08/06/2015 - 14:12

ECU researcher says FIFO recommendations ‘ignored’

08/06/2015 - 14:12

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A Perth researcher has criticised the federal government's hands-off response to a national inquiry into fly-in, fly-out practices, released two years after the House of Representatives standing committee tabled its report and almost four years after an inquiry into FIFO practices was commissioned.

FIFO workers prepare to fly home.

A Perth researcher has criticised the federal government's hands-off response to a national inquiry into fly-in, fly-out practices, released two years after the House of Representatives standing committee tabled its report and almost four years after an inquiry into FIFO practices was commissioned.

FIFO Australian Community of Excellence co-convener and Edith Cowan University researcher, Philippa Vojnovic, made the comments after the federal government agreed last Friday to only four of 21 recommendations from a report titled ‘Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?’

In its response, the federal government rejected five recommendations, ‘noted’ 12, and agreed in varying degrees (totally, in part and in principle) to follow-up on four recommendations.

Resources industry bodies the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia and the Minerals Council of Australia have welcomed the federal government’s largely uninterfering response.

Ms Vojnovic said she was disappointed the federal government had not explicitly paved a way for a more coordinated research approach into health effects and lifestyle factors.   

“It makes me feel sad and disappointed, really; so much work has gone into really carefully considering what’s going to be beneficial for the workers and their families and the communities and they’re ignoring some really well thought out recommendations,” she said.

Ms Vojnovic, who recently completed a study that showed WA FIFO workers suffer from depression at more than twice the rate of the general Australian population (28 per cent out of 629 WA FIFO workers surveyed), said she believed the federal government has missed an opportunity to take responsibility for enacting positive change.

She said she now hoped results from a recently introduced Queensland inquiry, and WA’s own inquiry into the mental health impacts of FIFO work, whose findings are due in the next two weeks, could be considered together to prompt legislative change.

“Unless the government makes standards and regulation, the industry has no obligation to provide services,” Ms Vojnovic said. 

This FIFO Life co-founder Julie Loveny said she was concerned the federal government's reaction to the nationwide review hadn't set a good example.

“I’m concerned there has been lengthy, ongoing discussions, concerns, debates, highlighting of issues and problems, and isn’t it time that we all took responsibility?" she said.

"Federal government, state government, mining companies, service providers, individuals, the workplaces. Let’s actively be focusing on solutions and the fact that we know there are issues around mental health and FIFO.”

In releasing the federal government’s response, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said it recognised FIFO was a legitimate way to respond to demand for skilled workers in remote areas.

Recommendations agreed to by the government included: increasing statistical research on FIFO communities; addressing taxation arrangements (through the upcoming white paper) for fringe benefits tax as well as zone tax offsets; and commissioning additional research into long-term effects of FIFO on families.

The government did not agree to examine regional funding arrangements to address FIFO needs (citing existing mechanisms were working), or charge the Australian small business commissioner with enhancing the capacity of small businesses in resources communities (on the grounds that the capacity of small businesses was primarily a commercial matter).

The federal government also failed to support a recommendation that it task the National Housing Supply Council with urgently developing and implementing a strategy to address affordable housing in resources communities, on the grounds that it had since shut down the NHSC and was considering housing matters as part of an ongoing housing policy framework.

The federal government’s response has been welcomed by resources industry bodies the CME and MCA.

CME chief executive Reg Howard-Smith said the resources sector was pleased the government had not supported greater intervention in FIFO work practices.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a greater variety in FIFO rosters available, dramatic improvements in accommodation quality and facilities offered. Additionally, most companies provide support groups and employee assistance programs to help new employees adjust to the FIFO lifestyle,” he said.

An MCA spokesperson said it was prudent for the government to focus its response to the report on a few areas, but maintained its opposition to the government's announcement last month of plans to remove fringe benefit taxes for FIFO workers.

“It is a longstanding principle of good tax policy that business inputs are not taxed and the FBT remote area rules for accommodation and transport provided to FIFO employees operate on this basis,” the MCA spokesperson said.

 

 

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