FIFO debate heats up between Byrne and Seeney

Member for Rockhampton Bill Byrne.
Member for Rockhampton Bill Byrne.

THE LNP has walked away from a sackful of promises in the past two-and-a-half years. However, few of its betrayals have caused as much anguish in Central Queensland as its support for 100% fly-in fly-out workforces in mining.

In June 2011, on a tour of the Bowen Basin coalfield, Campbell Newman made one of those soon-to-be-broken vows that has defined his premiership when he said: "A 100% fly-in fly-out is just simply something we would not tolerate if we get into government."

Quite what persuaded the Newman Government to renege on this pledge is open to speculation, but there are plenty who are troubled by the influence wielded within the LNP by powerful interests.

The issue has highlighted deep division in conservative ranks.

Local state and federal MPs Michelle Landry, George Christensen, Ken O'Dowd, Jason Costigan, Ted Malone and Vaughan Johnson, fearful of the harm support for 100% FIFO is doing to their electorates, have lobbied in vain against it.

But on a visit to Moranbah last week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott made a point of voicing his support for 100% FIFO, and Premier Jeff Seeney's duplicitous comments make it plain the Newman Government has no intention to upset the big miners. Mr Seeney has refused to take the action required to end the practice where it already exists and LNP policy has left open the door for 100% FIFO agreements at new mines even though the economic conditions in the mining industry have altered dramatically in four years. Since the height of the mining boom in 2010, at least 9000 mining jobs have been lost in the Bowen Basin and there is now a significant number of redundant experienced miners in places such as lMoranbah who are being denied the opportunity to work at local mines such as Caval Ridge and Daunia.

During the course of the FIFO debate over the past few years, the LNP has sought to blame the previous Labor administration and I have no doubt that the accusers will continue to paint Labor as the villain of the piece.

Actually, the former Labor Government did not want 100% FIFO but accepted that an extraordinary combination of very low unemployment, an unprecedented demand for workers, sky-high property prices in mining communities, a dire shortage of rental properties and hotel/motel accommodation made it impossible for companies such as BMA to source a workforce from the local community in 2010-11.

Labor initially approved 70% FIFO for Caval Ridge and Daunia but BMA appealed to the Co-ordinator General. The revised approval allowed 100% for these mines if BMA sourced 80% of its entire Bowen Basin workforce locally and built 400 dwellings in the region, 160 in Moranbah.

Clearly, it was Labor's intention to encourage more workers to move to Moranbah to support the sustainability of the local community.

It was never Labor's intention to allow BMA to expressly exclude local residents from jobs at those new mines.

In Opposition, we have been highly critical of this unjustifiable postcode apartheid and I am now proud to say that Labor's policy, announced by Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday in Central Queensland, sets out a clear timetable for ending 100% FIFO in Queensland's resources sector.

The policy was carefully considered in consultation with families in the very communities that have been cut adrift by the LNP.

A future State Labor Government will review within its first 100 days all FIFO approvals and where a mine is close to an established residential community, the mining company will be compelled to consider locals for jobs.

Applications for new mines will have to consider the need to provide new housing.

And there will be a focus on the mental health of FIFO and drive-in drive-out workers.

Bill Byrne, Member for Rockhampton.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney attended the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership Meeting.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney attended the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership Meeting. Tom Huntley

ANOTHER week - another non-policy announcement from Queensland Labor.

Annastacia Palaszczuk's visit to Moranbah to 'announce' her party's backflip on FIFO work practices in the resources sector was irony at its most breathtaking.

The simple fact is that Labor approved the 100% FIFO arrangements that operate at the Daunia and Caval Ridge mines in the Bowen Basin.

Member for Rockhampton Bill Byrne was right to admit this, but he's wrong to blame the workplace arrangements at just two out of almost 60 Queensland mines for the difficult conditions currently faced by resource workers and their communities.

Labor's fixation on FIFO work arrangements is a cover for the fact that it has no real policies or plans to help Queensland's 30,000 resource workers and their families hang onto their jobs and their lifestyles at a time of real financial difficulties in the coal sector.

Those two mines employ 900 mine workers out of Queensland's 30,000-strong coal mine workforce, meaning just 2.7% of the Queensland coal mine workforce is approved as FIFO.

While we can't fix poor international coal prices, our Government continues to work hard to improve the competitiveness of Queensland's resource sector by cutting unnecessary red tape, streamlining approvals and ensuring necessary infrastructure is in place for when commodity prices recover.

Each fortnight, the seven Cabinet ministers who form the Resources Cabinet Committee meet to drive the reforms that will grow Queensland's resource sector and grow Queensland jobs.

The Galilee Basin Development Strategy and a streamlined Environmental Impact Statement process are just two examples of policies we have introduced that have made a real difference.

Our Royalties for the Regions program has invested $300 million dollars in just over two years to build and upgrade critical community infrastructure in regions that support the resources sector.

Airports, water and road projects, even childcare centres and swimming pools have been funded under this program - projects that genuinely improve the liveability of regional communities.

I made clear some months ago that, quite rightly, our government would not shift the goalposts on the approvals for 100% FIFO granted by Labor to mining company BMA. Our government is about providing investment certainty not eroding it by flip-flopping around like Labor.

While, as a politician, I cannot foresee a time when similar workplace arrangements would be necessary in a Queensland mine, it is the state's independent Coordinator General who will make those decisions with strong community input as part of the rigorous EIS process.

This should not be a simplistic argument based on percentages. It needs to be a mature conversation about the right mix of workplace arrangements that suits each individual circumstance.

Unlike Labor, we understand that Queenslanders have the right to choose where they live and work and that cities and towns like Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone and Bundaberg are now sharing in the wealth created by mining and that's a great outcome.

I stand by our government's record in introducing programs and policies that make a real difference to the people who live and work in the resources sector, instead of Labor's obsession over a workplace policy for just two Queensland mines.

Outside your FIFO backflip Mr Byrne, what other policies do you and your Labor colleagues have to grow jobs in our resources industry?

Jeff Seeney,

Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning.

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