Remote Governance unable to address challenges such as FIFO

The current governance arrangements of remote Australia are unable to address the challenges imposed by “fly-in fly-out” practices according to the remoteFOCUS group.

The group, convened by the Hon Fred Chaney AO, will tell a Parliamentary Inquiry into Fly-in Fly-Out practices that remote Australia’s governance, including the infrastructure and service delivery by governments at all levels, is not dealing effectively with remote based communities’ needs and concerns.

Mr Chaney and remoteFOCUS Director, Dr Bruce Walker, are addressing the House of Representative Standing Committee Inquiry in Canberra tomorrow, Wednesday 22 August.

In its submission to the Inquiry the group states that the present governance of remote Australia is “inadequate, unfair and unjust, and a barrier to effective responses to the pressures created by FIFO.”

The group believes the practice of FIFO, which has been extended beyond the mining sector to delivering other core services such as police and medical specialists via FIFO is “eroding key elements of ‘community’ in remote Australia”.

remoteFOCUS is a group of concerned Australians with extensive experience in dealing with remote Australia. Facilitated by Desert Knowledge Australia, the group has created a major engagement and discussion process to develop practical, sustainable cost-effective options to improve governance, policy, infrastructure and service delivery in remote Australia.

“The current governance framework, far from offering a solution, is itself a cause of repeated failure to achieve widely shared desires for progress in remote Australia,” Mr Chaney said.

The remoteFOCUS submission, based on a community consultation and research program carried out over the past four years, argues that satisfactory resolution of FIFO issues involves dealing with the legitimate interests and aspirations of:

  • Local Government and communities
  • Affected workers
  • State governments
  • The Commonwealth, and
  • Investors.

It believes the present governance arrangements result in each of these stakeholders making decisions in their own interest rather than ensuring that all competing interests are taken into account. This also prevents people who are directly affected in local communities from having any real voice.

Mr Chaney said the Committee Inquiry was a time honoured method used by the legislature to understand all these interests and to recommend approaches which best possible take them into account.

“The need for the Inquiry is a clear signal that the normal governance arrangements are not adequate. Yet the residents of rural and remote Australia cannot rely on Parliamentary inquiries to resolve the complex issues and challenging impacts of FIFO,” He said.

“We believe that the presently favoured governance framework needs to be substantially reworked.”

Mr. Chaney is former Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister and also Chair of Desert Knowledge Australia, the national organisation (headquartered in Alice Springs) which initiated and continues to facilitate remoteFOCUS.

He said there were some good examples of local governance.
“There are exceptions. There are structures, schemes and policies that demonstrate that effective local input and participation and more decentralised decision-making, can produce more equitable, sustainable outcomes,” Mr Chaney said.

“We urge the Committee to follow this Inquiry with the examination of a more fundamental question: namely, are present Government governance arrangements themselves fit-for-purpose (and not “one size fits all”) and capable of responding adequately to pressures such as FIFO as they drive change in remote and regional Australia?”

The remoteFOCUS group will publish a major report on the governance of remote Australia, including recommendations on major actions to address the issue in mid September.

The remoteFOCUS submission states that there are clear local concerns about the impact of FIFO arrangements on communities.

“What is also clear is that there is involvement of all levels of government in this issue as well as the companies making large investment decisions which impact on the economy locally, as well as at a State, Territory and national level.

“For example, the Commonwealth taxation arrangements affect the economics of FIFO versus providing local accommodation; States and Territories are involved through planning and other responsibilities relating to the peace order and good government of the State or Territory; and local government is involved as a political voice of the local community as well as the provider of local planning and services.”

“All of these have legitimate interests but are unlikely to make decisions on the basis of an overall consideration of the concerns of the others,” the submission states.

Mr Chaney said the submission makes the point that ”current economic conditions, population, employment and tax frameworks build FIFO into the business model of most large corporations. Our view is this is unlikely to change while there is an unwillingness to adjust the economic levers available to government”.

“In a nutshell, unless governments are prepared to change themselves and the way they work in remote Australia, this is a problem that can only escalate in its severity,” Mr Chaney said.

The remoteFOCUS submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into The Use of ‘Fly-In, Fly-Out’ (FIFO) Workforce Practices in Regional Australia is available here.

For media interviews with:

  • The Hon Fred Chaney AO,
  • Director of remoteFOCUS, Dr Bruce Walker, or
  • CEO of Desert Knowledge Australia, Mr John Huigen

Media contact: JEANETTE WORMALD
M 0418 810 785 | E jeanette.wormald@desertknowledge.com.au