By Dick Nichols
SYDNEY — Sydney's Leichhardt Oval was the scene on Saturday, December 3, of one of the angriest protest rallies in the city in the last 20 years. As the 747s howled overhead, around 15,000 inner city residents gathered to organise action against the vast increase in aircraft noise resulting from the opening of the third runway at Kingsford Smith Airport.
The placards and slogans read: "ALP — Another Lousy Plane", "Labor True Deceivers", "The Feral Airport Corp Consults the Community", "ALP Sold Us Out" and many more. The Leichhardt Oval scoreboard had been changed to read: "People 0 v Politicians 747".
The opening of the third runway has doubled air traffic north and south of the airport. Aircraft pass over the inner suburbs of Drummoyne, Leichhardt, Petersham, Annandale, Stanmore, Marrickville, St Peters and Sydenham as often as every 90 seconds.
Kurnell, on the southern shore of Botany Bay, has also been exposed to a big increase in air traffic, even though the suburb was supposed to lie off the aircraft noise maps produced by the Federal Airports Corporation (FAC).
Noise levels have become intolerable. In the suburbs closest to the airport, residents are exposed to recurring noise levels as high as 100 decibels (80 decibels is the safe upper limit of exposure to continuous noise).
Little wonder then that a number of barely advertised meetings in St Peters, Drummoyne and Petersham drew up to 2000 furious residents. The mood of these meetings was one of determination to end the intolerable noise, with all meetings endorsing the idea of a December 11 blockade of the airport.
Support for the blockade also came through the Community Advisory Committee, originally set up as part of the "community consultation process" around the construction of the third runway, but now focusing and organising community anger at Labor's betrayal.
The blockade idea quickly gathered momentum. By mid-week inner city ALP state parliamentarians were scrambling over themselves to assure the voters that they were personally prepared to lead a blockade and get themselves arrested if federal transport minister Laurie Brereton didn't do something about the noise levels.
At the Leichhardt Oval meeting, called by Leichhardt Council and chaired by Leichhardt Mayor Larry Hand, the full extent of the anger with Labor and Liberal was soon evident. The speech of Peter Baldwin, federal education minister and member for Sydney, was soon drowned out in a chorus of boos. As Baldwin pleaded that he personally had always opposed the runway, calls for him to resign from federal cabinet could be heard from all around the ground.
Sandra Nori, ALP state member for Port Jackson, devoted much of her time at the microphone to a sob-story about how she too had been deceived by the FAC aircraft noise maps and had inadvertently bought a house in a noise-affected area. According to Nori, the fault lay with the NSW Liberal governments of Nick Greiner and John Fahey! (Their crime was to sell state government land to the FAC way below valuation.)
Fortunately for Labor, ALP Marrickville Mayor Barry Cotter has been leading some of the resistance against the third runway. Marrickville Council recently brought a (failed) Federal Court injunction against the opening of the runway. Many at Leichhardt Oval greeted Cotter with warm applause.
Other speakers included community representatives who highlighted the long-term stress effects of noise and the fact that Leichhardt already has asthma levels three times the national average.
The resolution presented to the meeting by Larry Hand on behalf of the inner city councils didn't envisage permanent closure of the third runway. It was restricted to calls to restore the east-west runway and close the third runway "until all three runways can be used".
It also called for work on a new airport in Sydney's west, at Badgery's Creek, to be speeded up. This has long been the position of the inner city councils, despite the fact that there is considerable opposition in the Badgery's Creek area to siting an international airport there. Even without this, the Badgery's Creek area is too small for a fully operational international airport.
Debate on the resolution centred on the date for the blockade. Overriding the December 11 date endorsed by the Petersham, Drummoyne and St Peters meetings, the councils' resolution proposed a December 17 blockade ("to give Canberra time to respond"). After a brief but sharp debate, the councils' position won narrowly against a lot of angry opposition.
Karen Fletcher, Democratic Socialist candidate for Marrickville in the state election, told Green Left that both blockades should be supported, as should the wide variety of anti-third runway activities that are presently under way in inner Sydney. "We should keep up maximum pressure on federal and state Labor", Fletcher said. "The threat of losing their seats is what got their MPs as far as Leichhardt Oval. Even more pressure is needed to avoid their producing a rotten compromise deal."
Marrickville Green councillor Bruce Welch was disappointed with the Leichhardt Oval resolution. "The failure to set a limit on the number and type of flights paves the way for both major parties to allow an increase. This could eventually lead to a trebling of heavy air traffic."
Despite Labor's manoeuvres, the campaign again the third runway has built up a huge head of steam. It will get even stronger in the coming weeks.
Third Runway Meetings
Community Advisory Committee: Wednesday, December 7, 7.30pm. St Peter's Town Hall, Unwins Bridge Road, Sydenham. Info: 519 1035, 519 6889, 377 6777.
Rally at Sydney Airport International Terminal: Sunday, December 11, 10 am. Meet at St Peters Town Hall, Unwins Bridge Road, Sydenham, at 9am and march to airport (minibuses provided for those who cannot walk).
Blockade Sydney Airport: Saturday, December 17. Details to be announced.