Local police and mining industry bodies have dismissed claims that violence in Western Australia’s mining areas is the worst in Australia.
A report from the Queensland University of Technology, entitled ‘Booze, Blokes and Brawls”, said the fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers have created an underbelly of alcohol-fuelled violence, drug abuse and prostitution, even claiming that violence in one mining community is more than twice the state average.
“In one West 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,” the report said.
But police in the Goldfields-Esperance district, which has eight mining campsites, say the report did not take into account the day-to-day realities in the communities, and that there has actually been a decrease in alcohol-related violence in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
“Violence has definitely trended downward in the last 12 months,” Goldsfields-Esperance Inspector Craig Parkin said.
He went on to say that non-domestic assaults in the district had gone down 12 per cent from last year and threatening behaviour had also dropped by 17 per cent.
"Our overall offending over the past two to two-and-a-half years has gone down across the board," he said.
Parkin has worked in policing in the mining community for eleven years, and says he hasn’t experienced the so-called “culture of violence” in his time there.
He says miners are actually subjected to much stricter drug and alcohol screenings than the general population, and companies such as BHP Biliton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue have no hesitation sacking workers who breach their liquor restraints.
“Our members take their responsibilities very seriously and they are often the only employers which have mandatory alcohol and drug testing”, says Reg Howard-Smith. Chief executive of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CMEWA)
The CMEWA has criticised the claims in the report, saying there is a lack of reliable data or statistics.
The report used emotive language and relies heavily on anecdotes,” Howard-Smith said.
“We don’t know where the research was conducted, who was spoken to, or the circumstances of the incidents outlined.”
Police in the Pilbara also say FIFO violence is down in the region, with an 18.6 per cent drop in non-domestic assaults across regional WA.
The report also called into question the sex trade in the mining communities, saying prostitutes operated out of limousines in the area and men often engaged in fights over the small number of women and sex workers in the towns.
But the madam of a brothel in Kalgoorlie, Leigh Varis Beswick, says her workers had not experienced problems with drunken lout behaviour from miners.
Critics of the report say the methodologies undertaken for the study were less than thorough and gave an inaccurate portrayal of the situation.
Howard-Smith says Carrington obtained “little knowledge” on mining camps before releasing her report, and that the mining industry is not what the report portrays.
“Unfortunately, this has the effect of casting a negative shroud over all WA communities with a connection to mining,” he says.
He went on to say the industry is committed to increasing their numbers of female, indigenous and mature-age employees.