17 May 2024

'Please don't privatise our airport' - Wagga Council rallies community support to save airport lease

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Wagga Wagga City Council Mayor Dallas Tout with Council's Regional Activation executive manager Christine Priest.

Wagga Wagga City Council Mayor Dallas Tout with council’s regional activation executive manager Christine Priest. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

In an urgent call to action, Wagga Wagga City Council (WWCC) is mobilising the local and wider regional community in a crucial campaign to retain the lease on Wagga Wagga Airport.

The council’s current 30-year airport lease from the Department of Defence expires in June 2025 and WWCC has launched an advocacy campaign for the Commonwealth Department of Defence to enter into a new and improved lease with the council to operate this critical community asset.

Wagga Mayor Dallas Tout said the airport was the social and economic lifeline of the city and the wider region.

“We need to keep it in community hands so it can be community-focused,” Cr Tout said.

“Keep costs down to make it affordable for individuals, businesses and government departments.

“It provides essential services and connection for the region to the rest of Australia, for families, individuals, businesses, education and health services, and aviation training, maintenance, and general aviation.

“The airport is currently run with a community focus and with the emphasis on prioritising and optimising the broader economic and social needs to keep costs low for residents and businesses.

“We are concerned that privatisation will increase costs and create another barrier for people in our region.”

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Cr Tout is urging everyone to write letters of support for the lease renewal to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles and Member for Riverina Michael McCormack by 30 May.

“We need as many [submissions] as possible. I’m sure there’ll be an underlying support for this campaign, specifically the public one,” Cr Tout said.

“We need more people to show this is a whole community and the region thing [Wagga Airport]. People are passionate about keeping the airport affordable and in the community’s hands for everyone’s benefit.

“We need your help to let the Commonwealth Government know how privatisation of this vital infrastructure would impact you or your organisation.”

Community members can also express their support over the next four weeks through the council’s Have Your Say Wagga Wagga website. The feedback will be forwarded to relevant ministers.

Welcome sign

The future of Wagga Wagga’s aging airport has been thrust into the spotlight. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

WWCC General Manager Peter Thompson said the Federal Government was about to make a decision.

“We’ve been informed that their preliminary view is to privatise our airport,” Mr Thompson said. “And we as a community will not have any say in the airport going forward.

“We’re begging people to participate to let the government know this is a bad decision for the region. [Government] should change the decision … then we will sit down with them and work out the way forward.

“It’s literally down to ‘please don’t privatise our airport’ and to the extent that we need to convince people to write to us or the Deputy PM to think about every other community asset across the country that’s been privatised.”

Mr Thompson has been pushing to secure a 99-year lease for the city and for more financial support to upgrade and maintain the Commonwealth-owned facility.

Wagga Wagga Airport is currently leased at around $200,000 per year, while other airports were gifted to communities or sold to communities for a dollar. The community pays for any improvements to the airport, but the Commonwealth Government owns them.

WWCC said local ratepayers had made a significant financial contribution to the airport’s capital expenditures over the past 30 years and that the airport should be treated as a community asset, not for private enterprise to profit from.

Recently, the WWCC spent $5.3 million without any contribution from the Federal Government to construct a taxiway.

Council hopes the Federal Government will reconsider its position through the campaign and not further disadvantage regional communities.

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How to send your letters.

Send your letters to Deputy PM Richard Marles and Member for Riverina Michael McCormack by 30 May to: PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600.

Submit your feedback and support the fight to save our airport online at Have Your Say, email [email protected] or drop it off to the customer service team at the Civic Centre by Friday 14 June.

Please also provide the council with a copy of any letters you forward to ministers by 30 May so they can be added to the overall advocacy submission.

Council wants to reach a resolution with Defence and will make further representations to Mr Marles, Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite, and Mr McCormack once it compiles further letters of support from stakeholders and the community.

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