Member for Capricornia Kirsten Livermore yesterday spoke out about the issues of FIFO workers in mining towns like Moranbah.
Member for Capricornia Kirsten Livermore yesterday spoke out about the issues of FIFO workers in mining towns like Moranbah.

Mining communities need certainty FIFO doesn't impact

FIFO report key recommendations

KIRSTEN Livermore employs a useful analogy to describe how the practice of fly-in, fly-out work has affected people in the mining town of Moranbah.

"It's like they're on an express train and no-one knows whether the ride's going to finish in one year's time, or two year's time or where they're actually going," the member for Capricornia said.

"They need the companies and other levels of government to come in and give some reassurances and certainty about where this journey is actually going."

Moranbah is just one of the towns that features in a 209-page report that was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

The report, Cancer Of The Bush Or Salvation Of Our Cities, was the result of an inquiry by the Standing Committee on Regional Australia, which spent the past 18 months examining the impact of FIFO and drive-in, drive-out on regional communities.

The committee held extensive hearings around the country, visited mining operations overseas and received more than 230 submissions.

It made 21 recommendations to government and 14 suggestions to industry, designed to build stronger inland regional communities alongside a strong resources industry.

Ms Livermore, who was the only Queensland MP on the committee, said her motivation for helping establish the inquiry was to put FIFO on the agenda and better understand its consequences.

The committee found state and federal governments were "oblivious to the damage" FIFO was doing to regional communities.

Committee chair Tony Windsor wrote in the report's foreword governments all levels of government needed to recognise FIFO was a "cancer" for some regional areas, particularly traditional mining communities like Moranbah.

The term "cancer" was coined by Kalgoorlie Mayor Ron Yuryevich as a means of describing the effects of FIFO in his area.

"I think it's something we should have a good, hard look at. They feel as though they are losing their sense of community," Mr Windsor explained during a press conference in Canberra.

The member for New England said the same resource companies operating in Australia were operating profitably in countries like Canada and Mongolia while building regional communities.

He said companies in other countries had measures in place to give communities affected by mining projects meaningful input to the decision-making process.

"We don't seem to have that," he said.

"I'm not suggesting we start up a whole new bureaucracy to do that.

"Personally I think it could be done pretty simply if the company sat down and actually worked through some of these issues with the various communities and ... governments they would end up with a better workforce themselves.

"It seems we've had an enormous rush to get things done. It's more or less just gone straight past a lot of people and they need to just retreat a little bit and bring people into the tent."

He wrote in the report a lack of empirical evidence on the issue of FIFO made it almost impossible for governments to respond in a way that supported regional communities, Mr Windsor said.

A policy mix was needed, he wrote, to ensure FIFO did not become the dominant practice as it could lead to "a hollowing out of established regional towns, particularly those inland".

Mr Windsor said the Royalties for Regions program in Western Australia seemed to be a popular policy solution to the FIFO conundrum.

"Because it recognised the contribution that those communities are making to the wealth," he said.

But he also recognised there was not a "one size fits all" model for some mining areas and conceded there were some parts of the country where FIFO was the only option.

"But for operational positions located near existing regional communities, every effort should be made to make FIFO/DIDO the exception rather than the rule," he wrote.

I think it's something we should have a good, hard look at. They feel as though they are losing their sense of community

Mr Windsor also rejected claims the report was an attack on the resources industry.

"The document isn't anti-mining, it's not intended to be. Obviously regional Australia needs the resource sector as much as the resource sector needs regional Australia," he told reporters.

"But it is the first part of an attempt to make people in regional areas a part of the process."

But the Australian Mines and Metals Association, which represents workers in the resource industry, said the report "demonised" the resources sector.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said the committee had ignored the realities of mining employment needs in regional areas.

"Fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out working arrangements are as much driven by employee lifestyle choices as by resource companies' operational requirements," Mr Knott said.

"After openly participating in what was supposed to be a considered and sensible discussion about the increase in FIFO and DIDO arrangements, we are very disappointed to read committee chair Tony Windsor refer to these activities as a 'cancer' in his report foreword.

"The 'cancer vs saviour' dichotomy is unfortunate when we are trying to advocate for a middle ground that balances the essential use of FIFO work arrangements with community needs and residential workforces where appropriate."

Key recommendations:

  • Review of funding allocations for FIFO communities so that funding is based on both residents and service populations.
  • Provide funding for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to develop a method to measure the extent of FIFO practices in the resources sector and the service populations of mining communities.
  • Fund comprehensive research to determine the economic impact on the demand for and consumption of local government services and infrastructure from FIFO workforces.
  • Commission a study of the impact of non-resident workers in regional resource towns on the provision of medical services and as a result of this study develop a health policy response that supports the sustainability of regional medical services.
  • Identify areas where local governments affected by FIFO would benefit from skills training programs to meet the needs of councillors and senior staff in local government.
  • Have the National Housing Supply Council to urgently develop and implement a strategy to address the supply of affordable housing in resource communities and report to the House of Representatives by June 27 on the progress of this strategy.
  • Commission a comprehensive study into the health effects of FIFO and lifestyle factors and as a result of this research develop a comprehensive health policy response.
  • Develop a best practice guide for employers with significant non-resident workforces.
  • Commission research on the effect on children and family relationships of having a long-term FIFO parent.
  • Commission research into the economic and social impacts of establishing regional centres as fly-in fly-out source communities.
  • Review the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 to limit a range of FIFO incentives.
  • Review the Zone Tax Offset arrangements to ensure that they are only claimable by permanent residents of a zone or special area.
  • Charge the Productivity Commission with investigating a more appropriate form of governance for remote Australia that is flexible and responsive.
  • Establish a dedicated secretariat, within an existing government department and based on the Province of Alberta Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat, with responsibility for consulting with state governments and the resources industry.
  • Develop strategies and targets for achieving fair access to health services for people living in regional and remote areas recognising the use of FIFO health services, providing for appropriate funding and infrastructure support.
  • Require each Regional Development Australia committee to have a health focus in its strategic plan, specifically focussing on long-term workforce and infrastructure planning and the role that FIFO medical practitioners will play in future service delivery.
  • Develop initiatives to encourage the provision of tertiary education providers to resource communities.

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