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Byron Shire
September 21, 2023

Gold Coast Airport’s lease over Crown wetland a sham

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On the eve of Australia Day 2016, when our communities were gearing up to celebrate this day, the Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the National Party approved the Gold Coast Airport (GCA) Instrument Landing System (ILS).

In the minister’s statement there is not a dot on the permanent and irreversible destruction of critical ecosystems of the lower Tweed River system and its adverse economic impacts to the Tweed and NSW Far North Coast region.

Nor is there any recognition of the significance of this area that meets Ramsar criteria and the Indigenous cultural heritage landscape, Murraba, of National significance.

Communities impacted by aircraft noise and toxic emissions is very real but has been treated with contempt – an un-Australian attack on the Tweed/Gold Coast communities.

At this same time Tourism Australia launched its ‘There’s Nothing Like Australia’ campaign in New York with Australia’s natural assets the stars of the campaign. But our governments are destroying these very same natural assets at a rapid rate.

The minister has parroted the same claims in the Major Development Plan (MDP) and public notices which were false/misleading and not supported by formal records indicating there has been no objective assessment, simply towing the same misinformation line and totally ignoring the many very serious concerns of the community.

Prior to Xmas there was much fan-fare by the Prime Minister announcing the nation would become one of innovation. The minister’s con continues stating the approval of the ILS ‘is appropriate for GCA to function as a world-class facility’.

However, the fact is the ILS is an antiquated radio system developed in the 1930s and in the near future will be obsolete. To be a nation of innovation and to develop aviation of the future the $10 million needs to be invested in 21st century satellite technology – not outdated systems of a past century for the future.

The minister goes on to hoodwink the people by claiming ‘I have instructed Airservices Australia (ASA) when directing traffic to make every effort to minimise the use of the ILS’. The fact is when an ILS is in service ‘The ILS will be able to be used at any time at the discretion of the pilot’.

The ILS MDP and other formal documents presented for the formal public consultation period stated ‘The prevailing wind at the Airport results in Runway 14 being the preferred runway for landings, meaning that it is used approximately 66 per cent of the time (240d ays per year)’.

And, ‘The ILS is therefore proposed to be installed on runway 14 due to operational benefits from the prevailing wind direction’.

To the contrary the minister further hoodwinks the people and states ‘runway 14 is in use around 140 days per year’. So this means the vast majority of landings are from the south and will not be assisted by an ILS as it only operates for landings from the north!

As required under the Airports Act, a formal public consultation process was undertaken. The airport advised at a formal meeting in October there had been 6,500 submissions received during this process, the most ever received on any MDP in Australia, with 90 per cent opposed.

Now it is being stated that independent research has been undertaken and 74 per cent support the ILS and only 15 per cent are opposed!

What was the format of the research, the number of people and areas surveyed, was it only business people or international tourists, what information was provided and was it the same misinformation applied in the formal public notices and presentations?

The question has to be asked, is this a PR exercise or has the process been corrupted?

By way of ASA being the proponent for the airport’s ILS the Airservices Act was relied upon to provide ‘an exemption from the application of state land use laws and to overcome any land use zoning restrictions or regulations that may otherwise apply on the NSW State land’.

Hence there are no approvals required for the NSW state land, allowing a law to itself process with no oversights!

So this removes the obstacles (detailed below) that has prevented two previous plans for runway extension and the ILS ground preparation works paves the way for that runway extension as disclosed in formal documents.

The above process allows for the natural assets of the NSW Crown Reserve for Public Recreation/Conservation at Tweed Heads West to be permanently and irreversibly destroyed and includes:

·         Critical ecosystems of the lower Tweed River system

·         State protected wetlands (SEPP 14) contrary to the policy to ensure these wetlands are preserved and protected in the environmental and economic interests of NSW

·         Critical fishery habitat of a Class 1 Fishery vital for the survival of the commercial/recreation fishing industries

·         4 x Endangered Ecological Communities and threatened species habitat

·         Migratory bird species habitat (two species critically endangered) protected under International Agreements

·         Further erosion of a significant Indigenous cultural heritage landscape, Murraba, of national significance

Significant adverse impacts also include:

·         Altered flood patterns and hydrological regimes

·         Exacerbation of Acid Sulfate Soils (ASS) and associated acid/heavy metal contamination and further formation of ASS

·         Increased acid levels of groundwater the M1 tunnel is immersed in increasing risks to its structural integrity…

·         and creating a long term environmental hazard.

Airports have been leased to private companies by the federal government with those rents paid to the federal government.

The government is then the regulatory, approval and compliance authority and ASA is an agent of the government – this creates a real conflict of interest.

This ILS process has seen a serious lack of transparency and absolutely no independence.

The former NSW deputy premier and NSW National Party leader granted the airport a 84-year lease over the NSW Crown Reserve for Public Recreation/Conservation in a secret deal for ‘exclusive possession for expansion of the airport’, not long after he stepped down as leader and from his roles in cabinet and then conveniently left government.

It will be no surprise if the deputy prime minister and National Party leader follows the same path.

The ILS matter urgently needs to be put on hold to allow an independent review and advice from an international body.
 Lindy Smith, Tweed Heads


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