Thursday, June 07, 2012

FIFO & decentralisation – the irony of it all

It’s ironic, really. First we discourage people from going to the country, then we complain when they won’t come!

We began by centralising services in the name of efficiency, progressively withdrawing them from country areas. We introduced new codes and rules designed to improve standards and reduce consumer risks, increasing costs so that many activities including land development and trades became uneconomic in smaller country marketplaces.

When country people complained, sought effective decentralisation, they received little sympathy. It was just a fact of life, they were told. Band aids were applied, but little more.

Now when we really need people to move to regional areas to support the mining boom, no one is prepared to go. BHP Billiton and the other major miners comment on the remarkable immobility of Australia’s generally city based work force. It’s really a case of what if we had a boom and nobody came!

It is frankly absurd that we have to fly workers across a continent and back to ensure that the mines keep going. It is equally absurd, tragic in fact, that the process should rip the guts out of local activities that survived “restructuring” because of the impact on local rents and wage costs.

None of this need have happened, or at least not to the same extent. Bluntly, a lot of what happened was foreseeable. It’s not just that we have been there before. Importantly, the lead times involved in the changes taking place mean that many elements were foreseeable.

Western Australia’s National Party rode from oblivion to renewed power in a stunning political transformation on the back of a slogan, royalties for the regions. Now local development is taking place in the Pilbara and elsewhere in ways not seen in Sydney controlled New England or Brisbane controlled Central Queensland.

In a way, the WA National Party was just too late. If it had been successful three years earlier, the extra time would have allowed proper ramp up of activities in advance of the mining avalanche. Still, they are making progress.

I do wonder how different things might have been in the east if Capricornia or New England had achieved statehood.


Anonymous said...

One reason why workers are not more mobile, in case you haven't noticed, is because these days most households have two workers.

If BHP Billiton etc want one worker, they need to provide for the other.

Actually, they don't want to and they can't be bothered. It's cheaper to FIFO than to build a township.

Or rather, they can build townships, in the South African sense, and accommodate in barracks or a slightly more pleasant version, the workers only - but not their families and the life they seek.

And it's not even in truly remote places they are doing that, but even somewhere like Gulgong. (That is to say, for example, in Gulgong.)

Ian Mott said...

It is not just the job for the spouse that is needed, marcellous. It is the education of the kids, the quality of the local hospital and career paths for those kids as well.

Place a new state capital in the Pilbara and the region will have the full suite of services and jobs in the form of it's own economic engine.

Greg said...

Spot on Ian. People want to live where their kids have opportunities. Miners might be well paid, but how many want their sons and daughters to grow up in remote mining towns where services are non-existent and mining is the one and only opportunity?

The major growth centres around the country almost without exception are capital cities. New centres of government would promote regional development on the back of locally based services and adminsitrations. It would create it's own momentum.

It is inescapable, if you are serious about decentralisation to spread opportunities far and wide then you must devolve government. Ten, twenty even thirty more self-governing states would be a game changer for regional and rural Australia.

Anonymous said...

Governments come and governments go, but Sydney's utter disdain for the people of New England springs eternal. A dysfunctional state we never wanted to be a part of in the first place, refusing to carry out even the most basic and obvious of infrastructure projects. Disgusting!

Anon formerly of Coffs now @ Wauchope

Jim Belshaw said...

Marcellous, I had noticed! This phenomenon first appeared, at least the first time I noticed it, was in 1980.

Ian and Greg. I agree, as I do with anon.