The construction of Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek has brought with it a melting pot of legal issues. From arguments about the Government’s right to acquire property to build the airport to tenancy issues surrounding people who have lived on the airport site as tenants for a number of decades, the commitment by the Government to build the airport has resulted in numerous actions in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and other appropriate jurisdictions.
If one is to drive down Bringelly Road today one will see that there are numerous signs posted by land owners on that road that say words to the effect of “The Government wants our land, but on unjust terms”. This is a reference to Section 51 of the Constitution of Australia which sets out that the Government may acquire property from any person on just terms i.e. on terms that are fair and reasonable to the land owners. This legal issue was depicted in the famous Australian film ‘The Castle’ which, as it turns out, was quite a piece prophetic piece of cinema.
The second issue being grappled by the Government in relation to the construction of the airport is the removal of long term tenants from the airport site. Since the announcement of the proposed airport in the ‘80’s, the Government has leased various properties to tenants, some of which have occupied their respective properties for some 20 years as the airport has been delayed as a result of Australia’s changing political landscape. The Government sought to forcibly remove many of these tenants by terminating their Tenancy Agreement, however have been met with class actions and other such litigation in the Federal Circuit Court. To date the Court has been quite generous in allowing people extensions of time to relocate on the basis that the Government should provide them with adequate time to acquire a new property to move to. This is at odds with State law regarding tenancy and perhaps public opinion which would suggest if a Tenancy Agreement comes to an end a property owner should have a right to take their property back for whatever purpose they like. As the landlord is the Government in this scenario however, a combination of legal factors and public perception means that the government has been forced to act in a manner different to how most landlords would be expected to act.
What is certain is that the construction of the airport is sure to line the pockets of solicitors and barristers as the public continue to battle the Government in relation to compensation for land acquisition (on just terms) and access to the huge parcel of land that is required to build the facility.