LNP's failures to stand up for regional queensland and workers

December 04, 2019

Earlier this month BMA—BHP Mitsubishi Alliance—announced that they would be automating 300 jobs at the Goonyella mine in Central Queensland by rolling out 86 driverless trucks over the next two years. BMA have confirmed that the shift would affect production and maintenance employees, and BMA have said there would be no redundancies—either forced or voluntary. They can say this because the impacted workers are all labour hire employees.

The Liberal and National parties' attacks on job security over the last little while have allowed mine owners to casualise their workforce, and this is having a devastating impact on regional communities throughout Queensland. Over the past two decades mine owners have casualised a lot of their workforce. I'm reliably informed that the Goonyella mine had more than 2,100 permanent employees around the turn of the century, yet today has less than 1,000. Even though the workforce has grown, many of these casuals have been given the same job for five years, but they can be let go at a moment's notice.

The miners union have called on BMA to not make any employees redundant. They called for additional jobs and apprenticeships to be created in other parts of their business to offset any changes in job numbers and for the remote operations to be based on or near the mine, rather than in a capital city like Brisbane. Isaac regional mayor, Anne Baker, also met with BMA to understand the impacts of the proposal and to know how they intend to manage them. She said, 'Our community will see through any propaganda and will demand to know how the planned residual impacts on our community will be mitigated.'

We understand that these decisions are not taken lightly, but the company has a social responsibility obligation to engage the community and its workers on the proposals, the impacts and the way it intends to manage the impacts. So while technology does change and these changes can bring about benefits, it is important that those people are looked after, reskilled, and given good, secure, local work. According to research by consultancy firm McKinsey earlier this year, the automation of the nation's workforce will be most pronounced in mining regions, where it found that more than 30 per cent of jobs could be affected. A town like Mackay could see 27 per cent of jobs affected. They also said that, left to its own devices, automation would have significant distribution impacts. During the peak of transition, increased job churn could see Australia's unemployment rate temporarily spike by 2.5 per cent. So in the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday Region, which has an unemployment rate of 5.7, it could jump to 8.2. Without retraining for vulnerable workers, especially administrative and manual workers, for those in vulnerable regions income inequality could widen by up to 30 per cent.

Workers in Central Queensland are rightly sceptical of the impacts that automation will bring to their communities. You only need to look at what is happening with automation across the Pilbara, where roles are shifted to Perth out of communities. BHP need to commit to keeping jobs in regional areas and should rule out setting up automation hubs in Brisbane or interstate capitals. These jobs belong in regional Queensland, not Brisbane. Any automation hubs should be set up in mining towns like Moranbah or Dysart, or in regional cities like Rockhampton, Mackay or Townsville.

We want a mining industry that provides secure local jobs. For the companies that don't do that, there should be a price to pay. The LNP, at the last election, campaigned hard that it was the party for the coal workers, and the LNP guaranteed that the jobs of those who worked in coal would be secure. We need to see action from the LNP to ensure that all workers are looked after in the mining industry. The LNP needs to do more to ensure that people are not being forced onto labour hire, especially when they're just doing the same job for less pay and in worse conditions. The LNP have sided with mining companies over mine workers when it comes to casualisation and labour hire, and now they're doing it again when it comes to automation. This is just another example of the LNP failing regional Queenslanders.

Sadly, we are seeing a similar story in Bundaberg. The region has been drought declared by the Queensland state government. However, when they asked the local member, the member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, and the federal government for a similar declaration, they were snubbed for not meeting the requirements due to, as the Bundaberg NewsMail put it, 'a bureaucratic flaw'. This is just another example of the member for Hinkler and the Nationals letting down drought affected communities. This is because Bundaberg has a high proportion of people in food manufacturing, rather than in primary agriculture—

This is because Bundaberg has a higher proportion of people in food manufacturing, rather than in primary agriculture. It's crazy to think that these industries are not impacted by the flow-on effects of the drought. And there is evidence that those primary industries are. A press release from Australian macadamia growers says that, despite planting more trees, production is down 5½ thousand tonnes over the last 12 months. So, despite there being more trees, production is down. And if we look at the Isis Central Sugar Mill, this year it's down 200,000 tonnes on where it was last year. So we can see the impact of the drought on those producers.

Bundaberg has experienced some of the driest conditions on record, with annual recorded rainfall being half a metre behind on average. The rejections mean that Bundaberg is not eligible for the federal government's Drought Communities Program, which gives each council $1 million for infrastructure and $3,000 to eligible farming households. This is money that would flow to help businesses deal with the immense challenges that drought has brought them. The minister has used this discretion previously in Bega in New South Wales and in Peterborough in South Australia, which has been reported in the media recently. Does this mean that he has refused to use his discretion to add Bundaberg to this important program?

The council first wrote to Minister Littleproud in July and got a response in September, saying that it would be looked into as part of the quarterly review. It's now December, and the council hasn't seen any action from Minister Littleproud. He has previously used his discretionary power to allow councils to be eligible for funding, but why not his home state town of Bundaberg? The member for Hinkler, Keith Pitt, and Minister Littleproud need to step up and allow the declaration of the state government to declare Bundaberg drought affected so that it can receive the funding support now rather than next year.

I would say to the member for Hinkler and to Senator McGrath that perhaps there should be a bit less time focused on nuclear power and more time on providing practical help to those communities in Bundaberg that have been impacted by the drought and that deserve support from this federal government, that has once again neglected Bundaberg and those drought affected communities. They deserve so much better. I am prepared to stand up for them, and the Labor opposition is prepared to stand up for them.