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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 2076

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (18:01): It is good to follow the member for Hinkler, who is marking 20 years in this place today. His contribution here just shows that in 20 years he has not lost it; it is only getting better, like fine wine.

In addressing this report, can I first say that I think language and how we describe things is very important. I am not too happy with the title of the report, 'Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?' FIFO is not a cancer; it is not a saviour, either; it is a work practice. That view is shared by a lot of people in my electorate. In fact, we have got a miner who writes an article in the local Mackay newspaper every week. To quote him, he says: 'Everyone is talking about FIFO, or fly-in fly-out—and DIDO, or drive-in drive-out—as if it is a dirty word. To put it bluntly, I find that insulting. The fact that myself and a substantial number of my workmates don't live permanently in small communities near the mines we work at should not be construed as having no regard for these townships and their permanent residents.' Globally in this whole debate we need to step back and accept that that is a reality for most miners.

There are a lot of strident critics of fly-in fly-out practices. I am a critic of 100 per cent fly-in fly-out—and I will get to that. Even the Moranbah Retailers Association President, Peter Finlay, who probably agrees with the cancer comment, is on record as saying nobody is against FIFO per se but to make it compulsory would have a detrimental impact on businesses and the community. And therein lies the rub: having 100 per cent FIFO—and businesses such as BMA have made it compulsory at some of their mines—really does go against the spirit of choice. It is not about the practice itself, but how it is used by the companies.

The former Bligh Labor government in Queensland gave approval for BMA to have a 100 per cent fly-in fly-out workforce at its Caval Ridge mine near Moranbah,. That was opposed by me in this place at the time. It was opposed by the community, by all of the local governments and certainly by the residents of the Moranbah township. They were not listened to, they were simply ridden over, and now we have a 100 per cent fly-in fly-out operation.

I hear stories, through the press mainly, that when a local goes to apply for a job at this mining operation they are told, 'Sorry, you have to have permanent place of residence in Brisbane.' That is a terrible thing. That to me is geographic discrimination. I would say it should be outlawed. There should be no ability for a company to not hire someone because they do not live in a particular place. Unless it is going to affect the work practices, it should be illegal to do that. I say shame on the state government at the time, the Bligh Labor government, for allowing this to happen and shame on BMA as well for actually proposing it and for having it in action. I am against 100 per cent FIFO and I want that on the record.

There are quite a number of recommendations in this report and a lot that I do agree with. The first recommendation regards the ABS and getting the correct data. Local councils have told me they feel the data is not correct at this point in time because of the manner in which the ABS goes about collecting census data. If we have underrepresentation of population in certain areas because of the data then that needs to be addressed. Quite a few other recommendations go to research that needs to be done so government can have the facts. They include commissioning some research on the actual economic impact of FIFO and DIDO workforces, and on the demand for and the consumption of local government services and infrastructure by FIFO and DIDO workforces.

The report recommends commissioning a study into the health effects of FIFO and DIDO work and lifestyle to develop a comprehensive health policy. The committee also recommends the commissioning of research on the effect of children and family relationships of having a long-term FIFO or DIDO parent. Also, there is a recommendation to commission research into the economic and social impacts of establishing regional centres as FIFO source communities. All of those research requests, I think, are very good.

There is one university that is well placed to do that research, CQ University, which is right on the doorstep of the Bowen Basin. It has looked into a lot of these issues already. I will be writing to the Minister for Regional Australia asking him, given this committee comes under his purview, to consider the university when it comes to doing this research that has been recommended if that is the way the government indeed wishes to go with this.

Another thing I really want to say is we need to be careful with language when we refer to FIFO and DIDO like they are interchangeable. They certainly are not. Statistics from the Queensland government statistician show that 61 per cent of non-resident workers engaged in the Bowen Basin actually reside in the Mackay and Whitsunday local government areas. That is because it is in the same region as them. They can drive to work in less than half a day in most cases and it is convenient. We need to get away from lumping FIFO and DIDO into the same basket. That certainly was the recommendation of the Regional Economic Development Corporation of Mackay, Isaac, Whitsunday which represents the economic development interests of those three local government areas. Isaac Regional Council is where the Bowen Basin actually is. They say that the terms FIFO and DIDO should be treated as mutually exclusive, so they are not the same thing. Page 7 of their submission to the inquiry states:

The long term issue is the allocation of services and infrastructure to communities where the FIFO/DIDO workforces are not counted as resident population although they may spend more than 50% of their life in those communities.

That goes back to one of the recommendations before about local government and ensuring that the figures that the ABS provides are accurate. The issue also extends to DIDO workers, but they do say here:

The interrelationships between regional communities can potentially marginalise these effects. Having large centres such as Mackay, and large tourism destinations such as the Whitsundays in close proximity to the resource communities improves liveability, as it provides residents with options. By having the DIDO workforce reside in adjacent communities, the provision of services and facilities which can be utilised by the direct mining communities’ increases.

So there are benefits from having drive-in drive-out workforce practices. It is very different to FIFO and we need to recognise that.

I go onto the Regional Social Development Centre, an organisation which I was once vice-president of and which does a lot of good work in the Mackay region. They go on to talk about drive-in drive-out workers, as differentiated from FIFO workers, saying:

DIDO workers originate from a larger regional centre within approximately 2.5 hours of their place of work …

I have to say that that is what is said here, but in some cases it might be four hours.

The impacts of DIDO work arrangements for the region differ from FIFO in that:

As a resident of the region, the worker is more likely to have some sense of connection to, or ownership, of the community in which they work;

With this connection to the community, DIDO workers are more likely to remain in the region;

The worker contributes to the region by spending locally;

The worker will be counted in the Census data for this region.

Again, I urge caution on saying that DIDO and FIFO are the same thing; they clearly are not.

Going to another item out of the RSDC's—the Regional Social Development Centre's—submission to the inquiry: it talks about family relationships. I think this is one of the things where we often look at the economic impacts, and all the rest of that, but we do not look at the impact on families enough. There is some movement in this report on that, and that is good, but the RSDC submission says that there are difficulties in maintaining family relationships amongst FIFO and DIDO workers, as stated by workers who actively participated in an initiative that the RSDC came up with—the Adaptive Communities Initiative. One of them stated:

It was pretty rocky. I missed out on how my son was going at school and my wife was working as well and she had dramas at work and she couldn't talk to me. When you are together day to day you work through it but when you are apart, the other family members feel that they are alone, that there is no help.

I have to say, that is a reaction that I get from a lot of families who are engaged in drive-in drive-out and fly-in fly-out. The Whitsunday Industrial Workforce Development group, which is doing a lot of good work in trying to connect local businesses and local jobseekers with the mining industry in that e Whitsundays, also raises this issue:

Social impacts for FIFO/DIDO workers and families—social support to families of FIFO workers is out of the scope of WIWD however it is believed that there could potentially be a lack of support services for families who relocate to the region—

that is, regions where there is mining. What they are looking for is:

… attraction, infrastructure and environment for workers to the region there will be various strategies which will be developed to respond to some of the issues associated with retention of workers and their families to the region.

One of the things that is missing from this report which I think should have been in it is a strategy to transfer fly-in fly-out workers to actual residents. Wouldn't it be great if you could actually develop a program where that would happen. That is something WIWD has brought up.

Going back to the issue of the impact on families, I also made a submission to the inquiry here, and it was largely around that issue. I remember being in a country pub in Mackay and having a big burly bloke, who was bigger than me both horizontally and vertically, come up and have a bit of a yarn—he broke down crying actually. All it was about was how long he has to spend away from his family and the toll it puts on him. He went to the bathroom and came out and found his son tucked in the corner next to the door because he did not want to see his daddy go again. Stories like that are heartbreaking.

Something has to be done to help families in these situations. I put a proposal to the committee that we look at the federal government supporting the establishment of community trusts in local government areas where there is mining activity or workforces and give tax deductible status to donations to such trusts in order to support children and families. There is more of that in my report.

I want to quote two organisations. The CFMEU said:

We are not saying that FIFO must or ought to be banned. It is recognised that there are times when there is not a realistic alternative, such as remotely based construction projects. And there are times when a combination of resident based and FIFO may be necessary …

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry also said:

Implemented appropriately, the FIFO and DIDO workforce can deliver significant benefits to regional and State economies, local communities and businesses.

It is finding the balance. That is what it is all about: getting the balance right in terms of relationships and workforce make-up.

Debate adjourned.