘‘too cold’’, and the lifestyle too fast for her. ‘‘I like Melbourne. I just haven’t given myself enough time to love it’’.
Ms Ferris was confident Qantas’ ‘‘precautions and procedures’’ would ensure flying was safe from COVID-19, and the family carried masks and hand sanitisers.
This project will create 14,000 jobs in New South Wales – music to our ears. In April we lost 21,000 jobs in New South Wales. We also know that there are so many other of our fellow citizens on jobkeeper. We know we have a job ahead of us of getting people into working, into sustainable jobs.
Having those direct and indirect jobs is fantastic, especially through the partnership of the federal government … We’re able to start acceleration of the project this year.
As we know, New South Wales has been supporting the federal government efforts in building this project to service a metropolis. It will not only service the airport, but so many people who will call this place home or will come to the airport for work.
Sydney Airport used its annual general meeting on Friday to reassure investors it could ride out the pandemic, which saw passenger numbers fall to just 2.5 per cent of its normal volumes in April. Just 92,000 passengers passed through the airport last month compared to 3.6 million in April last year.
Industry intelligence firm CAPA – Centre for Aviation has forecast that Australia’s domestic aviation market could recover to 60 per cent of last year’s level by December, but Mr Culbert said there was no way to predict how or when the industry will bounce back.
Domestic flying would give airports and airlines the chance to “pressure test” their COVID-19 safety protocols, he said, which in Sydney Airport’s case includes billboards, floor signs and public announcements encouraging social distancing, and sanitary stations.
He hoped the safety measures would deliver the confidence needed to open up the proposed “Trans-Tasman bubble” allowing travel between Australia and New Zealand, adding that it could act as a template for Australia to gradually reconnect with other countries.
The airport boss would not be drawn on what kind of airline Virgin Australia could be once it emerges from administration, amid speculation it could be a scaled-back budget operation.
“We all agree that having two domestic airlines competing in Australia would be better than one,” he said. “But in any outcome, I don’t believe that any passenger that wants to fly will be left on the ground.”
The airport borrowed $850 million in fresh bank debt in April to help it through the COVID-19 shut down, boosting its liquidity to $2.7 billion. Chairman Trevor Gerber said on Friday the business had “more than enough” liquidity to sustain it even if there was no pick up in business for “some time”.
RBC Capital Markets analyst James Nevin told clients in a note on Friday that more flying should resume soon which will start to provide earnings to help Sydney Airport stay above its debt covenant levels for the second half of this year.
Mr Nevin estimated domestic and international passenger volumes to hit at 50 per cent and 30 per cent of last year’s levels in the second half. However, he cautioned that the forecast “might be on the optimistic side”.
All resolutions including the remuneration report passed at Sydney Airport’s AGM with “for” votes of 97 per cent or higher.
“As a result, we are … forced to review medium, and long-term viability of dnata’s various Australian businesses,” a spokesperson for dnata said in an email, confirming an earlier report in the Financial Times.
An Australian government spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.
Dnata warned its exclusion from the scheme had put 4500 jobs at risk and given an unfair advantage to its competitors that it said had not been barred from accessing the program.
“The application of the scheme was critical to the company’s Australian employees, as it meant that we could reinstate previously stood down workers, and keep the rest of the workforce employed,” the spokesman said.
Qantas has jumped to its troubled rival’s defence after Perth Airport seized a number of Virgin Australia aircraft and blocked them from being moved.
The bizarre action, which included parking a bulldozer in front of one plane, is on the back of Virgin entering voluntary administration this week.
Perth Airport said it’s owed $16 million and it’s seizing the aircraft to protect its interests – something that even Qantas has slammed.
“Even by Perth Airport’s standards, this is extraordinary behaviour,” Qantas said in a statement.
“Protecting your interests is one thing but parking a bulldozer in front of an aircraft while saying you’re ‘working to secure an agreement’ is ridiculous. It’s no way to treat a customer of 20 years. This kind of action is deeply worrying for all users of Perth Airport.”
Qantas said it has its “own dispute” with Perth Airport over what it described as “excessive charges”. That brawl has been in court for more than a year.
“As part of that, they refuse to negotiate and pay up on the terminal they have effectively taken back from us, which is valued at well over $150 million. How would they feel if we took the same approach to collections as them?” Qantas said.
Extraordinary scenes unfolded at Perth Airport on Friday afternoon, with a number of vehicles – including a bulldozer – moved to block four planes.
“Virgin has significant outstanding invoices from Perth Airport for airfield and terminal use charges – money the airline had already collected from its passengers and the FIFO sector,” a Perth Airport spokesperson said.
“While Perth Airport is working closely with administrators, it also needs to protect its own interests. Perth Airport has taken liens over a number of Virgin aircraft – a standard practice in these situations.”
A lien is term that describes a legal claim to property that’s made in order to satisfy a debt.
In a statement, Virgin Australia said: “We are aware that Perth Airport has restricted access to our aircraft and the Administrator is dealing directly with Perth Airport on the matter. There is no impact to scheduled flights.”
T1 Terminal at Perth – Virgin’s base there – has been closed for weeks due to coronavirus.
It is operating some charter flights from a different terminal to service fly-in, fly-out mining workforces in Western Australia.
The company owes $6.9 billion to some 10,000 creditors, according to an initial review by administrator Deloitte.
That sum includes about $2.3 billion of secured debt, $2 billion of unsecured bonds, $1.9 billion of aircraft leases, $450 million owed to employees, $167 million to trade creditors and $71 million to landlords.