Airport gets $5bn
By Steve Lewis, Dennis Shanahan and Andrew White
SYDNEY airport will be sold for about $5 billion to the Macquarie Bank-led Southern Cross group, in a deal that will reap more for Australia's biggest air gateway than the $4.1billion raised from Australia's 17 other privatised airports.
In the biggest single privatisation of government fixed infrastructure, Southern Cross has won the right to run the country's main airport after a tough battle with the AMP-led Gateway consortium.
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and Finance Minister Nick Minchin will announce the sale at a press conference at Sydney airport this morning.
Southern Cross is understood to have committed to a substantial investment program for the airport as part of its winning bid, including expanding runways and building new retail services.
Federal cabinet was briefed yesterday on the deal, which completes the program of privatising Australia's airports, leaving the remainder of Telstra and Medibank Private as the only big commonwealth assets yet to be sold. The announcement reinforces Macquarie Bank's appetite for substantial infrastructure assets following its recent $850 million purchase of the NTL communications network.
Southern Cross, which also comprises Germany's Hochtief airport group, will receive long-term management rights to the airport. It received praise for its handling of increased traffic during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Hochtief has shareholdings in Athens, Dusseldorf and Hamburg airports.
Under the privatisation deal, the Southern Cross group will have first rights of refusal on building a second airport in Sydney's western suburbs -- although the Government appears to have placed a site at Badgerys Creek off limits to future development.
Financial markets had been anticipating a sale price of between $4.5 billion to $5billion for the airport. The bulk of the sale proceeds are expected to be used to retire commonwealth debt.
Former finance minister John Fahey announced last year the airport would be sold. But the bidding was placed on hold after financial markets collapsed following last September's terrorist attacks in the US, with the delay compounded by the Ansett failure.
The other contender for the airport, the Gateway group, comprised AMP, Deutsche Bank, Hastings Fund Management and Cheung Kong of Hong Kong. A third bid was led by ABN Amro.
Macquarie Bank has become a major player in infrastructure investments during the 1990s, adding holdings in toll roads, television, radio networks and airports.