A 60s throwback today, Avalon tomorrow will be unrecognisable: Wikipedia Commons

The decisions taken at federal and state levels today to fast track an international terminal at Melbourne’s 2nd airport at Avalon underscore the political as well as topographical advantages the Victorian capital is using to take economic growth off Sydney.

It is true that Avalon Airport hasn’t been a huge success so far. But it is perfectly placed to take advantage of two things that are in short supply in Sydney, which is flat development space for the industries and suburbs that will ultimately make it highly successful, and political common sense.

Victoria understands something which NSW politics has never been able to grasp under any state government of any political persuasion for a lifetime, which is that smart infrastructure investments, including airports, drive the economic activity that supports its revenue from growth, and new industries, and new sources of demand, such as Asia, in the 21st century.

The contrast with NSW and Sydney is deeply alarming, for those that like the harbour city, and wonder where it will ever get the funds to correct accumulated deficiencies in rail, road and maritime facilities, and thus enable state revenue boosting growths in employment and productive investments in general.

Like his predecessors, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell is by deeds and words, clearly captive of the short term interests of Sydney Airport’s owners, and claims to believe that international visitors will begin and end their journeys to Sydney by rail from Canberra, and that the existing airport can cope with the Asian century until 2049, because Max Moore-Wilton told him this was so.

Those claims are fanciful and perplexing, even more so given the Federal Government’s insistence that it doesn’t want to build at the reserved Badgerys Creek site, which is publicly owned and could be developed at no public cost by whomever the it is sold to, but construct it instead on the undulating parts of the Wilton site, that surround the flat parts, which are being covered in housing estates.

With the double disadvantage of the Federal fetish for Wilton, and O’Farrell’s comprehensive denial of the realities of the Asia century, Sydney is in real trouble, and this becomes ever more apparent with the Avalon international terminal fast tracking that will arise from today’s announcements.

Melbourne has a reasonable airport at Tullamarine. But as the greater Melbourne economy expands, the pricing tension at both domestic and international levels between facilities at Tullamarine and Avalon will add to the city’s competitive investment propositions compared to a Sydney where scarcity pricing will inevitably be used to disadvantage those airlines that choose to serve it, and quite likely drive away the regional carriers even though their right of access to Sydney Airport is set in legislative granite for all time.

The laws that guarantee right of access of regional flights to Sydney do not make that access affordable, which means that those flights will be forced to serve links to other airports where international connections are on the rise, and some of the domestic reasons for flight from centres like Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, or the central western towns, can either be met by driving congested roads or flying to Canberra, Brisbane, or a Melbourne Airport.

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