4.8 Long-distance commuting

In Australia, many mines operate fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) or long-distance commuting (LDC) arrangements in which employees live some distance from an operation, mostly in coastal areas, and commute inland to work. Although the social impacts of LDC operations on surrounding areas are likely to be less than for residentially based operations, that does not absolve LDC operations from responsibility for supporting locally focused community development initiatives.

Many of the communities in the vicinity of such operations are economically and socially disadvantaged and have large Indigenous populations. From a business case perspective, contributing to the development of these communities will make it easier to negotiate access to land in the future and help to deflect criticisms that remote and regional areas derive little or no benefit from LDC mining operations. Development strategies that may be suitable in this context include providing employment and training opportunities for local people, offering flexible transport arrangements (buses, local flights) to enable them to work at the mine, facilitating the establishment of local enterprises (such as small-scale tourism ventures) and partnering with other organisations to address priority needs of people living in the area.

A great deal of research has been done on the costs and benefits of FIFO and LDC in recent years, including through a federal parliamentary inquiry in 2013. Researchers have concluded that LDC arrangements can be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and communities, depending on whether they are engaged in the process or merely suffer the impacts. LDC is expected to continue in the mining industry in Australia

[i]n part because of the pace of change within the mining industry and also because of employee preferences about where they and their families live. Mining operations do and will require different mixes of residential and non-residential living arrangements. It is essential that government at all levels and mining companies work with communities to ensure timely and adequate planning is undertaken before projects commence the construction phase. (Haslam McKenzie et al. 2012b:4)

Once again, early community engagement and participatory planning are the recommendations for producing optimal community development results. The recommendations for collaborative management of cumulative impacts outlined in Section 3.3.5 also apply here.

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