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Violence behind mining boom revealed

6th December 2010

The mining boom has a dark, violent underbelly which some regional communities are struggling to combat, a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study has found.

QUT's head of Justice Professor Kerry Carrington is calling for mining companies and contractors to help solve the crisis, after her study found alcohol-fuelled violence and social disorder were rife in some regional communities located alongside large populations of mine and construction workers housed in camps.

She found these communities were more than twice as violent as the state average, and did not have the resources to cope.

Professor Carrington will present findings uncovered by the three-year, first-of-its-kind study of Australia's violent regional areas at a conference in Sydney Tomorrow (Tuesday, December 7).

The study, funded by the Australian Research Council, led researchers to towns suffering high rates of violence to speak with police, courts, magistrates, health workers and community leaders.

They discovered most of these communities had neighbouring work camps accommodating a rotating roster of hundreds, even thousands, of non-resident "fly-in/fly-out" mining workers who arrived from other parts of the country to work 12-hour shifts for up to 14 consecutive days or more.

"Work camps have a profound impact upon the patterns of violence in host communities," Professor Carrington said.

"In one Western Australian mining community, which was surrounded by work camps housing about 8000 mostly male workers, the rate of violence was 2.3 times the state average.

"In a Queensland mining community, the rate of violence had grown from 534 per 100,000 in 2001 to 2315 per 100,000 in 2003, more than twice the state average.

"The communities are ill-equipped to deal with this. Regional and remote areas are under-resourced, lacking enough police, medical facilities and other emergency and human services. There's a real urgency to address these problems."

Professor Carrington said even BHP Billiton's 2009 impact assessment of the South Australian Olympic Dam Extension found construction workers housed in temporary work camps were likely to increase the local rates of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, crime such as assault, illegal drugs and prostitution, injury, motor vehicle accidents and anti-social behaviour.

"Excessive consumption of alcohol is a key accelerant to anti-social and violent behaviour," she said.

"The culture of using and abusing alcohol is coupled with very little opportunity or motivation for non-resident workers to do things other than drink during their limited time off between shifts.

"The other main cause of violence is rivalry between different groups of men, including between non-resident workers and locals and between contractors and crews, and rivalry over available women or sex workers.

"Furthermore, high stress, job insecurity, long hours and isolation are catalysts for violent cultures to flourish."

Professor Carrington acknowledged the importance of the rapidly expanding mining industry to Australia's economy, accounting for 51 per cent of the nation's export trade, but said it was concerning the mining industry was also increasing its reliance on fly-in/fly-out workers.

"The mining boom is great for job growth, but the dark underlying fact is these practices contribute little to local economies and have serious criminological and social impacts for residents and affected communities, ultimately at the expense of the nation," she said.

She said current numbers of fly-in/fly-out workers included:

  • An estimated 12,228 temporary workers housed in camps in Central Queensland's Bowen Basin
  • About 38,340 temporary workers and contractors, 43 per cent of the region's population, in Western Australia's Pilbara region

Future numbers will include at least 43,000 additional temporary workers for 81 new mining projects being considered for South Queensland's Surat Basin and an estimated increase of 5250 fly-in/fly-out workers by mid-2015 for new mine developments in Central Queensland's Central Galilee Basin

Professor Carrington is urging mining businesses, and construction contracting companies engaged to employ workers, to work with local communities and researchers to help find solutions to the problems associated with work camps.

Her study has been published in The British Journal of Criminology, an internationally renowned A-star journal and was funded by the Australian Research Council.

Further data and the study report can be found on QUT ePrints at http://eprints.qut.edu.au/29763/

Media contact: Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1150 or rachael.wilson@qut.edu.au

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