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Benefits 'uneven' from FIFO culture

23 October, 2013

The mining boom has brought considerable wealth throughout Australia — but the benefits are not being distributed evenly, even in the communities most affected by it, a new study by CRC for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP) and Ninti One has found.

The study, by Professor Fiona McKenzie, leader of CRC-REP's Enduring Community Value from Mining research project, and Dr Aileen Hoath of Curtin University says the boom in long distance commuting (as fly-in/out is now described) harbours both opportunities and challenges for the communities most affected by it.

"Most Australian mining activities are in remote places where demand for labour usually exceeds local supply, requiring a long-distance commuting (LDC) workforce from source communities," Professor McKenzie said.

"These labour force arrangement include fly-in/fly-out (FIFO), drive-in/drive-out (DIDO) or bus-in/bus-out (BIBO)."

Previous studies have focussed on the impact of long-distance commuting on host communities where the mine is located. This is the first major study to investigate what happens to the communities who supply the remote workforce.

The research focussed on two particular source communities in regional Western Australia — Mandurah and Busselton. Though more than a thousand kilometres from centres of mining activity, both are now home to significant or growing fly-in/out populations.

"As a rule, a lot more money flows into the community as a result of well-paid work in the mines, but not a lot of it stays there," Professor McKenzie said.

"One finding is that source communities have failed to capture the full benefits of the opportunity.

"There is also concern about the widening gap between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', and the pressures placed on local infrastructure due to population growth, which local government authorities, in particular, struggle to resource.

"These all point to a need to better manage growth pressures through a shared engagement by all spheres of government, the community and industry. This is essential for providing appropriate physical infrastructure and local community engagement and support for all residents."

One of the risks is that these source communities could become victims of the classic mining boom/bust cycle, by depending too narrowly on their commuting workforce.

"A reasonable proportion of disposable income circulates locally, but we also found a fair bit of 'leakage', with people spending or investing much of their wealth elsewhere," Professor McKenzie said.

Another issue facing commuting workers is not being able to access local services at the same times as residents in the community due to the mismatch between the nature of their work arrangements and traditional service delivery models.

"Long-distance commuting does not necessarily cause problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, marital break-down, domestic violence, child behaviour issues — but it has a propensity to exacerbate pre-existing issues.

"We found that most individuals and families who make the choice cope well. However some people dislike aspects of the workplace or lifestyle but are trapped by their heavy financial commitments."

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archibald | Friday, November 1, 2013, 10:53 AM
Why not employ Dr's and Professors to tell us something we don't know. Maybe make some grass roots suggestions for improvement. So it's "Leakage". Good to see that the profs notice that FIFO workers have got more brains than to invest in an area historically prone to boom and bust. No one (FIFO workers, Miners or Governments) with any economic brain are going to build infrastructure in the desert on known unstable premise. I'm sure that the FIFO workers feel that they are contributing to the country with the taxes they pay.
Bob Bryant | Friday, November 1, 2013, 1:14 PM
It seems that people forget that there was once nothing in these remote areas but dust and flies. Previous working people, in times past, have transformed these areas into livable communities now. It is sad that some take this for granted today and no longer want put put anything back into the area that has looked after them and their families, but rather would take all they can get and run.