MP selling benefits of NW living

SMH NEWS/BUSINESS 18 February 2011. Miners returning to the surface, Shaft one, Oyu Tolgoi mine. Provided by Rio Tinto, for John Garnaut Mongolia piece.
SMH NEWS/BUSINESS 18 February 2011. Miners returning to the surface, Shaft one, Oyu Tolgoi mine. Provided by Rio Tinto, for John Garnaut Mongolia piece.

MEMBER for Mount Isa Robbie Katter has called on fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers not to dismiss the lifestyle upsides of living in the north west.

Mr Katter said the outback lifestyle was under-estimated by many workers in the resources industry.

"How many of us have friends who came out here reluctantly, and within months have embraced the lifestyle and never looked back?" he said.

"The most frustrating element of this FIFO argument is that blokes on the coast, along with their partners and families, will embrace the lifestyle in mining communities once committed to being based in the area, however, if they are given the option to stay in their comfort zone on the coast they will never give it a go."

Mr Katter said the increasing FIFO workforce had the potential to ruin communities.

"I believe that FIFO represents one of the greatest threats to the sustainability and liveability of our communities," he said.

"Mining companies keep removing incentives for people to stay in regional towns with the move towards longer shifts being conducive to commuting from the coast," he said.

"Mount Isa traditionally thrived off the rich community created by people having to move out here from all parts of the world. Now these people don't have to commit at all to the area. They may never spend a cent in town and may never engage with any community activities."

Mr Katter has slammed the government's decision to allow the world's richest woman Gina Rinehart to import workers for her $9.5 billion Roy Hill Iron Ore project in the Pilbara.

"The money that's on offer in these resource sectors, people will make the effort to get over there and involve themselves in that work," he said.

"It is unacceptable for the Gina Rhinehart's of the world to suggest there is a lack of skilled labour when there are hundreds of thousands of potential employees available around Australia to fill these positions. A line has to be drawn in the sand now or it will be a slippery slope down to the point where Australian workers will be competing with Chinese wages and corresponding losses will be incurred at the cash register of every business that our miners spend their money at."

Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady says he is against FIFO, despite admitting in some cases it has merit.

"I'm totally against it, but with some developments in remote places there's just no justification to build a township," he said.

"I'm the first to accept that FIFO has its place when development is not an option."

Cr McGrady said there was no benefit to the local economy with the FIFO workers.

"I'm concerned about FIFO because the whole concept means employees live on the coast, but they work and earn their money in mining communities, yet spend precious little in local economies and instead spend it on the coast."

"More instances of FIFO is to the detriment of local regional communities and it's an issue which will cripple inland Australia."

Cr McGrady outlined two ways to combat the affects of FIFO.

"Federal government taxation schemes need more incentive to live inland," he said.

"Local councils and state government have to assist in improving the quality of life. Many people who were happy to live and work here, now want to live on the coast. It's to the detriment of the community, because with less people comes less government grants, less teachers, less police officers, less people from the public sector. It's all governed by the number of the population."

Cr McGrady described the current zonal allowances as "a joke" saying there's "nothing in it which gives any incentive to live inland".

On the local skills shortage, Cr McGrady said the mix of cultures was "what makes Australia great, overseas people live and settle here."

"We have to remember that without migrants, Mount Isa wouldn't exist."

But he completely disagreed with Rinehart's move to employ 1700 overseas workers for her project in the Pilbara.

"You can't source them all from overseas like that," he said.