Today’s report on fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in Regional Australia, which likens long distance commuting to “cancer”, should be treated with a deal of scepticism.

Likening FIFO to cancer will be offensive to those people who choose to fly in and fly out to work.

The report recommends a number of policy measures to deal with the FIFO “phenomenon” despite acknowledging there is a “dearth of empirical evidence” on long distance commuting. This is like a doctor prescribing medicine before diagnosing the patient.

FIFO is a key mechanism for spreading the benefits of the mining boom across Australia. That is why the Federal Government is currently funding FIFO coordinators in non-mining regional Australia to facilitate the practice.

It is also a critical in ensuring there are enough workers to operate mines in rural and remote areas. Without FIFO, some mines would not have the workers needed to operate the project.

The MCA would strongly oppose any changes to the tax treatment of FIFO that adds to the cost of doing business and denies workers the choice to fly in and fly out of their place of employment.

The Minerals Council of Australia has provided empirical data to the committee on the resident population in Australia’s mining regions.

A demographic study by KPMG for the MCA released last week showed that incomes and educational attainment are higher, unemployment is lower and there are more families and working aged residents in Australia’s mining regions than in regional Australia more generally.

The findings debunked a number of myths and anecdotal claims – many of which are perpetuated in the committee report - about the impact of the mining sector on regional Australia. Mining and FIFO is not hollowing out the regions in which it operates – it is boosting incomes, attracting families and reducing unemployment.

It shows that mining, has driven a substantial increase in high-income earners. In 2006, five per cent of the resident population in mining regions earned $2000 per week or more, but by 2011 this had increased to 13 per cent of the population. This compares with five per cent across regional Australia.

KPMG also found that in the five years to 2011, the population of Australia’s mining regions had grown at 1.5 per cent per year. This was the same as the national average but greater than the 0.8 per cent for regional Australia more generally.

This punches a hole in claims that, with the increase in fly-in-fly out employees, mining regions are not increasing in population size. Employees are flying in, flying out and moving to the mining regions.

As the report states: “Employment opportunities in mining Australia are stimulating the resident population growth crucial to sustainable communities.”

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