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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 2064

Mr CROOK (O'Connor) (16:29): I am pleased to speak in the chamber today, and particularly to follow the member for Capricornia and Michael McCormack from the electorate of Riverina, on this committee report into fly-in fly-out work practices. I acted as a supplementary member on this committee for the purposes of this inquiry due primarily to the prevalence of fly-in fly-out work practices in my electorate of O'Connor. I would like to thank the committee for allowing me the opportunity to act as a supplementary member.

In my opinion, the report has provided a balanced, honest and non-partisan assessment of the situation. That has been reflected in the two speeches that we have just heard from in this chamber. I would like to stress that the title of this report is a question. I believe many have overreacted to the title, which is 'Cancer of the bush or salvation of our cities?' It is clearly a question that poses both sides of this argument. I thank the Lord Mayor of Kalgoorlie, Mr Ron Yuryevich, who posed part of that question. It pricked everybody's ears up at the time. Thank you for that, Ron.

We must also not forget that this is a question that has not yet been answered. The recommendations put to the parliament are exactly that: recommendations. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to assure the mining industry in particular that they have nothing to fear from this report. The mining industry, particularly in Western Australia but across Australia, has every right to be a bit gun shy of this current government. But they certainly have nothing to fear from this report. In fact, they should be embracing it in my view and utilising it to help work positively towards making our regional communities far better places to live and work.

This report only reflects the evidence that the committee received through the consultation process. The recommendations are a direct response to that evidence. There is no doubt about that in my mind. Part of this evidence that I believe is worth noting is the lack of available information, including data and policies on FIFO workforce practices in particular. Both the member for Riverina and the member for Capricornia have stressed that there is a clearly fundamental problem when you have 7,000 people living in a town and 7,000 living on the outskirts. The pressure that that brings to bear on local services and the local community is quite overpowering. The evidence also displayed a number of tragic shortcomings in this government's ability to look out for regional Australia that I will touch on in more detail shortly.

Essentially, this inquiry highlighted two sides of the FIFO coin, the side that showed that FIFO workforces are having a devastating effect on local towns and the side that proved that FIFO can provide Australians with opportunity to access the wealth of the mining industry without uprooting their lives. But we also heard strong evidence that there are social impacts on families within the cities that are affected. When the chair, the member for New England, Tony Windsor, tabled this report in the House, he made particular note of Kalgoorlie, primarily because our lord mayor pretty much named the report. I have lived in Kalgoorlie now for 30 years and I second his comments that the Kalgoorlie people are extremely proud of their town. Going up and down the main street of Kalgoorlie—like in Bendigo and Ballarat—you can see the benefits of the mining boom at the turn of the century. We have wonderful historic buildings in those places. Unfortunately, that is not reflected in our new mining towns of the current era.

One company that I would like to mention is KCGM. If anybody is walking past suite R1 82, which is my suite, there is a fantastic photo of the super pit in Kalgoorlie with the city of Kalgoorlie in the background. That picture typifies how mining and regional communities are inextricably linked. KCGM runs the famous super pit. They have invested in the local community through their policy of employing a local workforce. KCGM should also be applauded for being fantastic community supporters. They are forever being hit up for social and community events and they very rarely knock people back. I fully commend them for that.

Under some of the recommendations, companies like KCGM will be rewarded for keeping a local workforce, whereas they are currently disadvantaged by the tax system. Whilst I congratulate companies like KCGM which only employ a local workforce, I acknowledge that people want choices in their lives. The member for Capricornia mentioned people's choice of where they want to live and work. The ability to choose where they live and where they work is something that many Australians probably take for granted. The sentiment of choice was something that the committee heard over and over again. However, I question whether choice should be the top priority when some regional communities are suffering from the mining industry. Where do we end up with that? Where, ultimately, are these regional towns that support mining communities if they are going to be left basically in the wilderness?

The committee also noted this point and noted the difference between isolated and remote projects, or projects in a construction phase compared to operations which exist near communities. I believe we should be making communities places where people want to live, meaning that, if there is a mine site next to a town, ensuring that people want to live in that town, in my view, is a no-brainer. I accept that there is not going to be a town next door to every mine site, and I certainly accept that in remote locations there will be little choice but to have fly-in fly-out operations. But, where there is, I would love to see a town with services and infrastructure, available housing, good schools and doctor services.

As the member for Riverina highlighted in his speech in this debate, regional Western Australia is somewhere between 80 and 85 doctors short currently. A provincial city like Kalgoorlie is down a number of doctors. A small place like Kambalda, 50- or 60-odd kilometres south of Kalgoorlie, a fantastic mining town through the late sixties, seventies and early eighties and still a town of 3,000 to 4,000 people, has no doctors at all. These sorts of things are the things that we need to highlight. It is these vital factors which make people want to stay in these regional towns. People do not leave the bush because the roads are no good; they leave the bush because there are not the services there that they expect.

The Nationals WA know this. They know that investing in the regions and making them better places to live and work is a worthwhile investment. I was very pleased to bring the committee to WA, including to my electorate as well as to the north of the state, to hear firsthand about the effects of fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive-out on regional Western Australia. The committee acknowledged the immense success of the WA Nationals Royalties for Regions policy, and I am very pleased to see it feature in this document—the Royalties for Regions policy is the envy of all other regional funding schemes; there can be no doubt about that—yet highlighted the abject failure of the federal government, particularly the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport, in managing their issues. To quote the report, the department's appearance before the committee demonstrated 'a fundamental lack of understanding regarding the impacts of FIFO workforce practices'. The report goes on to note that the department showed 'a lack of initiative and leadership' on the 'issue that is radically changing the social fabric of regional communities'.

The minister responsible for the department of regional Australia has heard from me time and time again about my feelings towards his department and particularly the Regional Development Australia Fund. When this fund is compared to the Royalties for Regions fund, the policy difference in the number of projects funded is thousands and the difference in the amount of money put towards regional communities is billions. The minister should be extremely embarrassed by his department's involvement in this inquiry, and I urge him to take steps to rectify this as a matter of urgency.

I have not gone and will not go into a lot of detail today about the specific recommendations. However, I want to note that some of these changes relate to the tax system and aim to remove the current disincentives for regional homeownership. I believe that these changes need to be considered very seriously by this parliament. I plan on working with my parliamentary colleagues to ensure that this report is acted on and the recommendations are examined in detail by both sides of the House. Brendon Grylls, as the member for Riverina said, is an outstanding young politician. He risked his political career on the weekend in his bid to stand for the seat of Pilbara. It is incredibly heartening to see his success, and I once again take the opportunity to congratulate him and the WA Nationals on their success in the last state election. Brendon took this risk because he is unashamedly passionate about regional WA, and the WA Nationals are willing to fight to ensure our regional communities are the best they can be.

I too want just that: I want regional communities to thrive, and our communities only thrive if they have people in them—living, working, visiting. I look forward to working with my parliamentary colleagues on the recommendations in this report, and I urge the government to do all it can to ensure we continue to have a thriving mining industry with local communities equally thriving alongside them.

In closing, I would like to thank the secretariat, particularly Glenn Worthington and Siobhan Lane. They have done a fantastic job in pulling this report together and I sincerely thank them for their efforts. I would also like to congratulate the member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, for the cover photo; he takes great pride in telling everybody that it is his. I would also like to thank my fellow committee members, including the member for Wannon, who is alongside me here today. The member for Wannon did make some notes in the report which I acknowledge and totally agree with. We do not want this report to be a reflection on the mining industry. We do not want there to be more red tape and more costs for the mining industry. I totally endorse that, but I am also satisfied that this report, if handled properly, will not do that. As I have said previously, there is an opportunity for the mining industry to embrace this report, work with the communities, work with government, because there are opportunities, in my view, to embrace regional Australia further.

As I said, I would like to thank the committee members, and I would particularly like to thank Tony Windsor, who I think did an outstanding job in chairing the committee and—obviously with the support of the secretariat—producing this fantastic report. Also, once again I thank them for coming to regional Western Australia. So often we hear in this parliament about how Western Australia is going and that we are the saviour of this nation, but we do have a two-speed economy—the mining industry and elsewhere. At the minute the wheat belt in Western Australia is under an enormous amount of pressure and I think that needs to be reflected. We need to look at these things not in isolation; we need to look at them as a whole. When I argue for a greater return for Western Australia on things like GST, it is not just because we want more money. A 75 per cent floor in the GST will actually provide some equity and some future planning back into regional Western Australia, which I think is critical. I was very pleased to have them visit Western Australia, and very pleased to have them visit Kalgoorlie. I would urge you, one and all, to read this report and take it for what it is. It is a very strong reflection of the evidence we took and I thank the House for its time.