12 August 2014

Avalon can work: Opinion, Geelong Advertiser

If ever there was a symbol of Labor’s failure to stand up for our region, it is Avalon Airport.

Towards the end of 2007, and with the strong support of the then Federal Coalition Government, Avalon was on the verge of creating an international airport.

Linfox, the owner of Avalon, was close to an agreement with Malaysia’s low budget carrier, AirAsia X.

The only hurdle that stood in the way was regulatory approval from the Federal Government.

But then came the election of the Rudd Labor Government. By the beginning of 2008, the deal was dead.

Incomprehensively, Labor rejected Avalon’s proposal to build an international terminal.

This did enormous damage to Avalon’s longterm development and to our local economy. In the eyes of Asia’s airline carriers, Australia was closed for business.

This also caused terrible harm to our reputation as a region in which to invest.

Labor’s Richard Marles has subsequently defended the decision as one that was made in the “national interest.” The only problem was there was never any concrete evidence for this. The better construction is that so early in its term, Labor had made a very big, costly and embarrassing error of judgement.

Had Avalon been given the opportunity to establish an international terminal in 2008, this would have led to 400 direct jobs and millions of dollars of benefits for our region.

As a study by Essential Economics found, each flight into Avalon Airport generates $24,600 in visitor spending. One daily flight generates almost $9 million of community income a year.

As a candidate at the 2013 Federal election, the vision for Avalon was so murkily defined by Labor that I started a petition to “Make Avalon international”.

While Labor and the Coalition both made election commitments to make Avalon international, only the Coalition at a state and federal level has put its money where its mouth is.

The Victorian Government committed to a dedicated rail link to Avalon and has delivered a multi million dollar Jetstar rescue package. And in August last year, Prime Minister Abbott committed to funding support to construct a new international terminal, contingent on an overseas carrier being secured.

Both our governments understand how important Avalon Airport is to our regional economy.

For this reason, it is vital that more of us fly Jetstar out of Avalon. The loss of so many jobs at Qantas’ heavy maintenance base was a terrible blow. As a community, we simply cannot afford to let Jetstar walk away.

In April this year, the Prime Minister and Victorian Premier joined Linfox executives in Shanghai for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with China’s HNA Group which runs China’s fourth largest airline, Hainan Airlines.

Not only did this demonstrate our government’s very strong support for Avalon, it also showed to the world that our nation is open for business and vigorously pursuing new opportunities.

Just last week, I attended a meeting with Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister, Warren Truss, and Avalon executives including CEO Justin Giddings.

We were briefed on the very positive progress that is being made in its deal with Hainan Airlines. Just consider what this would do for tourism and our export markets.

While the prospects of an international agreement won’t be known for some time, with the determined support of state and federal governments, Avalon is doing everything it can to soar.

For Avalon and our community, the sky’s the limit.

12 August 2014