FIFO's knock-on effect

RECENT research has suggested fly-in, fly-out routines are not just rattling families but whole non-mining towns more than a thousand kilometres from the worksite.
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Justin Niessner

The Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation and remote community non-profit group Ninti One are claiming the first major study to investigate what happens to the communities that supply remote workforces as opposed to the host communities such as mining towns.

The research focused on the towns of Mandurah and Busselton, south of Perth, finding that although there were significant benefits from FIFO routines, negative changes in the community dynamic were evident.

Busselton in particular was found to feel a higher degree of social tension related to inflated expectations about commuters' ability to spend.

As the town lacks critical consumer choice and is serviced by regional centre Bunbury, the higher wages brought to it by commuters tend to leak out of the community via superannuation, large mortgage commitments and holidays spent elsewhere.

"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," the report 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 "have nots" as well as the pressures placed on local infrastructure due to population growth, which local government authorities in particular struggle to resource.

These were found to point to a need to better manage growth pressures through a shared engagement by governments, communities and industry.

"Ongoing collaborative management is required by all parties to avoid the many pitfalls of a narrowing economic base and resource dependency," the study said.

"A shared engagement approach by all spheres of government, the community and industry is necessary to ensure timely and coordinated planning.

"This is essential for providing appropriate physical infrastructure and local community engagement and support for all residents."

On a more personal level, the report noted that most families coped well with the pressures of long distance commuting, the preferred term for work arrangements that may include FIFO, drive-in and bus-in options.

It said a "significant cohort" of workers expressed being committed to the LDC lifestyle and block rosters but that communities could be impacted by those workers who did not adapt well.

"A considerable number intensely dislike aspects of the workplace or lifestyle but are trapped by heavy financial commitments made on the basis of an ongoing LDC income, or by the lack of viable employment alternatives at their place of residence," the report said.

"The interest in and growing importance of LDC to regional centres such as Busselton and Mandurah highlight the current shallowness and fragility of regional economies across much of Australia.

"Careful policy and planning and close cooperation between companies, all levels of government and the communities is urgently needed for LDC to become a vehicle for building more resilient enduring communities."