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Dark side of the mining boom

Date

Courtney Trenwith

Australia's mining towns are rife with alcohol-fuelled violence, abuse and mental health problems, according to a new report.

Australia's mining towns are rife with alcohol-fuelled violence, abuse and mental health problems, according to a new report.

Australia's mining industry is propagating a dark underbelly of alcohol-fuelled violence, prostitution and mental health, the first study to examine social impacts of regional mining camps has revealed.

The Queensland University of Technology report claims thousands of men flown in to work at mining sites in Queensland and Western Australia are "catastrophically" denigrating nearby towns and turning them into dangerous crime hot spots.

It's what we call organised drunkenness. The camps had courtesy buses that would arrive at the end of a shift and drive them to the pub 

The report's author, Professor Kerry Carrington, said the resources industry and governments were largely ignoring the devastation being wreaked on rural communities, which would get worse as $116 billion worth of new mining projects began.

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Direct slice of mining tax into social infrastructure: unions
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She warned there were unknown impacts on individual mine workers that would also damage families and communities.

The impacts, yet to be closely examined, include alcohol abuse, increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and mental health problems.

One worker she spoke to was taking anti-anxiety medication because he feared the constant expectation to fight during drinking binges in between shifts.

Professor Carrington's research, which was recently published in the esteemed British Journal of Criminology, is the first in Australia to examine the social impacts of the nation's mining boom.

She concluded the growing social disorder could be reduced by building regional cities with subsidised housing and pay to compete with mining wages.

The Mt Isa-born researcher visited mining communities in Queensland and Western Australia and interviewed employees, mining bosses, local residents, police, health workers and magistrates.

She found crime rates were more than double the state average in regional communities located near camps that housed large populations of "fly-in, fly-out" mine and construction workers.

Professor Carrington said workers had large disposable incomes with nothing much to do other than drink alcohol between back-to-back shifts.

"What we discovered and what we heard was truly quite shocking," she said.

"It's what we call organised drunkenness. The camps had courtesy buses that would arrive at the end of a shift and drive them to the pub.

"They were surrounded by concrete, steel mesh to, I presume, keep the men contained."

Many camps had "wet messes" for drinking but no other recreational activities, she said. The best camps were adding libraries, gyms and the internet to provide alternatives.

The problems were exacerbated by the heavy population of men, which fuelled violence, particularly over the scarce number of women. Local men also became involved in such fights.

Professor Carrington said the few females left in one WA region were known as Plemberton Princesses, while sex workers were known to operate out of stretch limousines in car parks.

"There was an enormous amount of fighting and rivalry for those women," she said.

Professor Carrington, who had feared speaking out on the issue, said police and health services were struggling to cope.

She said Australian Bureau of Statistics population figures did not include non-residents, which made it more difficult for governments to better allocate resources.

However, she criticised the industry and governments for turning a blind eye to the problem.

WA mining executives were the worst, she said, because they passed responsibility to subcontractors.

Professor Carrington said while Queensland had enforced mandatory social impact statements required by all proposed mining projects, it needed to go further and include criminology impacts.

She called for national leadership to address the issue.

"The question I ask of the resources industry and government is, is it really sustainable?" she asked.

"Is $116 billion of resource extraction based on supply of labour of non-resident workers [sustainable], given the profound impacts, not just on the communities but also when they fly back home?"

A spokesman for Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government Simon Crean said the government would not comment until the full report was released later this week.

49 comments so far

  • My anecdotal experience over the last 22 years in the industry backs this up. The article is very, very accurate. As is the lack of support shown by the mining industry top end. They refuse to accept that they are part of the problem and so don't see a need to become part of the solution. A resource rent tax is more of a threat to them then the social upheaval and disharmony they cause.

    Commenter
    EddyC
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 06, 2010, 2:07PM
    • Sounds like fun. Where do I sign up?

      Commenter
      S&M
      Location
      I'll be where I'm @
      Date and time
      December 06, 2010, 2:08PM
      • I applaud the research that provided this information. Could I add another aspect of the impact of the mining boom that I have been watching? I live in a regional WA city and work and volunteer with Local Drug Action Groups Inc. As a social worker I was interested to note a drop in volunteers over the last 5 years. Its well known that people who volunteer in one group/field in their town will usually be involved as a volunteer in other groups and activities. Therefore when the LDAG groups around WA started to reduce in members, I found out that in the towns where LDAGs are struggling are towns where the number of FIFOs are growing. These towns and communities all over WA are at risk of becoming asset-rich but community-poor. By this I mean that the FIFO comes home for a week, buys, buys, buys and relaxes - but doesn't have time for community activities. Coaching sports? Forget it. Supporting youth groups? Nah. Cars and houses are getting flashier and flashier but our kids are losing out by adults not giving their time to support local groups. This WILL become a bigger issue as time progresses and the mining/resources boom grows. Only strong families can build strong communities - not money.

        Commenter
        Granny of Bunbury
        Date and time
        December 06, 2010, 2:16PM
        • You need to check out Gladstone - only a month or so in from the LNG decision, the makeup of the town is already changing to Yobbo land with many workers having little to do at night. Every organization (including contracors) should be forced to defend their Social Licence to Operate by managing the impact of their workforce during work but also after work where it directly impacts the community. Will the Qld government respond as quickly as it has approved the projects?

          Commenter
          Waldo
          Date and time
          December 06, 2010, 2:21PM
          • I am a woman who lives and works in a mining camp, well technically a construction camp, in the Pilbara.

            Our camp is a closed camp with a wet mess and plenty of social/sporting activities to keep us entertained. That said though, there is a lot of drinking in camp. We enjoy one day off a fortnight as an entire camp and the night before RDO Saturday is a massive bender.

            That said though, there are very few social problems within the camp itself. There is a ratio of men to women of approximately 80/20 and although as a woman you are hit on almost constantly, there is no violent rivalry for the few women in camp.

            This is a site where breach of camp/site rules will earn you a window seat without a second chance. Antisocial behaviour is taken extremely seriously.

            I have also worked at Port Hedland which is not a closed camp environment and I must say I agree with much of the sentiment in the article.

            Commenter
            Yandi Girl
            Location
            Yandi, WA
            Date and time
            December 06, 2010, 2:30PM
            • This article understates the problem if anything. As such, it is a long overdue and most important contribution to Australia's future.

              One can can only hope that it is read and acted on by those who must already well know the horror of what they are doing.

              Commenter
              Dark side of the mining boom
              Date and time
              December 06, 2010, 2:35PM
              • What we all need to realise is that this so-called "underbelly" is sanctioned by the government and encouraged by the large corporations. They get to sell off our country's resources to the highest bidder and keep the largely uneducated workers happy with a generous wage, which keeps them consuming and the economy growing. The men behind the curtain get richer and richer at the expense of society.

                Commenter
                Pierre John
                Location
                Perth
                Date and time
                December 06, 2010, 2:44PM
                • Yeah! Surprise Surprise ! Need to take care . When you get lots of young men with lots of money ? Well wadda ya reackon. Read History of 1850's .Back then they tried a revolution ! Pity they didnt win !One of my early realtions got shot under that flag ! Bloody Trapps ! Then go back to the Rum Rebellion ! Not saying its right but its humanity . Your thoughts ?

                  Commenter
                  Pollie Watcher
                  Location
                  Brisbane
                  Date and time
                  December 06, 2010, 3:30PM
                  • People need to take responsibility for their own actions. I have worked FIFO all over Aus and yes there is a social feeling that you need to partake in drinking after work down at the wet mess, however no one is making you and I have never had a problem going for 1 or 2 or simply saying not tonight lads. Camps these days are rapidly taking the zero tolerance approach and window seats are standard fair for abusing the rules. Have a little self control!

                    Commenter
                    Self Control
                    Date and time
                    December 06, 2010, 3:35PM
                    • Mining boom......if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!!!!!!! Super profits tax NOW~!!!!!!!

                      Commenter
                      Soot
                      Location
                      Sydney
                      Date and time
                      December 06, 2010, 4:08PM

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