Homes selling for 10 times their real value, McDonald’s workers flown in for shifts and primary school teachers who can’t afford to live in their own town.
This is the impact of fly-in fly-out workers on rural towns, a federal parliamentary inquiry has found, and it’s so serious one regional mayor has described the practice as “the cancer of the bush”.
The house Regional Australia Committee found FIFO and drive-in, drive-out practices overlook locals seeking jobs in the mining boom taking place on their doorstep.
As locals miss out, the influx of temporary workers is creating housing shortages, driving up real estate prices and straining already limited public services.
Independent MP Tony Windsor, who chaired the committee which handed down its report today, said the practice was threatening to “hollow out” the future of country towns.
“If that becomes the norm, we do just have a lot of inland communities that are essentially camps of workers,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“One of the great things that country communities have right across Australia is they still have a sense of community and it is under threat in some of these area.”
The report makes 14 suggestions to the mining industry and 21 recommendations to the federal Government, including reviewing the fringe benefits tax arrangements for FIFO workers.
Mr Windsor stressed the report was not anti-mining, but calls for resource firms to value rural Australians and their towns.
The committee is asking companies to look at countries like Canada, where there is a better relationship between resource firms and the populations of the local towns they work near.
Labor MP Kirsten Livermore said some residents in her rural Queensland electorate understood FIFO workers chose to live that lifestyle, but locals felt their own options were limited.
West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook said the report asked some poignant” questions for the government.
He suggested a “royalties for regions” fund to return to communities some of the wealth generated.
Liberal MP Dan Tehan, who sat on the committee, said FIFO practices presented problems, but warned against making rash decisions that could risk mining profitability.
“If we just make mining less competitive ... I don’t think that’s going to improve the sector or regions overall,” he said.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national president Andrew Dettmer said even towns like Gladstone in Queensland, which was built on mining, were now struggling under FIFO practices.
After-hours Gladstone resembled a “ghost town“, with locals forced to live 40km away and drive in to work every day to escape skyrocketing housing prices.
Scrapping the FBT exemptions would remove incentives for companies to use FIFO workers and encourage local hiring.
Mr Dettmer said in the past, mining companies were required to hire a certain number of locals and build a significant number of homes, houses and hospitals in towns.
“That was the price of doing business,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that that’s no longer the case.”