Exemptions for FIFO miners to cross borders sparks fears

 

THE Queensland border has shut to Victorians, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory residents but there's concerns over an exemption for specialist FIFO workers.

The border, which was already shut to Victorians, was shut down to NSW and ACT at 1am on Saturday due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Fly-In Fly-Out miners are among those told to stay in Queensland for work or wait until the border restrictions ease against their home states.

However, Isaac Regional Council Mayor Anne Baker has raised concerns about an exemption in the latest border restrictions for specialist workers.

And she's not the only one to raise concerns of the impact of Queensland border closures to FIFO workers.

Mirani MP Stephen Andrew, on the other hand has raised a different issue, saying closing the border to key mine workers who didn't make it back before the border shut on Saturday would have a devastating impact on the economy.

Read more here: MP slams decision to include FIFO miners in border block

Mayor Baker said Isaac council did not support the exemptions in the current border restrictions, namely the "specialist worker" category.

"I want to emphasise that Isaac Regional Council continues to have every confidence in the actions of the Queensland Government and the Chief Medical Officer, however we are seeking information to satisfy the understandable concerns of our communities," she said.

 

Isaac Regional Council Mayor Anne Baker Photo: Daryl Wright
Isaac Regional Council Mayor Anne Baker Photo: Daryl Wright

 

"These exemptions are not our rules."

Mayor Baker said the exemptions were negotiated between the resources industry and the Queensland Government.

"As Mayor of Isaac Regional Council, I am on record as saying we do not support exemptions being given to the mining sector for workers from COVID-19 hotspots," she said.

 

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"We have put questions to the Queensland Government about how the risks of exemptions being provided for specialist workers for emergency works, who may be travelling from interstate hotspots, in to the coalfields of the Isaac Region will be managed and we are awaiting a response."

Part of the latest border restrictions includes exemptions for "specialist worker".

The first description of a specialist worker is: 'A person required to provide emergency services or continuity of government services, infrastructure or utilities critical to Queensland'.

There are criteria to be met such as the services provided by the specialist worker being that where there is no one else in Queensland that can provide those services.

Scroll down to Schedule 1, then "4. Special Worker" here: Queensland Border Restrictions Direction handed down on August 7.

"Protecting the health and welfare of our communities is our first priority," Mayor Baker said.

Isaac has a population of almost 21,000 people with no COVID-19 cases in the council borders to date.

The council region also has almost 11,000 FIFO or Drive-In, Drive-Out workers.

Western Australia continues to keep its borders closed to the three south east Australian states: WA rejects border opening, travel bubble

In June, WA's FIFO workers were urged to relocate to WA permanently with incentives announced, including the State Government's $20,000 Building Bonus grant.

The announcement included figures showing 5000 to 6000 WA FIFO workers resided in eastern states.

A spokesperson for the Premier's office said the Chief Health Officer determines exemptions to her orders.

"As of this morning there have been no applications for exemptions for coal miners," the spokesperson said.

"The government and the resources sector will continue to work together to ensure everyone's safety."

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane said the industry worked closely with the State Government and office of the Chief Health Officer (CHO) to prevent the spread of the virus, especially into regional areas, and would do whatever was necessary to protect workers and the community.

 

Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane.
Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Ian Macfarlane.

 

 

"From Saturday, interstate FIFO workers from New South Wales and the ACT either need to be based in Queensland, or they will not be allowed to work here until restrictions are lifted," Mr Macfarlane said.

"The only exception is if there is a potential safety incident, serious failure of equipment or a critical maintenance issue on a site.

"The latest protocols allow for a small number of highly skilled safety personnel and specialist maintenance workers to enter Queensland on a case-by-case basis as assessed by the CHO Dr Jeannette Young, but only under extremely strict conditions.

"The resources industry has been preparing for the possibility of more border closures for months, so bringing in specialist workers from interstate will only be necessary in the event of an unforeseen or unavoidable incident."

 

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Mayor Baker said council maintained the position the best solution was to allow specialist workers from interstate to travel to Queensland, have them quarantine for the mandatory 14-day period and then, cleared of COVID-19, remain on location in the region.

"Council will continue to be involved in discussions with the Queensland Government and resources industry on the issue of interstate workers in the Isaac Region," she said.

Mr Macfarlane said the QRC would continue to work closely with the State Government to prioritise the health and security of the community and the economy, and to support the 372,000 people who currently work in the resources sector.

"To give people an idea of just how critical the resources industry is to Queensland, total state exports for the 12 months to June was $77.4 billion," Mr Macfarlane said.

"Mining and energy exports contributed a massive or $63 billion, or 81 per cent, to that figure.

"It's crucial the industry is able to continue to operate and maintain jobs, support local businesses and underpin the Queensland economy.

"For everyone's sake, we need to continue to work together to keep the mining and energy sector healthy and fully operational, to help Queensland recover financially from COVID-19."