This debate won't get off the ground

THE second airport for Sydney debate, version 5.0, has had just about everything in it.

THE second airport for Sydney debate, version 5.0, has had just about everything in it.

THE second airport for Sydney debate, version 5.0, has had just about everything in it. Backflips, sidesteps, flip-flops and thought bubbles. And that's just what came out of press conferences held by Anthony Albanese and Barry O'Farrell last week.

There's been Paul Keating justifying buying up Badgerys Creek and former transport minister Peter Morris shepherded out of retirement at the age of 79 to add his two cents' worth. ''Won't happen'', in case you missed it.

The Sydney Airport chairman Max Moore-Wilton managed to keep a straight face suggesting an extra five flights an hour at Mascot would preclude the need for a second airport in a city tipped to reach seven million souls by mid-century.

But he was right when he said the debate was mostly about politics. Albanese, the Federal Transport Minister, has a noise-affected inner-Sydney electorate to stick up for just as shadow treasurer Joe Hockey does in North Sydney while O'Farrell built an election landslide on western Sydney seats and does not want an airport upsetting the apple cart out there.

Between all the jabbering and the blue-skies thinking - such as O'Farrell's bullet train to Canberra - there is, yet again, no sign anyone at any level of government has any intention of taking action.

The great tragedy is that the exhaustive intra-government report - which backs Badgerys Creek ahead of Wilton as the site for a second aviation hub - seems condemned to a future as an expensive doorstop or block to raise up computer monitors in Canberra and Macquarie Street offices.

To understand just how far we are from a commitment to a second airport, consider the proposed Wilton site. The report raises under the heading of ''major costs'' the issue of ''water catchment areas'' without exploring the issue further.

Take a look at Wilton on a map and you will see a significant part of Sydney's water supply goes around the town like a necklace.

The Wilton tunnel runs through the centre to Broughton Pass, the start of the upper canal to Sydney. Water passing Wilton feeds the lakes Avon, Nepean, Cordeaux, Cataract and Woronora.

In short, it's a sensitive place. Imagine the response when a plane needing a quick landing has to jettison thousands of litres of jet fuel in the area? At Sydney Airport this is normally done out to sea.

The brake soot and grease and other chemicals that build up and run off from an airport in torrential rains would also be an issue for anyone of an anti-airport or vaguely green hue.

There will be a tough path to tread for any politician willing to choose a location and lead. So far, none has had the courage to even lace up a shoe.

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