A parliamentary committee has called for a raft of changes to fringe benefits tax laws available to mining companies amid concerns they are encouraging the use of transient workforces at the cost of local communities.
The House Standing Committee on Regional Australia has released its findings into fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in regional Australia after an 18-month investigation.
In its report, “Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?” the committee said there is significant concern that some tax measures are driving the move to FIFO workforce practices.
The committee found that mining companies are being subsidised under the current FBT regime.
The report said where there are already established towns near mining sites, tax incentives should be abolished because they are favouring the use of work camps over a permanent move into established communities.
“Despite the rapid increase in FIFO/DIDO workers in Australia and the impact the practice is having on regional communities, state and federal governments and some companies appear to be oblivious to the damage that it is causing to the lives of regional people, FIFO/DIDO workers and their families,” chair Tony Windsor said in the report.
“The subsidisation of FIFO/DIDO work practices through taxation concessions to mining corporations distorts the capacity of workers to make the choice to live and work in regional communities and in fact encourages the practice.”
The committee also noted that FIFO workers are eligible to claim tax benefits intended for those who live permanently in regional and remote areas.
It says changes should be made to the Zone Tax Offset to ensure only permanent residents of a zone or special area are eligible.
The committee has also recommended the Commonwealth undertake research in several areas, including, the impact of a transient workforce on local services, infrastructure and medical services.
And it wants the National Housing Supply Council to urgently develop a strategy to address the supply of affordable housing in regional communities.
It also says a more thorough examination is needed of the health effects of the practice on FIFO and DIDO workers and the wellbeing of their families as well as the economic and social impacts on local communities.
It would also like a dedicated secretariat established which would consult with states and industry to develop regional infrastructure plans.
“Policy makers must develop a policy mix that ensures the FIFO/DIDO work practice does not become the dominant practice, as it could lead to a hollowing out of established regional towns, particularly those inland,” Mr Windsor said.
“Governments at all levels must acknowledge that for some communities, particularly those traditional resources communities, FIFO/DIDO is a cancer.”
During the course of its inquiry the committee heard extensive arguments on both sides of the debate from those in favour and those against the use of FIFO workers.
Some local communities expressed concerns over housing availability issues and the burden of a high number of temporary workers on local services.
But industry maintains that the use of FIFO workers is necessary to fill the high number of job vacancies in the resources sector and it says many workers are happy with the arrangements.