This paper focuses on the decision made by the Hawke government in March 1989 to build a third runway at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport (KSA), subject to normal environmental impact procedures. It notes that this decision was commonly hailed as a policy-making success and that past government procrastination over the construction of a third runway has been conversely seen as policymaking failure. The paper questions these perceptions of failure and success both by recounting the history of policy-making for Sydney's airport needs and by setting the Sydney experience in comparative international perspective. It argues that current congestion at KSA is only in small part a consequence of past government procrastination over runway development and that it is in much larger part a consequence of both unpredicted changes in the various sectors of the aviation industry and a rather passive traffic management and pricing approach adopted by the federal government's aviation authorities. It further argues that in the light of international experience, procrastination over runway development at KSA can be seen for many years to have been a significant policy-making success, and indeed can still be so seen today. One of the current benefits of not having runway construction at KSA nearing completion is that the aviation authorities and aviation industry users in Sydney may be induced to make both more efficient and equitable use of the existing runway facilities at KSA than they have done in the past, particularly during peak hours.
Urban Research Unit, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University 1989