New­man FIFO fight splits coali­tion

Pilbara News - - Resources - Gareth Parker

■ Na­tion­als leader Terry Red­man has ac­cused Colin Bar­nett of un­der­min­ing re­gional de­vel­op­ment and “screw­ing” the Pil­bara town of New­man in a sig­nif­i­cant frac­tur­ing of the Lib­eral-Na­tion­als al­liance Gov­ern­ment.

A fu­ri­ous Mr Red­man be­lieves the Pre­mier has ig­nored the Gov­ern­ment’s Pil­bara Ci­ties pol­icy by agree­ing to ex­tend for 10 years, with a fur­ther 15 years of op­tions, a 1600-bed work­ers’ camp owned by BHP Bil­li­ton on the north­ern fringe of New­man.

Mr Red­man says ex­tend­ing the Kurra camp pre­vents fly-in, fly-out work­ers from in­te­grat­ing with the New­man com­mu­nity and says it is a blow to the Gov­ern­ment’s ob­jec­tives to grow WA’s north.

Mr Red­man said it would not be per­mit­ted in WA’s South West and, as Min­is­ter for Lands, he was re­fus­ing to sign the lease that would give ef­fect to the ex­ten­sion that the Pre­mier had agreed with BHP Bil­li­ton un­der a State Agree­ment.

“This is a re­ally, re­ally big is­sue for my (Na­tion­als) team,” Mr Red­man said. “I see it as a se­ri­ous frac­tur­ing in the al­liance re­la­tion­ship.

“And if we con­tinue to make th­ese de­ci­sions, we are un­der­min­ing in my view the very good work we’ve done in WA through Roy­al­ties for Re­gions. If this (de­ci­sion) car­ries out, New­man is screwed. “This is to­tally wrong.” Mr Bar­nett de­clined to com­ment last week­end.

The Shire of East Pil­bara be­lieves there are up to 300 va­cant BHP Bil­li­ton-owned houses and apart­ments in New­man.

Mr Red­man’s of­fice be­lieves there are about 4100 short-stay ac­com­mo­da­tion units in the town be­tween min­ing com­pany-owned work camps and or­di­nary mo­tel and ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion.

New­man’s pop­u­la­tion is about 6000.

The town’s av­er­age weekly rent has fallen from a peak of $2200 in 2013 to less than $600 since the mid­dle of this year.

Ad­ver­tised rental homes have soared from fewer than a dozen to al­most 200 over the same pe­riod.

In ad­di­tion, 60 Land­corp hous­ing lots are avail­able and a de­vel­oper plans to build up to 60 more.

BHP Bil­li­ton first ap­plied to have its lease ex­tended by writ­ing to the Depart­ment of Lands, for which Mr Red­man has min­is­te­rial re­spon­si­bil­ity. But it with­drew the ap­pli­ca­tion and in­stead sought per­mis­sion un­der a State Agree­ment di­rectly with Mr Bar­nett.

Mr Red­man as Lands Min­is­ter must tech­ni­cally sign off on the lease, which ex­pires on De­cem­ber 31, but has so far re­fused to do so.

He ac­knowl­edged that a re­fusal to sign the lease could leave the State ex­posed to le­gal ac­tion from BHP un­der the State Agree­ment.

“This is the wrong de­ci­sion,” Mr Red­man said.

“I be­lieve the Pre­mier has got the le­gal cover to make a harder call, and he’s cer­tainly got the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence to make a harder call.

“The (Pre­mier’s) call on this is in­con­sis­tent with re­gional de­vel­op­ment ob­jec­tives, it’s in­con­sis­tent with the Pil­bara Ci­ties vi­sion which we laid out as a Gov­ern­ment and which he was part of the an­nounce­ment of.

“We are try­ing to grow and de­velop re­gional WA.

“It would not be ac­cept­able to have a work camp next to any of our big­ger re­gional com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly in the South West. Why should it be ac­cept­able for New­man? Why is New­man any dif­fer­ent?

“Why is a State Agree­ment writ­ten in the 1960s de­liv­er­ing this out­come?”

Mr Red­man said BHP Bil­li­ton wanted to “con­trol its work­force be­hind a barbed-wire fence” and while it might be ef­fi­cient for the com­pany, it de­liv­ered noth­ing to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Ni­cole Ashby, founder and di­rec­tor of sup­port group FIFO Fam­i­lies, said in­te­grat­ing work­ers into towns where pos­si­ble was far prefer­able to hous­ing them in camps.

“It is ab­so­lutely a good idea to in­te­grate peo­ple,” she said.

“You feel you are part of the com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially in a place like New­man which is a small com­mu­nity where there’s an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with oth­ers through sport­ing groups or even spend­ing money in the lo­cal econ­omy.”

East Pil­bara Shire pres­i­dent Lynne Craigie said the coun­cil had sup­ported Kurra when there was a lack of al­ter na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion dur­ing the boom, but now that the pres­sure had eased it agreed that the work­ers’ camp should be scaled back to 600 beds.

“We are not sug­gest­ing BHP should run their busi­ness in a way that just props up lo­cal ac­com­mo­da­tion providers, but we would like to see them utilise their own empty houses or re­de­velop ac­com­mo­da­tion units in town,” she said.

A BHP Bil­li­ton spokesman said it be­lieved the Gov­ern­ment had ap­proved the lease ex­ten­sion and the com­pany was “com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion for both our res­i­den­tial and FIFO em­ploy­ees”.

“By main­tain­ing a range of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions we are bet­ter able to give our work­force a choice to meet their in­di­vid­ual needs,” he said.

“We are not pre­pared to man­date that our FIFO work­force be­come res­i­den­tially based, but we will con­tinue to en­cour­age a strong res­i­den­tial pres­ence in New­man.”

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