Social dark side of the mining boom

Courtney Trenwith

December 6, 2010 – 11:35AM

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.

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. 

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.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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