Breeze in, breeze out: Opinion divided on mining's long-term legacy in the bush

ONE mayor described it as “the cancer of the bush” and a parliamentary inquiry led by Tony Windsor has concluded every effort should be made to make fly-in, fly-out/drive-in, drive-out mining workforces the exception rather than the rule.

With the Gunnedah and Narrabri communities now preparing for the impact of the Maules Creek coal- mine development and the expansion of the Boggabri Coal operation which both received conditional approval this week, the inquiry has made 21 recommendations to government and 12 suggestions to the mining industry which the parliamentary committee believes can help build stronger inland regional communities alongside a strong resources industry.

Mr Windsor, the member for New England and the chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia inquiry into the use of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) workforce practices in regional Australia, said regional communities needed a champion on this issue.

“This report calls for that champion. It recognises that there are some circumstances where FIFO/DIDO is warranted – for construction and very remote operations.

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 said.

Mr Windsor said the committee gathered information and submissions from all sides of the FIFO debate over a number of months. 

He said the report highlighted the benefits that high wages and time at home brought to the workforce and their families, but also the damage it caused to regional communities.

“In a different light, FIFO/DIDO is presented as offering work opportunities to ease unemployment in the cities, spreading the wealth of the resources industry and raising the question: could this be the salvation of our cities?” Mr Windsor said.

The mayor of Kalgoorlie told the inquiry the workforce practice of FIFO/DIDO was a “cancer of the bush” and that it is eroding the way of life of traditional communities.

“The work practice is eroding the liveability of regional communities to such an extent that it is increasingly removing the choice to ‘live-in’ rather than simply ‘cash-in’,” Mr Windsor said.

Gunnedah Shire Council mayor Owen Hasler said the council’s view was not in favour of FIFO/DIDO workforces, with the shire being well-located and not isolated.

“We’re focused on attracting people who want to live here and developing a strong economy,” he said.

Cr Hasler said a recent presentation by the Association of Mining Related Councils outlining the MAC mining villages’ focus on Boggabri and Werris Creek did little to change councillors’ minds.

“Miners could redirect the costs of keeping employees in these villages into Gunnedah homes,” he said.

“Fortunately, we have enough building blocks available to cater for a long-term workforce.” 

Cr Hasler said it was a proposal they had put forward to mining companies but the government’s taxation policies had to be re-worked, with concessions making it cheaper to put workers in FIFO facilities.

The report found subsidisation of FIFO work practices through taxation concessions to mining companies encouraged the practice.

The NSW Minerals Council said NSW’s FIFO workforce was very different to the rest of the country.

It found there was reportedly less than 300 FIFO workers in NSW, but it did not define DIDO workers.

The council said NSW had a small FIFO component to its mining workforce with most miners living in local communities near the mines they worked at.

“The majority of our miners live and raise their families close to the mine operations where they work and are an ongoing integral part of their local communities,” the council said.

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