Full flight with Fiona Scott, Former Federal Member for Lindsay
September 21, 2017
For thirty years state and federal governments, and even politicians within the same party, bickered over the proposal to build Sydney’s second airport in Badgerys Creek.
When Fiona Scott was elected to federal parliament in 2013 she surveyed her constituents and found that while almost 64 per cent backed the proposal, they wanted to make sure that Western Sydney enjoyed the economic benefits of the airport and did not become a dormitory suburb.
We spoke to Fiona about her role in campaigning to make Badgerys Creek a project not just in, but for, Western Sydney.
Why did you decide to become active about the site of Sydney’s second airport, when it had been such an intractable political issue for so long?
Over the decades employment rates in Western Sydney declined and youth unemployment rose. Set against this backdrop the people kept coming, the houses kept being built, and future population forecasts projected an additional 2 million people moving into the region over the next 20 years.
The time had come for something to be done!
This was not an issue split down party lines, but rather MPs whose electorates were east and west of Parramatta.
The overly simplistic East camp basically thought you could just throw down tarmac in a Badgerys Creek cow paddock and “woosh-ka!”, it’s all done. My role was to find a compromise.
We really needed the jobs and to grow the Western Sydney economy, but the proposal on the table was not acceptable. Hence I coined the phrase: “If it’s good enough for the East, it’s good enough for the West.”
What was the risk of doing nothing?
The project would have gone ahead regardless, without any attention to what was best for the region.
The biggest challenge was ensuring we were taking the community with us.
I conducted local research to understand where and what the challenges were. I then undertook more studies to really get the heart of people’s main concerns. I directed my team to door knock and phone canvass people in the regions most impacted and therefore most likely to have strong opinions.
How did you go about lobbying your own colleagues to convince them your side was right?
I was going to the Chamber for a division when I bailed up Joe Hockey, ardent East supporter. I asked him: “So you are intending to throw some tarmac in a cow paddock out my way?”
Lobbying is always about finding mutual ground, and deciding what is not negotiable. In this instance both Government and Opposition cabinets were in support of the airport. What it looked like and how it would benefit the people of Western Sydney was the negotiation.
I first drew up a stakeholder map of the opinions of key influencers, where I could influence their thinking, and who they in turn influenced.
Effective lobbying is also about connecting the right stakeholders. I held countless meetings in Canberra with senior Western Sydney stakeholders, and invited many decision makers to the region to demonstrate our issues and suggest improvements to the plan.
The end result of accepting the airport was inevitable, but by working constructively with key influencers we enhanced the investment and infrastructure and made sure the airport was of social and economic benefit to the local community, rather than a disconnected piece of tarmac in a paddock!
Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that roads would come first and the airport second. Subsequently I lobbied to ensure a rail connection to the airport would be built.
When lobbying, it can be hard not to get emotional, but it is always best to work with the facts.
Now that you’re out of parliament, how do you feel about the issue and your role in the campaign?
I learnt a lot! Specifically…
1. If you are too oppositional, you take yourself out of the conversation and lose your ability to influence the outcome. I couldn’t stop the airport from coming, but I could be a positive proponent for how it would look and benefit the people I represented.
2. Do your research, understand the facts.
3. Find mutual ground, because it’s where you can start.
4. Always attack in multiple ways. I lobbied my Government ministerial colleagues, spoke regularly with the Opposition local members and the Opposition shadow ministers, and worked closely with both my state and local government members and bureaucrats. I also widely engaged my community of interest and ran a PR campaign with various news outlets.