Counting the cost

Some locals claim that the local whitegoods seller and the local supermarket are missing out on the macro dollars.

Ms Rowlands does not entirely agree.

“The workers are buying smaller things like stereos and things like that because they’re in a village situation, and others are sharing accommodation, so they do buy food and clothes,” Ms Rowlands says.

“Karratha is a healthy area for business because although there are a lot of single guys working here, there are also a lot of families moving here.

“Sometimes local businesses have to offer their services outside of normal business hours, and that takes some adjustment.”

The issue of land is also a thorn in the side for the local shire, with Mr Richards issuing a press release on February 25 strongly criticising the Gallop Government over the Mineralogy Agreement Bill introduced into State Parliament to formalise the terms of development for the multi-billion dollar Austeel project at Cape Preston, south-west of Karratha.

The agreement will mean that Mineralogy Pty Ltd, a key consortium member in the Austeel project, will pay rates only on the unimproved value of the land occupied by development, resulting in rate revenue to the shire of about $50,000 per year.

“This project will have an operational workforce of over 500 people who will commute from Karratha,” Mr Richards says in the statement.

“This will clearly place additional strain on local community facilities and resources and result in higher operating costs for the Shire as well as hastening the need to upgrade existing facilities and services.

“Pilbara councils are fed up with State governments taking the wealth of the region through royalties but continuing to deny local governments the revenue needed to adequately provide local services for their communities.”

Local newspaper the North West Telegraph responded to the statement with a front page story on February 27 warning ratepayers that they faced rate hikes and declining services if the State Government continued its refusal to negotiate over new mining developments.

“Under the Hamersley Iron State Agreement, for example, their total plant at Dampier brings in about $5,000 a year in rates,” Mr Richards said.

“Two businesses in the light industrial area would pay more than that.”

The scenario gets worse when the fly-in-fly-out equation is added to the picture, and Mr Richards says a social impact study would reveal the problems.

“Low paying jobs like night fillers in supermarkets are not found here because those sort of workers can’t afford to live here and pay $350 a week in rent,” he says.

“For people not involved in the local service industry this is not a good time at all.

“In 1991 the central Pilbara towns of Paraburdoo, Newman and Tom Price had a combined population of 19,000.

“Today, in 2002, it’s 8,000.

“Businesses expand with the town and they contract with the town.

“There’s no chemist and no bank in Dampier, for example.

“Companies, under their State agreements, are supposed to look after the communities, but fly-in-fly-out destroys them and that’s been made worse by the introduction of 12-hour shifts.

“A lot of people who used to work in the community are now not available because if they’re not at work they’re asleep and they’re not even spending time with their families.

“Fly-in destroys family structures and forces a husband and wife to lead separate lives.”

Mr Richards says the fly-in system also gives a distorted view for social planners.

“The Census is supposed to give us a blueprint of where people live and work, but these workers are earning their income a long way from home, so we’re not getting a true picture of the State’s social structure,” he says.

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