Remote Mining and Indigenous Housing

In 2003 a Western Australian commissioned panel looked at the long working hours in the mining industry. A lot of the focus was on the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workforce suggesting they suffered from higher levels of drug abuse, depression and family breakdowns. It didn’t seem to stop the increasing numbers of FIFO workers.

I have written before (and here) on what I see as the destructive impacts on local communities by mining companies not putting into these local communities.

MATTHEW CARNEY: Rather than growing communities, centres like Port Hedland were being gutted and the divide between the haves and the have-nots was as wide as an open cut.

However the mining companies continued to produce reports that purportedly showed that FIFO workers benefited communities. With the economic turn-down mining companies seem to be moving opposite ways. A contractor at the Argyle diamond mine will give preference to local workers over FIFO workers as they start laying off staff. Unfortunately the larger mining companies who are the major employers seem to have other ideas.

Port Hedland still wants a rethink on the use of FIFO workers

The Member for the Pilbara, Tom Stephens, has criticised the mining company over its plans to increase its work force by 20 per cent over the next three years without building new houses in Port Hedland and Newman.

ABC TV recently reported on a Western Australia study that showed the health and social effects supposedly suffered by a FIFO workforce (talked about in the opening paragraph) was not correct and there was no more hardship than local workers. This led to one company to say they would increase the FIFO workforce (supposedly to the detriment of local workers, community infrastructure etc as cost is always the driving factor).

When mines are opened on land owned by indigenous people under Native Title, Native Title Agreements are entered into with the land holders. Sometimes this leads to increased local indigenous employment. However some companies quote the indigenous employment at various mine sites with out disclosing many of them are FIFO workers.

Most importantly, research from Griffith University has shown that these agreements between mining companies and native land owners has NOT led to any benefits for the local people.

results show the Tribunal, which administers the Native Title Act (NTA), seriously disadvantages Indigenous groups when negotiating with mining companies. ……..

“In all 17 cases taken to the Tribunal in the last decade, the Tribunal has granted the mining leases and been unwilling to impose conditions that might prove onerous for the miner…..

“Research shows the Tribunal demands more stringent standards of proof from Indigenous groups than from companies, and tends to accept particular types of evidence when this favours companies but reject the same sort of evidence when it favours Indigenous groups.”

Native Title should provide Indigenous people with the opportunity to benefit from Australia’s resources boom, to reduce their dependence on welfare and increase their presence in the ‘real economy

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in an article titled Housing and Infrastructure states:

Housing has been identified as a major factor affecting the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Adequate housing provides protection from the elements, minimises the risk of disease and injury, and contributes to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the occupants. Inadequate or poorly maintained housing and the absence of essential infrastructure, such as a supply of safe drinking water and effective sewerage systems, can pose serious health risks.

One hundred and fifty five million dollars is about to be spent in the Northern Territory on indigenous housing as part of a five year, $672 million dollar program. (A list of the involved communities is here). I find it difficult to understand comments made by intelligent men such as those by Gary Johns of The Bennelong Society, who has stated:

“housing should not be provided to remote Aboriginal communities where there are no jobs and people are unable to pay rent or service a mortgage”

and that they should move to where there are jobs.

I have commented here(and over here!) on the health benefits of indigenous people living in small communities on country.

The earlier part of my post talked about the major companies flying in and out workers rather than increasing local infrastructure and employing locally. So where do we build these indigenous houses so they are closer to work? Do we have them move to towns first and live in overcrowded conditions if in a house at all or do we build a house first and try and reduce overcrowding and the diseases that I am sure the members of the Bennelong Society have never suffered from.

Why don’t we look at ensuring the agreements signed between mining companies and native title holders provide real benefits, including jobs, are delivered to the local indigenous population.

Perhaps in their effort to find 50 000 jobs for indigenous Australians rather than fly people from Queensland to Western Australia they could fly remote indigenous Australians from their larger communities to the nearest mine site, provide proper training, assist with schooling and negotiate to improve indigenous communities.

I am sure we as a country and the members of The Bennelong Society if they could bury their ideology for a while) can come up with innovative and workable proposals that benefits as well as respects indigenous Australians and their culture.

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