BELINDA HEGGEN: … onto a more serious matter and that is the $5 million coming out of your pockets to fund soundproofing insulation at a western suburbs church under the Adelaide Airport flight path. Now, parishioners at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Thebarton have been complaining about aircraft noise disrupting their services for some time now and the Federal Government has now provided some divine intervention, if you like, allocating $5 million of your hard earned taxpayers’ dollars announced in the budget on Tuesday night through what will be, as I understand it, an airport levy. Interesting, isn’t it, though, at a time when single mothers are having their payments stripped, at a time when we have found a $12 billion budget black hole, this Government has found a cool $5 million to fund the soundproofing of a church in what is now considered a marginal seat of Adelaide, held by Labor’s Kate Ellis. Now, in a moment we’ll hear from some of the key stakeholders, some of the politicians, about their views … first, let’s hear from one of the parishioners of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Arthur Mangos. Good afternoon, Mr Mangos.
ARTHUR MANGOS: Good afternoon. How are you?
BELINDA HEGGEN: I’m very well. Can you describe to our listeners today just how much of a disruption it is to have the aircrafts overhead during services?
ARTHUR MANGOS: On a Sunday morning when there is a service there are normally between seven and eight aircraft going over and you cannot hear yourself speak. You can’t even hear the priest speak and also on a christening… going for a christening or a wedding on a Saturday or Sunday, you cannot hear yourself speak and Saint Nicholas Church isn’t the only church that has been insulated. There are eight other churches in the City of West Torrens. There’s the Catholic church, Queen of Angels, on South Road that has been done, there’s been an Anglican church, a Coptic church off of Sir Donald Bradman Drive, Saint George Greek Orthodox church in Rose Street, an Anglican church opposite Thebarton Town Hall [Thebarton Theatre] and also 650 other houses in the flight path have been insulated by the Federal Government.
BELINDA HEGGEN: So it was your time? It was your church’s time?
ARTHUR MANGOS: It was our turn, yes. I don’t know what all the kerfuffle and hassle is because no one’s ever complained about the Catholic church or the Coptic church or the Anglican church having their insulation or the 654 houses that deserved to be insulated to reduce noise. They’ve been insulated their rooves and their windows and some people have even had their air conditioning done and that’s been over a ten-year period so I really think it’s a storm in a teacup.
BELINDA HEGGEN: So, Mr Mangos, when you say that planes fly overhead on a Sunday morning, between seven and eight, roughly how many planes go overhead?
ARTHUR MANGOS: Between seven and eight.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Between seven…
ARTHUR MANGOS: Between seven and eight, yes, and the aircraft traffic is due to double in the next 20 years under the projected plans of the Adelaide Airport so if you can imagine up to 16 planes and on the weekends you normally get two or three international flights which are louder than normal jets so there can be… in the next decade, there’ll be at least 15 flights, so…
BELINDA HEGGEN: I used to live in the West Beach area and I’ve got to say it was many years ago now when I was a young primary school student but I don’t recall it ever being that disruptive and I actually liked going in the backyard and looking at the planes overhead but you’re saying it’s just untenable as a parishioner?
ARTHUR MANGOS: It is untenable because in Mile End they’re only about 150 metres up in the air so it is untenable and, if you’d like, I’d like to meet you there on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when a flight’s going over you would not hear me speak or hear your own voice.
BELINDA HEGGEN: And have you found the number of parishioners have then dropped off on a Sunday morning?
ARTHUR MANGOS: They do, yes. They do get upset and we’re thankful that the Federal Government’s seen, you know… timely enough that it’s our turn for our parishioners and to insulate the churches.
BELINDA HEGGEN: I’m no expert in insulation, of course, but I would have thought $5 million sounds like an awful lot of money.
ARTHUR MANGOS: Well, you’ll have to take that up with the Department of Infrastructure [and Transport]. Yeah, you’ll have to take that up with the Federal Government.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Right, so your point of view is you’re happy, it was your turn, other churches in the area have had it done…
ARTHUR MANGOS: Yeah, I mean, the Catholic church Queen of Angels on South Road… I think it was 3 to 3½ million and I also think the Saint George church in Rose Street was 3 million and I never saw anything in the papers, no interviews, no nothing. The other churches on Sir Donald Bradman Drive the Anglican church, Coptic church nothing at all. In fact, I really think that the other residents… because I’m actually a councillor in the City of West Torrens… other residents above… in the 25 [Australian Noise Exposure Index] contour noise zone should be insulated as well. There is over 650 houses that have been insulated in the City of West Torrens and in Australia there have been a lot… probably thousands that have been insulated for noise.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Alright, Mr Arthur Mangos, thank you so much for putting your case forward today.
ARTHUR MANGOS: Thank you very much for your time and God bless you.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Pleasure. You too. Thank you. Now, we’ll get in just a moment to Liberal Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham to get his thoughts on it. We have approached the Member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis. She was unavailable. She was, though, on Bob Francis’s show last night about this very issue. This is what she had to say about spending $5 million of yours and my money on insulation in one church.
KATE ELLIS: … program that’s been in place since 2000, the Adelaide Airport Noise Amelioration Program. It’s a program that has funded over 600 homes … schools in the area… insulation noise reduction for public buildings in the areas from the impact of aircraft noise. The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is the last building to qualify to come under the requirements in order to meet the needs and have noise reduction put in place which is what’s been announced in the budget. What may not have been clear is that this project is actually being funded by a levy on the airlines that will be put in place for six months in order to fund this project. … It’s something that was part of the agreement with having an airport in Adelaide that is so close to the city, so close to so many residences and community buildings … This church has just qualified now when a number qualified some years ago. It’s because the growth in air traffic has meant that… we measure on what’s called the ANEI [Australian Noise Exposure Index] contour for Adelaide Airport. We measure the amount of noise as a result of the increased traffic, the increased number of planes, this has come into the guidelines that have been in place for over a decade which is the reason why it qualifies. I know that it sounds a little bit odd in isolation but it is part of a bigger program and it’s part of making sure that our community can function where it is and where it’s been established for many decades… circumstances in place and I understand that because of the setup of the church and how old the building is and the like, it is much more difficult in terms of actually removing the roof, doing a number of measures but what this does is it brings it in line… I know there’s been some commentary and there’s been some quite awful remarks that have been made about special treatment for this church. It actually brings it into line with the St James Anglican Church in Mile End, the Saint George Orthodox church in Thebarton, Saint Mary and Anba Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church in Cowandilla they’ve all received funding under this program.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Member for Adelaide Kate Ellis there speaking last night on Bob Francis’s program. What do you think? $5 million of your money, through an airport levy which will no doubt be passed on to airline passengers and the like. At the end of the day, you and I are going to be paying for it. Is it divine intervention or is it a waste of your money?
BELINDA HEGGEN: If you’ve just joined us, we’re talking about the $5 million of taxpayers’ money that will go to fund soundproofing insulation works in the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Thebarton, the parishioners of which have been complaining about the unholy noise coming from aircraft which disturb their Sunday morning church services… $5 million too much, a waste of money or fair enough? … Let’s go now to Simon Birmingham, the Liberal Senator for South Australia. Good afternoon, Simon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good afternoon, Belinda. Good afternoon to your listeners.
BELINDA HEGGEN: What’s your view on the $5 million?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Belinda, I am surprised by it and keen to get more information and I’m pleased with what I’ve heard at least from Arthur and from Kate as some level of explanation thus far but this is a program that, indeed, was put in place, dating back to about the year 2000… it has indeed supported upgrade works to provide for noise insulation in around 650 premises and, as I understand, at a cost of about $63 million all up. That averages out to about $100,000 per premises thus far. It finished work, it seems, several years ago, in terms of when the levy ceased and when works on any properties ceased, so it seems surprising now that several years after it ceased working and at a much greater rate than the previous average an out-of-the-blue $5 million grant to one property has been awarded and that’s where I’ll be looking and asking in Senate estimates for more information about just how this has come about and making sure that, indeed, if it is to be done, it is justifiable.
BELINDA HEGGEN: So, this noise amelioration program, I think Ms Ellis described it as… so that was a Howard Government initiative. You’re saying that that was all wrapped up and now, out of the blue in Tuesday’s budget, we have $5 million allocated to Saint Nicholas Church?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s right, Belinda. Chris Gallus, the former Liberal Member for Hindmarsh, did a lot of work to get that program in place and it certainly was there to, very particularly, support houses and community facilities in areas of high aircraft noise and so a lot of work was done on that but I’m advised that the application of the levy on flights, on passengers, ceased in about 2010 and that works on properties were all completed by around about that time. Now, I still need to try to get more specific answers from the Department [of Infrastructure and Transport] and elsewhere and I’ll be writing to transport minister Anthony Albanese today to ask him to release all of the information around this program but, in particular, to this grant as to how it’s come about, how it’s been costed, why it is that we can’t find a way to do this and to help the community there and I’m very sympathetic to the concerns of the church community but why it is we can’t find a way to help them at a price much below $5 million.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Because I’m no insulation expert but I would have thought$5 million is a lot of money, though we heard from Kate Ellis that they need to take the entire roof of the old church off which seems like an awful lot of work. What’s your party’s view on, you know, the current state of affairs… this Government is cash strapped, it’s broke… to be spending so much in what could easily be considered a marginal seat… of Adelaide… leading up to an election?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s why complete transparency around this is so important. Because it’s been done just months away from an election, because it’s come out of the blue, because it’s such a huge sum of money, obviously a lot of people leap to the conclusion of saying this just looks like pork-barrelling. Now, it’s not fair on the Greek community at that church to say that without seeing all of the evidence so I don’t want to leap to judgement there. I want to see what the evidence says and my challenge, really, to the Government is: step up to the plate and give out all of the information around this; demonstrate that it is justifiable and that the costs are justifiable and then that’s fine but we need to get some real clarity in that regard to make sure that, at this time when the last thing the Adelaide economy needs is another levy or tax being imposed on part of it… and I saw some statistics a couple of weeks ago that suggested that the Adelaide Airport was the only mainland capital city airport that saw a decline in passenger movements over the previous 12 months which is symptomatic of many of the economic challenges we’re facing in SA. The last thing we need is to be applying another tax or levy if it’s unnecessary or if it can be done at a much cheaper rate.
BELINDA HEGGEN: I don’t know how many parishioners belong to the church but there’d be a few votes in it, I would have thought.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, I’m sure there potentially may be and that, of course, should not be a factor in matters like this, though, because when you’re allocating public funds for these things, it should be done on the basis of ‘does it meet the program guidelines; is the costing at the best value for money you can possibly get?’ They’re the tests that this sort of project needs to meet and, of course, the cynicism and the doubt that many people justifiably have comes from the fact that this Government has a terrible track record of spending money poorly on school halls, on ‘Pink Batts’ and the like and, of course, wasting huge sums of money rather than getting value for money and politicising far too many of these types of things. Now, unfortunately the Government’s track record reflects on the community in this case and that’s not fair for them and that’s why this should have been done in a far more transparent way and I hope that Minister Albanese can come clean with all of the information on this, make sure that it’s there for the public to see and then people can hopefully judge the project on its merits, rather than on the perception of seeing $5 million being given to a couple of marginal seats just before an election.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Can I ask you about another matter before you need to go, Simon Birmingham, and that’s the apparent free kick you’ve given to the Government this afternoon over firstly not allowing the Member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland, to be afforded a pair so she could go and be with her sick daughter; now you have granted it to her. It’s not a good look, is it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Belinda, I must say I’ve sort of… I’ve followed on and off today what’s happened on the other side of the building. Obviously, I’m on the Senate side and I haven’t quite, outside of the media coverage, caught up with too much of what’s occurred in that regard and it strikes me as a sequence of surprising events there, I guess, in that it seems odd to ask for a pair at the start of the week to care for a sick child at the end of the week but I’m sure there may be some reasonable explanations for that from the Government side and obviously the important thing here is that, as I understand it, she will get to go and look after her child and that’s all that really matters when it’s all said and done. It’s unfortunate that it had to become a public issue with the Government taking it to The Daily Telegraph yesterday, I gather.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time this afternoon.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure.
BELINDA HEGGEN: Liberal Senator for South Australia there.