Call to count FIFO workers in Census

Miners working in a gold mine at Gympie, Queensland Miners Gympie Qld
Miners working in a gold in a gold mine at Gympie, QLD.


Miners and other workers who fly in, fly out (FIFO) or drive in, drive out (DIDO) to regional communities should be included in the 2016 Census and their impact on local communities properly measured and reflected in government grants, says a Queensland council.

Isaac Regional Council, which looks after Queensland’s largest mining region, is calling on the state, territory and federal governments to take action in four motions it will present to the National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA) in Canberra, this week. The assembly runs until June 17.

The council has already criticised the government’s response to a 2013 report “Cancer of the Bush or Salvation for our cities? Fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in regional Australia”, also known as the Windsor Report, saying the government has only fully backed two of the 21 recommendations contained in the Housing Standing Committee report.

Non-resident workers and their impact on services, infrastructure and communities is a serious issue for Isaac Regional Council and others like it.  The council serves 24,215 residents but also serves a non-resident workforce of 11,085 – which represents a 46 per cent increase in its population.

June 2014 figures show that there are 25 operating coal mines in the Isaac LGA, two under construction and another 27 in the advanced development phase and these mines produce 47 per cent of Queensland’s total saleable coal, generating $1.1 billion in royalty payments per year.

The council has argued that it bears the lion’s share of the impact of FIFO/DIDO workers can cause with few of the benefits. It cites increased stress on essential services, including health, police and emergency services; the deterioration of roads and bridges and dealing with extra waste removal and storage, without this impact being reflected in government grants, particularly the Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs).

Isaac Council will also move a motion at the National General Assembly to lobby the Federal Government to fund the Australian Bureau of Statistics to establish a cross-jurisdictional working group and find a way to measure the size and impact of non-resident workers on resource communities and the extent and nature of the workforce practices of their employers.

The council will also called on the state and federal governments to make planning and regulation clearer around land use, environmental and social impacts, remove duplication and use subsequent cost savings to fund the grants gap.

Isaac RC Mayor Anne Baker said there was an “urgent need” to find a way to accurately measure non-residential workforces, address cost-shifting, reform taxation and reduce duplication in planning and regulation.

She said the Windsor Report’s recommendations were designed to ensure that investment by mining industries in regional communities was balanced and fair.

“It’s extremely disappointing after all the hard work and input from regional Australians to see this report collect dust for more than two years and to eventuate to such a dismissive outcome,” Ms Baker said.

“Since the report was handed down, we’ve seen more than 7,000 state-wide job losses in the mining industry which have hollowed out our regional resource communities,” she said.

“The practice of introducing 100 per cent non-resident workforces near existing regional communities, combined with falling coal prices, mining industry cost cutting measures and the completion of many growth and construction projects has had a significant negative impact in regional communities across Australia.”

Ms Baker said funding methodologies by State and Federal Governments failed to acknowledge the true costs for local governments associated with hosting a non-resident workforce.

“When inclusive workforce practices are reintroduced by mining companies operating near existing regional communities, regional Australia will be able to continue to be a positive and integral part of economic growth.”

The Windsor report examined a range of issues: the costs and benefits for companies of choosing a FIFO/DIDO workforce, rather than a resident workforce; the impact of FIFO/DIDO on established local communities, services, housing and other infrastructure; skills, training and development for workers; long-term strategies for economic diversification and federal and state government initiatives in this area.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said that many of the report’s recommendations related to State government areas of responsibility and some to local government but he said the Australian government had agreed to four of them and responses to many others were “already underway”.

“As announced in the 2015–16 Federal Budget the Australian Government will better target the Zone Tax Offset to ensure it will support those taxpayers who are actually living in and incurring the cost of residing in a remote area,” Mr Truss said.

“We have remodelled the role of the Australian Small Business Commissioner to better service the needs of small business operators, and we already have a range of mental health initiatives in place that workers may utilise.

“The recommendations have a broad range of regional implications and a number of areas for action across all tiers of government.

“The Government’s commitment to the regions is demonstrated through a broad suite of investments aimed at assisting regions to meet the challenges they face and to create and capitalise on new opportunities for growth.

“This includes the $2.1 billion Roads to Recovery Programme, the $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund, the $500 million Black Spot Programme, as well as other initiatives such as the $300 million Community Development Grants Programme. These investments will ensure small regional communities are supported by the infrastructure and services they need.”

Some of the Windsor Report’s recommendations included:

•    An Australian Bureau of Statistics working group to assess size of FIFO/DIDO population and its working practices
•    Removing the tax exempt status of FIFO/DIDO camps in regional towns
•    Removing the exempt status of travel to and from the workplace for operational phases of regional mining projects
•    Reviewing the Zone Tax Offset arrangements to ensure that they are only claimable by permanent residents of a zone or special area
•    Removing the general exemption for FIFO/DIDO workers from the 12-month limit of payment of the living away from home allowance
•    Government funding, e.g. through Financial Assistance Grants to be based not just on the resident population but on the service population as well, including FIFO /DIDO workers
•    A comprehensive research study to explore the impact of service workers on local government services, regional towns, medical services and infrastructure like roads
•    Boosting the capacity of small businesses to service the resource sector, with the Australian Small Business Commissioner co-ordinating these efforts
•    Developing an affordable housing strategy for resource communities
•    Studying the health and lifestyle of FIFO/DIDO workers and the effects on children and families of having a long-term FIFO/DIDO parent
•    Writing a government best practice guide for employers with large non-resident workforces, including family support programs.

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