Grasstree Mine FIFOs collect their gear after landing near Capella on a chartered flight.
Grasstree Mine FIFOs collect their gear after landing near Capella on a chartered flight. Joan Krause

On the edge

THE tiny town of Moranbah is sitting on a knife edge, which could set a “dangerous precedent” for other mining communities throughout the nation fighting against 100% transient workforces.

While Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd embraced the House of Representatives’ announcement it would review the experience of fly in fly out workers in regional Australia, mining communities’ advocate Jim Pearce was hesitant to sing its praises.

Mr Pearce said although the inquiry would validate concerns of community groups, it was “probably too late” for Moranbah residents fighting BHP’s 100% FIFO application currently before the Queensland Government.

“The Co-ordinator General will make a decision in the next few weeks so I can’t see it helping this particular issue... in Moranbah,” he said.

“The inquiry will certainly expose the true extent of transient workers (and) it will validate what we’ve been saying as genuine.”

Mr O’Dowd crossed party lines and agreed with Mr Pearce saying the inquiry would discover labour force requirements would dictate what models be applied to regions.

“I DON’T think you can have 100% of these workers living in the areas where the mines and industries are because some of these projects have two stages to them,” Mr O’Dowd said.

“Generally during construction the workforce is larger than it is during operation and we have to be careful that we don’t create an over supply of housing when projects are in their operational stage.

Mr O’Dowd admitted he was unsure of what the “balance” was, but said he would make a submission “supporting the views” of his constituents.

The inquiry’s terms of reference state it will specifically focus on the “provision of services, infrastructure and housing availability for FIFO/DIDO workforce employees”, as well as long term economic diversification.

Committee chair and Independent MP Tony Windsor said the Federal Government acknowledged the prevalence of the FIFO workforces in regional Australia.

He said the mining sector “raised a number of significant challenges and opportunities for individuals and their families, communities and employers”.

“We are interested in exploring all those issues and hope to also hear from mining companies who are utilising FIFO/DIDO for their employees,” Mr Windsor said.

It is unknown whether the committee’s tour of regional Australia would include Bowen Basin mining centres, but a senior committee secretary said he would be “very surprised” if Queensland didn’t “make the cut”.

He said the tour stops would depend on where submissions came from, and the number of individuals, groups, communities and employers that make the October 7 deadline.

Mr Pearce said the inquiry was an opportunity for residents of towns such as Moranbah and Blackwater to express their strong concerns for the future of their communities.

“It needs to be an option for the grass roots organisation putting up a strong fight against fly in fly out,” he said.

Mr O’Dowd said any residents in the Flynn electorate wanting to make a submission should contact his office in Emerald or Gladstone.

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