Nationals federal deputy hits out at WA government over Busselton Airport

The Nationals federal deputy leader Bridget McKenzie had some choice words for the WA Labor government when she visited the Busselton on October 12.

Senator McKenzie, who is also the Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation, was in the region for The Nationals annual conference in Manjimup.

Senator McKenzie flew into WA, and chose to land at the Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport to meet with City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley and Forrest MP Nola Marino.

Senator McKenzie was full of praise for the project and the commercial opportunities it presented.

“I think it is fantastic, not just for Busselton but for the broader region,” she said.

“The South West is known right across the country and internationally as a great producer of wine, beef, cherries, etc., so to be able to get that fresh clean green produce out of the South West, not just to Perth but over to East Coast, and accessing those markets in South East Asia is an incredible economic opportunity.”

While nearly $50 million dollars of infrastructure works have been completed, the construction of the new terminal remains on hold - and the project is incomplete.

Following the change in government in June 2017, the state government announced a value optimisation review of the project. In February 2018, the state government requested that the city delay construction until it received a commitment from an airline to commence services. 

Senator McKenzie said the federal government had been proud to support the project and slammed the state government’s inaction.

“It is very disappointing that the state government has not seen to maintain its commitment to this community and the broader region to actually finish the terminal,” she said.

“We have a state government who cannot see beyond the bounds of Perth, and it doesn't matter what level or area of policy development you look at, the McGowan Labor government, whether it is supporting farmers in the sheep trade, whether it is on rural health measures, regional education, or projects like this about investing in the future of regional WA beyond the mining, you know I think we've got a real problem with this state Labor government.

“So I’ll be doing everything I can, and I know my National party colleagues and my Liberal party to colleagues will to actually make sure they see, not just the value in investing in this but that it’s about equity and backing regional WA.”

 Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan hit back.

She said it was completely irresponsible for the Federal Minister to support building a terminal that, at this stage, no one was committed to using.

“Our government is pushing hard for this project to succeed, but we cannot force airlines to come,” she said.

“We are working to secure an airline through the South West Development Commission and TourismWA, however we will not apologise for holding off on spending taxpayer dollars on the new terminal without an airline secured.

Ms MacTiernan added the state government had already indicated it would push the button on construction of the new terminal if Qantas selected Busselton as the site for its second Qantas pilot academy, freeing up the existing terminal for use by Qantas.

“We have been lobbying hard for the academy, as it will bring real and sustainable benefit to the region. We have made an extra $1.7 million available for facilities associated with the academy, as an extra incentive to Qantas,” she said.

“We would hope that bringing the Qantas academy to Busselton will focus the minds of the Qantas group on regular passenger flights to the region.”