Michael McCormack has pledged $20 million to revamp Wagga Wagga Airport if the coalition is returned in the upcoming federal election.
“They will do a major redevelopment of this site, a $20 million commitment to this airport to look at runways, to refurbish parking areas and for an airport terminal,” he said.
“The terminal … has been operating since 1986. The airport has been functioning since 1938. It’s time for an update.”
The terminal expansion includes the installation of federally mandated security upgrades and there will be improvements to the car park and runways too.
“This city is a major regional hub and we want it to be its best self. We want the city to go ahead,” Mr McCormack said.
The announcement follows a public nudge from Wagga City Council, whose lease on the Commonwealth owned facility will expire in 2025.
Mayor Dallas Tout wrote to each candidate asking for a commitment to help negotiate a new deal that would provide secure tenure and more financial support from the Commonwealth.
“There’s substantial infrastructure that’s needed to make it an airport for the region and the city into the future and it’s not physically or financially possible without assistance from both levels of government. So we need this commitment,” he said.
“There have been ongoing discussions for years and there’s been some money come through, small amounts of money from the feds and the state, but not for the proper planned infrastructure upgrades that are needed.”
Geoff Breust is a retired airline executive and aviator and has been a vocal critic of the current arrangement.
He said that while $20 million was a good start, the underlying issues remained.
“The lease needs to be renegotiated and renegotiated to be favourable to Wagga,” he said.
“It certainly needs to be a much longer-term lease, up to 99 years,” he said.
But Cr Tout is more optimistic, suggesting council estimates for the required upgrade sit between $24 million to $25 million and that they will be able to make up the shortfall.
“We’ll be talking to the state government about a commitment as well as a contribution to assist. So it’s a partnership between federal, state and local governments,” he said.
Cr Tout is also confident that the lease will be renegotiated within the next 12 months.
“The commitment itself of money is a message that the tenure will be sorted because they’re not going to put that amount of money into the local government area and then not also secure their tenure. So I think that’ll come together,” he said.
Mr McCormack reaffirmed his commitment to the RAAF’s ongoing ownership of the airport but said he’ll keep working through the lease agreement with Council.
“It’s another box that we’ve ticked, just like the indoor sports centre, like the levy bank, we’re upgrading facilities and it’s happening under my stewardship,” he said.
He challenged Labor to match the promise of cash.
“I’m now calling on the Labor candidate in Riverina to make sure that Labor backs this in because if Labor backs this in, it’s a surety,” he said.
Labor’s Riverina candidate Mark Jeffreson stopped short of matching the $20 million dollar pledge but said they remained committed to finding a “workable solution”.
“The money that’s gone to the airport today is great, but it’s only a part of the solution. The underlying problem, the landlord-tenant problem is still there and that needs to be resolved,” he said.
“We’re making the same commitment we’ve been making for months while the Nationals guy (McCormack) has been saying, ‘look, there is no problem here’, and then he finds himself in an election and says, ‘Oh, we better drop some money into it’.”
He also questioned the caveat that the money is contingent on reelection.
“I thought the money would have come out of the unannounced budget spending, the $16 billion they had set aside last budget for unannounced policies,” he said.
“But it’s an election promise; it’s not from the budget. If it were from the budget, it wouldn’t matter who gets in because the budget just rolls on and whatever is in the budget happens.”
Mr McCormack was scathing in reply.
“I’ve been able to find $20 million, why can’t they step up and say, ‘if there’s a Labor government elected, we will match that’?” he said.
“If Mark Jeffreson is serious about the position that he’s got as a candidate for the seat, well, let’s see the colour of your money.”
Cr Tout said Council would continue conversations will all the candidates ahead of the election to ensure that Wagga won’t be forgotten.
“We need a commitment so that no matter who’s in government, that funding continues,” he said.