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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1133


Mr WINDSOR (New England) (10:25): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia, I present the committee's report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?: Fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive-out workforce practices in regional Australia together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Order that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr WINDSOR: by leave—The Mayor of Kalgoorlie called the workforce practice of 'fly-in fly-out, drive-in drive-out' the 'cancer of the bush'. He claimed, and many others agreed, that it is eroding the way of life in traditional mining communities and other communities. For those who are really interested in the committee's deliberations, I would suggest that they go a little bit further and actually look at the Hansard of the committee proceedings in Kalgoorlie. I think Kalgoorlie, Mount Isa and Broken Hill presented a real snapshot into genuine concerns about changing work practices. Those three communities do not have an agenda against mining—some communities do—but they are very proud of their mining history and they want to preserve that history and advance their communities into the future. So I would recommend that those community groups and journalists that are really interested in this story go through what the Mayor of Kalgoorlie had to say, that they look at what the business community had to say and at what some of the religious leaders had to say in that town—a city that people are very, very proud of.

Fly-in fly-out, or FIFO, is also presented as offering work opportunities to ease unemployment in cities and coastal areas, spreading the wealth of the resources industry and raising the question: could this be the salvation for our cities? A century ago, many country people migrated to the cities in search of work as technology dictated fewer jobs on the land. A century later, many see jobs being created in the mining sector, particularly in inland Australia, with many of those jobs being taken up by city or coastal people who do not live where they work.

There are warning signs for inland Australia, as well as opportunities for coastal regional centres. Many communities are concerned about the negative impacts on their towns and feel that although they may be the sites of the resource activity, they are not the major beneficiaries. The report examines the implications for those towns wishing to become 'FIFO hubs' and the towns to which the workers travel, and highlights the challenges for all levels of government.

Above all else, the inquiry heard the mantra of 'choice'—that choice must be provided to workers to fuel the high-speed mining economy. However, the work practice is eroding liveability of some regional communities to such an extent that it is increasingly removing the choice to 'live-in' rather than simply 'cash-in'. The subsidisation of fly-in fly-out work practices through taxation concessions to mining corporations distorts the capacity of workers to make the choice to live and work in regional communities and in fact encourages the practice.

Despite the rapid increase in fly-in fly-out workers in Australia and the impact the practice is having on regional committees, state and federal governments and some companies appear to be oblivious to the damage that it is causing to the lives of some regional people, fly-in fly-out workers and their families.

There are simple and practical measures that can be put in place to provide more incentive for fly-in fly-out workers to become residential workers. But foremost, governments at all levels must acknowledge that, for some communities—particularly those traditional resource communities and others in quite developed areas—fly-in fly-out is a cancer.

Regional communities need a champion. This report calls for that champion. It recognises that there are some circumstances in which fly-in fly-out is warranted but that, for operational positions located near existing regional communities, every effort should be made to make fly-in fly-out the exception rather than the rule. This was a major concern that came through time and time again, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales but also in parts of Western Australia. Established communities with established economies feel as though there is some degree of threat from this work practice. The report goes into a lot of the detail on that.

The same resource companies operating in Australia demonstrated both in Canada and Mongolia that they are capable of operating profitably while building regional communities. This report challenges them to extend this approach to their Australian operations.

The report addresses the benefits that fly-in fly-out can bring for both medical practitioners and small communities without the population to support full-time medical specialists. The report supports measures to encourage the continuation of this service practice as long as it is not at the expense of regional health care.

I thank the deputy chair, Steve Gibbons, and the members of the committee for their work throughout the inquiry and the secretariat, the members of which have put an enormous amount of work into this particular document, particularly given that they had to make a couple of references to bills that were before the House during the writing of this report. I thank all of those people in the various states that the committee visited for their attention to detail, their sincerity and their genuine concern for regional Australia and the opportunities that the mining sector presents. In many cases, the cry was that they want to be part of that process and not be bypassed by a work practice if they happen to live in a regional centre near some of the resource activity. I commend the report to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Oakeshott ): Does the member for New England wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

Mr WINDSOR: I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39(d), the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.