Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, chaired by Tony Windsor, MP has spent the past 18 months and has taken 232 submissions on the social impacts into Fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in Regional Australia.

Up until recently, our Members, may have been technically classified as fly in fly out workers, but they have gone to sea and have had very little negative impact on the regional port communities that they have worked out of. However, the increasing activity in dredging and port construction work has meant that a number of small vessels have been engaged on these projects and in order to work the vessel 24 hours per day, our Members are now increasingly accommodated ashore. From our perspective the ideal situation, to ameliorate the problems identified in the report regarding the adverse social impacts  associated with fly in fly out on regional communities, is to provide floating accommodation.

On the Gorgon project, the MS Finmarken, a cruise ship was engaged, this ensured that our Members working on the project on small vessels where accommodated in an acceptable standard of accommodation; eliminated the need to travel from the port to ashore accommodation providing our members with the appropriate hours of rest. The vessel also provided adequate onboard entertainment facilities, medical services and quality meals were provided without distorting the local community economy. Furthermore the engagement of the Finmarken also provided employment for our Members as crew members of the vessel.

In comparison, we have companies, who are now trying to put 8 employees in a 4 bedroom house, that is located at least one hour away from the port, allowing only 10 hours of rest in a day, of which Members have to source / prepare their own meals and attend to their own laundry. Virginia Woolf suggested every woman needed a room of her own to be creative. To do our best work, perhaps we all [men and women] need our own space and 8 in a 4 bedroom house does not promote creativity. Note the outcome in this particular example was 4 in a 4 bedroom house and that is only just tolerable!

According to the report,  'a large influx of non-resident workers is a permanent disruption to the social fabric and feeling of a town and this 'shadow population' has a serious and negative impact on the safety, image and amenity of communities,". Furthermore the report noted that the anecdotal evidence is the FIFO lifestyle "can be accompanied by a range of damaging consequences for participants, such as relationship stress and breakdown, excessive alcohol and drug use, depression and violence amongst FIFO workers."

The inquiry found that there is an 'us versus them' mentality emerging and this is not good for either party. Interestingly, the report found 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 and this report challenges them to extend this approach to their Australian operations".

The full report is attached.