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Populating regional Australia: What are the impacts of non-resident labour force practices on demographic growth in resource regions?

  • Year: 2013
  • Author: John Rolfe, Susan Kinnear
  • Journal Name: Rural Society
  • Journal Number: Vol. 22, No. 2
  • Publisher: eContent Management Pty Ltd
  • Published Location: Maleny, Qld.
  • ISBN: 1037-1656
  • Country: Australia
  • State/Region: Queensland

Resource-based activity provides a strong stimulus to local economies, largely through the high incomes paid to employees in the resources sector, plus the large levels of expenditure through supporting business chains. However, the role that resource development plays in driving regional population dynamics remains poorly understood, particularly with respect to the rising use of non-resident labour force practices. Supply of labour via fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) options creates a range of direct and indirect pressures on host communities. These are predominantly linked with difficulties in counting the non-resident population, and hence planning for, and investing in, the social infrastructure required to meet the new demand. Non-residency also represents a distinct 'opportunity cost' for regions, because local population growth is a powerful business case for public and private investment in infrastructure and services. The dual effect of FIFO/DIDO is thus not only to introduce new demand for infrastructure and services, but also to deny regions the chance for baseline population growth, and with it, the likelihood of improving living standards.

 

This paper presents a case study illustrating the value of resource activity in stimulating local population growth in Central Queensland, and how the strength of this stimulus varies with patterns of resident and non-resident workforce mixes. Demographic modelling prepared using the economic multiplier approach suggest that in excess of up to 180,000 additional people could move into the region by 2018 in direct response to resource sector growth, if the workforce was fully resident. However, the extent of population in-migration - and consequent economic growth - reduces as the proportion of non-resident workforce increases. Under predominantly DIDO or predominantly FIFO scenario, the regional population boost is decreased by up to 23% or 44%, respectively. Populating regional Australia will be an essential part of the national growth strategy going forward. However, without a change in policy to re-emphasise the importance of supplying labour locally, the role that resource regions will play in this growth, and the positive impacts associated with local population increases, will not be maximised.

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