Opinion //

What on earth is happening at Badgerys Creek?

Controversy surrounds the development of Sydney's new airport.

Sydney’s new airport has become the latest hotspot for the shady dealings of the NSW government.

So far, they have been accused of leaking confidential information to developers, favouring large landowners for acquisition, allocating government funds exclusively for Coalition seats, and prioritising projects that are not in the public’s best interests.

In 2017, Risland Australia, a developer with links to disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire, bought $85-million worth of farmland at Cawdor in Sydney’s south-west. In December that same year, it lobbied planning authorities to build a road interchange at the site because it knew the proposed M9 motorway was going to pass through it.

The problem was that no one was supposed to have that information. Plans for the M9 were publicly announced three months later.

Naturally, one would assume the government leaked Risland Australia confidential information, allowing them to buy a prized block of land next to a vital piece of new infrastructure. Transport for NSW deny such a leak took place and Risland Australia claim they were able to discern the M9 route from an earlier, though much less-detailed map.

In another strange occurrence, Landcom, the property development branch of the NSW government, seems to have paid $100 million more than market-value for a parcel of land at Milton. In 2019, the 873-hectare block owned by the developer Bradcorp was only valued at $155 million. In 2020, Landcom bought it for $258 million. Later, it was revealed that the bosses of Landcom and Bradcorp were old mates.

Landcom denies a conflict of interest occurred, and Bradcorp claims they had their property re-evaluated before the sale, finding that the actual price was much higher than previously thought.

In October, 2019, the NSW government revised its plans for the Badgerys Creek airport, rezoning various landholdings around the site for different uses. One man’s home in Bringelly went from $12 million to $1 after it was rezoned for environmental use by the state government. Many other small land-owners had their property’s value drastically reduced.

However, neighbouring large land-owners with political contacts will make hundreds of millions of dollars. One already has. The property-developing Medich family, for example, sold their 344ha block for nearly $500 million in February. The University of Sydney seems poised to make a similar windfall if it sells its 140ha neighbouring block to the government, whose acquiring agencies it is currently in negotiations with.

The University of Sydney and the Medich family, along with the help of former Labor MP turned political lobbyist Graham Richardson, have been lobbying the government to prioritise their land for development since 2006.

When asked whether the University had any reservations about this, a spokesperson responded “We strongly support the rezoning of Badgerys Creek. We worked extensively with the NSW government and relevant planning precinct authorities throughout the process and all landowners have benefitted.”

Most recently, controversy has erupted over the government’s proposed airport rail-link. The new train line would run in a northern direction from Badgerys Creek to St Marys. The federal Labor MP for Macarthur has accused the Morrison government of pork-barrelling. The new rail-link goes straight through the federal electorate of Lindsay and the state electorate of Mulgoa, both of which are held by the Coalition. Infrastructure Australia, an independent advisory body, has raised doubts over whether the route is an appropriate option.

Given that the new airport city will develop in the South-west corridor, it does seem odd that the government wants to build a train link heading in the opposite direction. It’s also strange the airport train will go towards Penrith, rather than somewhere closer to the city like Parramatta. Then again, all the seats in South-west Sydney are held by the Labor Party, both on a state and federal level.

Last month, a parliamentary inquiry into government land acquisitions and infrastructure projects at Badgerys Creek was launched. These recent controversies surrounding Badgerys Creek may not come as a surprise, as the NSW Coalition does this kind of thing frequently. Two well-known examples include John Barilaro funnelling the vast majority of bush-fire recovery funds towards Coalition seats, and Daryl Maguire receiving payments from developers for political favours.

The fact that the government is doing it again suggests it is not even fussed anymore to hide it. Then again, the Coalition will probably win the next election in a landslide.