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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 2070

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (17:14): I welcome this opportunity to speak on the report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia into fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive-out practices in regional Australia. Let me start by saying that I appreciate the work done by members of the committee and the secretariat. I am very aware of the site visits that were undertaken and of the submissions that were made during the inquiry. I do thank the committee for its work.

This is a very significant inquiry for the resources sector, for our rural communities and for what are referred to in the report as the source communities—where the fly-in fly-out/drive-in drive-out workers live and where their families remain when they go to work. I was looking forward to this report. I put in a submission, as did a number of organisations from the Gold Coast, where my seat of McPherson is located.

My initial reaction, when I saw the report, was that surely there must have been a better title? I think that the title of a report is intended to, and does, reflect the contents of the report. Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities? is quite simply just inflammatory. I think it really sets a poor scene for the inquiry and what the findings of that inquiry actually were. I am very disappointed with that.

But as the member for McPherson on the Gold Coast I am also very disappointed that there was only a very brief reference to the Gold Coast, at section 4.77, as part of the section headed 'Source communities'. This was a section of the report that comprised only 13 paragraphs, so it was really quite brief in terms of the overall report. I am disappointed that whilst there is considerable detail in the report about the impact of fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive-out on rural communities, there is significantly less detail about the source communities and the benefits for those communities and for the families of the workers who live there.

As a member of the federal parliament, I am a fly-in fly-out worker. I do not fly in and out of a mine site; I fly in and out of Canberra and to other parts of Australia. I am acutely aware of the impact that my choice of career has on my family and has on me as a worker. There is no argument from me that the ideal situation is for people to work close to where they live. But for many workers this is not possible, for a number of reasons. It may be that there is no accommodation nearby. It may be that the accommodation is not suitable for families. It may be that the family does not want to live there; it may be for any number of reasons.

What I think has been overlooked in this report is actually very simple: if you have the choice of a job across the road from where you live that pays a certain rate and a job away from home where you have to fly-in fly-out or drive-in drive-out that pays a different rate, then it is an economic and family decision about which job to take. If there is no job across the road then the job away from home may be a lifeline and is very much needed by the individual and by the family. I think that has been overlooked by the committee in its deliberations.

Being a fly-in fly-out worker is not something to be demonised for. The cities and towns that are establishing themselves as source communities should be applauded for the efforts that they are making: firstly, to actively source work for residents, many of whom are unemployed and with little immediate prospects of securing employment close to home; and, secondly, for providing the infrastructure and amenities to support the family of the fly-in fly-out worker.

Establishing these source communities in regional areas is a positive step. I include the Gold Coast as a regional area, and one where there is evidence that there are already many fly-in fly-out workers. I must add that there are many workers who base their families on the Gold Coast and fly-in fly-out of locations around the world. Scotland and the Middle East spring to mind immediately as destinations where there have been people travelling to work in the oil industry for many years, and they have based their families on the Gold Coast. They do that because their families are happy to live there; they have made friends, there are amenities and there is already infrastructure in place to support their families.

As part of this inquiry I did invite the committee to the Gold Coast to conduct part of their hearings there. Unfortunately, the committee was unable to attend due to time constraints. I subsequently found out—and I think this is almost beyond belief—that the committee could not travel to the Gold Coast but could travel to Mongolia and to Canada as part of their inquiry when there was ample opportunity on the Gold Coast for them to speak to some of the workers and to some of their families. I am very disappointed that my requests went unheeded. If they had been able to attend there and visit the Gold Coast they would have seen what the Gold Coast has to offer. I speak only about the Gold Coast but there are other source communities that similarly have a lot to offer for workers and their families.

I believe that the work of the parliament is not yet completed. There is more work that needs to be done. The additional work that needs to be done, and must be done, is to identify how to support fly-in fly-out workers and their families and how to put that support in place. I would respectfully put to the parliament that the work of the committee is not done and that it should be continued as a matter of urgency.