How government consulted PR playbook to release flight paths

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Politicians have been drawn to Western Sydney Airport quite regularly over the last few years.

The Weekender photographic archive features plenty of smiling pollies sitting in big trucks with ill-fitting hard hats announcing whatever milestone may have been reached in that particular week.

Neither the current Labor Government or the Coalition Government before it was afraid of dragging the metropolitan media out to Badgerys Creek to toot a few horns or put the first scratch on a shovel.

It was curious, then, that the only thing making noise out at the airport site on Tuesday was the construction vehicles building the new gateway to Sydney.

Not a politician in sight.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack at the airport in 2020. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Curious because perhaps the biggest announcement since the airport was first locked in back in 2014 had just been made: the release of the preliminary flight paths.

The task of releasing the flight paths was handed to Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Catherine King, who put out a press release in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Or as Lindsay MP Melissa McIntosh put it, the announcement was made “in the dead of night”.

Rather than make the trip to western Sydney for what was an important day in the airport’s progress and how it will be accepted by locals, King held a press conference at her North Ballarat electorate office.

Indeed, she was cheerfully talking about the chilly weather in Ballarat when she jumped on the phone to the ABC’s James Valentine on Tuesday morning.

Scott Morrison at the airport construction site last year. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Here at the Weekender – the newspaper that covers a significant area impacted by noise as a result of planes flying in and out of the airport – we didn’t even get the press release, let alone a head’s up this significant development was coming.

Curious again.

In fact, the story about the release of the flight paths was handed to The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday morning, in a classic media play to get the story out there unofficially, before it lands from the Minister.

None of this is unusual but I have to admit, it was a little disappointing to see such a significant development handled by the PR playbook.

This is one of the biggest infrastructure developments in the country and the release of the preliminary flight paths one of its most crucial moments.

It deserved Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to be front and centre at the airport site, being open to direct scrutiny from the Sydney and local media.

It certainly deserved more than the Minister holding a press conference 946km from the new airport in Ballarat.

What the new airport will look like.

I have no doubt that should they still be in government in 2026, both Albanese and King will be front and centre when those planes take those flight paths out of Badgerys Creek for the first time.

They wouldn’t miss that PR opportunity for love or money.

At least Shadow Infrastructure and Transport Minister Bridget McKenzie made her way out to Penrith to discuss the impact the flight paths would likely have on the local community.

A little over a decade ago, back when he was Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese was adamant an airport at Badgerys Creek should not be built.

Around the same time, he was equally insistent that the curfew at the current Sydney airport should not be lifted.

“Of course, no one wants to fly at 3am from Sydney to Melbourne. The curfew does provide some respite for people who live around the airport,” he told ABC Radio back then.

Times change and Albanese has now inherited the Badgerys Creek plan and will, as you would expect, embrace it.

But there’s tough questions around this airport, its flight paths and its lack of curfew that need to be answered.

The government must front up at every opportunity to the local residents this impacts, and they got off to a pretty ordinary start on Tuesday in my view.

They weren’t quite hiding, but they certainly used the PR playbook the best they could and carefully managed what is a contentious issue in this part of Sydney.

Like many of you, the first thing I did on Tuesday morning was type my address into the online tracker that the Government also released this week.

It looks like I’ll be waving to a few Qantas and Jetstar pilots from my backyard in a few years’ time.

I’m far from anti-airport, and there is no question the pros outweigh the cons and Penrith will experience some real benefit from this project.

But there’s plenty of concerned people who’ve built their lives here that deserve the best transparency you can offer. The government cannot let them down.

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