Strong Australia broadcast Busselton

23 August 2018
23 August 2018

Event: Strong Australia broadcast Busselton

Speakers:  Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, Rio Tinto managing director Joanne Farrell, Programmed managing director Chris Sutherland, City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley, and Sky News host Ashleigh Gillon

E&OE

 

 

Ashleigh Gillon, host: Good evening, I'm Ashleigh Gillon, welcome to Strong Australia, a collaboration between the Business Council of Australia and Sky News.

We are coming to you live this evening from Busselton in Western Australia's southwest region, of course best known for its beautiful beaches and of course excellent wine. But this town of Busselton is also a fascinating economic test case. It is a regional hub, it's a place where Rio Tinto flies out weekly its workers, some 900 workers heading up to the Pilbara mines on a regular basis. It is an important regional hub as we know for this company. The impact that this business has on the regional community is something we're going to be exploring throughout the evening.

Busselton of course, is a very long way from Canberra and unless you've been hiding under a rock today, you'll know that all eyes have been on the nation's capital. We can assure you this evening that if there is any more breaking news on the leadership crisis, we will of course bring it to you here on Sky News throughout the evening. As it stands tonight, well we are expecting this leadership ballot to be held at around midday tomorrow.

The contenders we're expecting at this stage include of course, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, and Julie Bishop.  It’s expected Malcolm Turnbull will be resigning from the parliament. That is a whole other story for tomorrow. In the meantime, tonight, you can be sure that our politicians in Canberra will be hitting the phones, they'll be doing the numbers, they'll be really as eager as the rest of the country to see how this plays out tomorrow. And of course, plenty more rolling coverage and analysis and opinion coming up for you on the leadership crisis throughout the evening here on Sky News.

We are though, here in Busselton to look at some of these local issues. We will be getting to those in a moment. First, let's introduce our panel tonight, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott is with us. Welcome to you. The local mayor here in Busselton, Grant Henley, good to see you. Thank you for your time. Joanne Farrell is the managing director Australia for Rio Tinto, and Chris Sutherland is the managing director of Programmed which is Australia's largest staffing and maintenance company.

We are going to begin with Jennifer Westacott of course, who is a close observer of Australian politics and has been for such a long time. Jennifer, I need to ask you about this leadership crisis. We've had this revolving door of leaders in this country, of prime ministers, someone said to me today, it's like Italy without the good food. We're starting to get that reputation.

Jennifer Westacott, Business Council of Australia: And the mafia.

Ashleigh: Exactly. What is the impact on the business community when we see this sort of uncertainty in Canberra?

Jennifer: Look, this is terrible. It's terrible for business confidence, it's terrible for certainty, but mostly it's terrible for Australian people who want to think that their parliament is there to advance their interest and think about their jobs and their future and their kids’ future instead of thinking about the future of their jobs in Parliament House. So, I think it's a bad situation that we're in.

The worst thing Ashleigh is that we've been in this as you rightly say, for a decade. What that's meant is that as a country we have just stopped being able to get anything done. All the issues and problems that existed last week, are here this week, and they'll be there next week. We have an uncompetitive economy, we've got huge pressures for a global economy. We don't have an energy policy, we’ve got rising energy bills.

My plea being here today in Busselton and talking to the mayor who seems to be able to run a council that's got clear purpose, even though people have got different backgrounds, they get stuff done because they've got a clarity of purpose about their community and making things better.

My plea to Canberra, that whatever is happening, we get it sorted quickly and then the parliament doubles down on its task to advance the interests of Australians. Because out there tonight is somebody who is absolutely terrified about their energy bill, that they won't be able to pay it.

At Vasse, the new development here in Busselton, someone is taking out a mortgage, and they're hoping that their job and their security, they'll be able to pay that and bring their kids up properly. Somebody out there is worried about the fact their wages haven't gone up. We have to fix these problems. We have to come together as a country and get some stuff done.

Ashleigh: It is frustrating on so many levels, of course. I know that you’ve all would have worked a lot with Scott Morrison as the treasurer, we're expecting Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton to also throw their hat in the ring. Is there a preferred candidate from business in this race?

Jennifer: We'll we've worked with all sides of politics and with all of those candidates. We've had good and constructive relationships with all of them. It's not for business to kind of pick a side here, it's for us to say, and it's not for business frankly, to lecture government. We’ve got our own issues to sort out, and our own house to get in order.

But it is for us to remind people that we've got some big headwinds that face our country, we've got to get on with fixing them. We've got to make our economy more competitive. We've got to get an energy policy.

A couple of quick announcements do not solve the fact that we need long term investment, particularly in dispatchable power, hydro, gas, coal, etcetera. We've got to get on with building infrastructure for local communities like this one here in Busselton. We've got to get on with governing for the people of this country, not for the people in Parliament House in Canberra.

Ashleigh: Is it a huge risk on the international scale when we have this revolving door of leaders? Is it something, do you think, that does create uncertainty and other countries, other businesses overseas look here and say, “Maybe not”?

Jennifer: Absolutely. When I first started this job in 2011, people didn't talk about sovereign risk. They talk about it a lot now, they about it in a really uncertain environment. They can't believe this country, here is the country that's had 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, we should have a GDP number in the threes, not hovering around the twos and the threes. We should have invested in huge infrastructure projects. We should have budget surpluses, and we've got deficits. We should have an energy policy. We should be an energy superpower. People shake their heads, and they can't believe it.

I think a lot of it has just been this revolving door, someone described it yesterday as kind of an endless fire drill which it kind of has become. I think Australians are either switched off to it, or they just want that somebody to think about their interests and their future and their purpose and we just have to see an end to this. It's across both political parties. This has gone on for a decade.

Ashleigh: Would everyone agree with that, that there is this level of disengagement between what the average voter is thinking today about the situation that's unfolding in Canberra? I assume that nobody here would think that this is a great thing for the country, that we're seeing this sort of turmoil yet again?

Grant Henley, City of Busselton: Certainly not, I was only in Canberra last week, and I guess what strikes you most as an ordinary Australian visiting the houses of power is how insular that surrounding is. I think sometimes our leaders really need to get back to their electorates and talk to the people who are struggling day to day with day to day issues and really get some grounding and govern for the people in the country.

Ashleigh: Joanne Farrell, could we argue that it's a bad week for business? We saw the corporate tax cuts in the bigger end of town dumped yesterday as a policy. What's your view looking in on all of this from your position, Managing Director of Rio, looking at the tax cut policy disappearing essentially because there wasn't enough support in the parliament to get that up and running? We now still have this uncertainty about energy policy. I mean, the lack of progress in some of these key policy areas must be worrying for a company like Rio?

Joanne Farrell, Rio Tinto: Well we've said all along that, in terms of energy policy, we want reliability, predictability and long-term certainty, that requirement remains. In terms of corporate tax, Australia is one of the largest taxing countries in the developed world. We need to think about what environment are our companies going to be in, in terms of competitiveness, investment, and innovation. So, we've said prior to yesterday, still stands.

Ashleigh: We held a luncheon here in Busselton with local community members today and Chris, we were talking a lot about the flow-on effects from a big company like Rio coming into a town like Busselton. One of the arguments we've heard about these corporate tax cuts of course from the opposition, from Labor, from unions is trickle-down economics doesn't work, that we can spend our money in a much better way, these bigger end of town companies don't deserve these tax cuts. But from what you were saying today about the impact of these larger companies in getting some help essentially trickling down on to a community?

Chris Sutherland, Programmed: Yes, I think certainly the way we create employment is providing people to support the operations and maintenance and so on, of any piece of asset, a facility, a piece of infrastructure, etcetera, and that requires investment. So, we're not at the capital investment end, we're at the operations and maintenance end, providing the people to do their job and creating employment, creating new job opportunities for young people when they leave school. Therefore, investment in infrastructure, investment in resources, investment in energy is all very, very important to drive economic growth and development.

One of the things that I thought was interesting, today we had a discussion really about that multiplier effect. So, I don’t see that as trickle-down, I would say it's multiplying out. So, an investment goes into a town like Busselton, it has a multiplying effect out amongst trades people getting involved and building it, service people getting involved in maintaining it. Other staff, they get hired to operate and provide support services to whatever that piece of infrastructure is, be it an airport extension, be it a cruise ship industry coming in, all sorts of things. It creates a job and that's actually, today, that's what I heard, people want to know how the jobs are going, where they're going to develop their career and develop their life and their family.

Jennifer: Can I just say something about trickle-down economics? This is one of the greatest bits of nonsense for a long time in Australian politics. As Chris said, this is about the flow-on effect that you get when a big company like Rio invests in a place like Busselton - 900 people. So, you’ve got a new housing development out here, all the people who are working on that housing, you've got new Coles opening up, which just opened up here that may employ more than 100 people. You've got Chris's people who provide the plumbers and the contractors and the extra skills that are needed. Then that means somebody opens a coffee shop.

This is a nonsense, this trickle-down economics stuff. Let's go back to this, what are we left with? It's not just the big companies who are now left out. We're left with a cap now of $50 million. That is going to be a brutal cliff for a company that goes to $50 million plus $1, they're going to be paying a lot of tax on that one dollar of extra income. That's going to be a real dampener on people wanting to grow their companies. But this is like the Bega Cheeses that have missed out, the Thomas Foods in South Australia, the Coopers Brewery in South Australia, big employers, huge parts of regional Australia.

That's what we've left our country with, an uncompetitive tax system, a two-tier tax system which will be brutal, a brutal system for businesses wanting to grow. And the rest of the world, the rest of the world getting on and lowering their rates, so big business has won, it's just not Australian big businesses, it's American big businesses, it's European big businesses, it’s Asian big businesses.

We've handed our competitiveness away back to those countries and at some point, the parliament will have to confront this, and they will have to stop trying to find slogans to basically challenge a fundamental piece of economics, investment equals competitiveness equals productivity equals higher wages equals jobs, economics 101.

Ashleigh: So, we saw this debate play out before the series of by-elections obviously, and Labor made what seems to be a cut-through argument to voters that it’s giving a tax cut to the big end of town and they would cite the big banks, big power companies versus spending on health and education. That was the political message that really cut through in that scenario. They were also arguing that a lot of that would then flow off overseas. When it comes to that messaging though, there has been some within the coalition suggesting the BCA, the Chamber of Commerce should have done more to spread that message. Do some of these business lobby groups need to share some of the blame for these cuts?

Jennifer: Well, I don’t think the BCA, you know I think we have been out there all the time. We have had every big CEO, I can't tell you how many interviews I've done, we've done an enormous amount on social media.

Let's get back to the basics here, I think the last poll I saw, this had 61 per cent of the public support. It's always been more popular than any of the political parties in Australia. It's you know, the mischief of that line the Labor Party used, it's a phony choice to say, do you want tax cuts for big business, or do you want more money on health? I mean, there's a whole lot of technicalities to that. The banks weren't going to get a tax cut until 2023. They're talking about claiming money that's not there.

The simple reality is this, business drives the economy, business drives 80 per cent of the economic output. The forward estimates showed $100 billion of corporate tax revenue with the tax cut in the forward estimates, now if businesses start to slow down and that $100 billion goes to $80 billion, I tell you we'll be having a very interesting conversation about health funding in that budget.

Just the simple reality is we want better health, we want better education, we want better services, we need the economy to be growing, business is central to that. So, look, you know I think certainly the Business Council absolutely fought this very hard, but this is a phony choice Labor put up, a party that once supported this policy for all the same reasons that we have argued.

Ashleigh: The bizarre situation we all find ourselves in tonight is that as of midday tomorrow we could have a new Prime Minister essentially starting again on some of these key policies that the coalition has been trying to prosecute for not just recent months but recent years.

One policy area that Peter Dutton for example has raised is, something he thinks there needs to be more focus on is the population debate, immigration debate. Chris, we’ve seen Labor focusing in on this and when the opposition talks about it, they want to talk more about the 457s, the foreign workforce, foreigners stealing our jobs, this comes into this debate. Is that a debate you think we need to have? Do we need a refocusing on our skilled migration program or do you think we've got the balance about right at the moment?

Chris: Look, I think you have to take a holistic view of the problem. Certainly, when there were some skill shortages, the program worked actually quite well. We're not talking about massive numbers actually, and it's interesting, most government hospitals were being users of people coming on as skilled migration arrangements, nurses and so on.

So, sure it's dampened down a bit the last couple years, but there's no doubt it's always been a key feature of the growth of this economy for the last 40, 50 years.

Certainly, when companies are going to invest into new innovative technologies or advanced manufacturing, all sorts of things, there are often skills that are best brought in. Initially, they train a local workforce, they develop their schools and in many areas,  we've been able to export those skills back overseas again.

So, I just see it as part of the mix, and an important part of the mix.

Ashleigh: Joanne, do you see room for change there or, how important is that for a company like Rio to have access to those sort of programs?

Joanne: Well, if you think actually where we are today in terms of Busselton, and we heard today about how important it is for the industries that are in and around Busselton - the viticulture industry, the tourism industry, the hospitality industry.

I think every industry has its need for skilled workers and every industry has an obligation to train local people for skilled work. Often that training has to be provided by someone who is an expert. Sometimes you have to bring those experts in. Some of the large capital projects that Rio Tinto builds, some of that expertise is not available in Australia.

If we can bring it in, we do that investment, we create that infrastructure that then leads to more jobs and more training for Australians. It's not an if or either/or, it's a part of actually doing business and making sure that you're in business for the long term, creating investment and innovation.

Ashleigh: You are with the Strong Australia program. After the break, we are going to be looking a bit closer at exactly how this fly in, fly out scenario works here in Busselton, the win-win situation here in Busselton for the workers, for the company and how that really works in terms of being a two-way street. That's coming up just after this break.

Ashleigh: Welcome back to the program. With all eyes on the nation's capital this evening, with the leadership turmoil again engulfing our politicians in Canberra, we're actually coming to you live this evening from Busselton.

We've been looking at how the real world works in terms of jobs, in terms of people's lifestyles, how we can involve businesses in key regional communities to try to make a difference to these workers on the ground.

I mentioned at the beginning of the program that Busselton is a FIFO hub, it's a regional hub here for the company, Rio Tinto. There are some 900 workers who fly up to the Pilbara mines on a regular basis and managed to live out of his beautiful part of the world in the southwest of Western Australia.

Sky News has been on the ground in the last few days to look at how this regional hub FIFO model actually works. This is some of the insights we have seen in recent days.

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Ashleigh: He is a very proud local mayor, Grant Henley, is on our panel this evening. Grant, we saw a lot of the airport in that story. That is actually a hot button issue here in Busselton, isn't it, because there is a push, there have been plans for this airport to be expanded to allow commercial flights. But it seems to have really reached a dead-end at this point anyway as to how we go forward with the whole scenario being caught up in some red tape. Is it likely that we're going to see Busselton airport expanded anytime soon?

Grant: I certainly hope so, and we're very confident. I don't think it's a dead end, it might be a speed bump but yeah, certainly not a dead end. At the moment, we're in negotiations with an airline and our agreement with the state government at the moment has been amended that we need to get a signature of an airline before we can proceed with the last stage of that development being a terminal.

But, we've also got some federal funding towards developing some freight opportunities. The federal government has invested in this project some $10 million towards future proofing it to realise the potential for the whole southwest region in some of those freight opportunities.

Ashleigh: There are opportunities aren’t there, Chris Sutherland, because your company Programmed would no doubt be able to take advantage of any expansion of that airport when you look at diversifying Busselton and bringing those tourism opportunities?

Chris: Yes, I think that an airport like that would create a whole bunch of other employment opportunities with a lot of other businesses who would either expand their own export market from local food manufacturer or wine, as well as new tourism opportunities that will be developed by such an airport.

We would certainly be able to I think provide jobs and staff and maintenance and operational services for the airport or for other asset owners and operators in the area.

So, it's really actually how things work, isn't it? An investment gets made, I'd like to seed something like that, which often requires a vision and an idea and then out of that, people innovate. We probably don't even know now what some of those innovations would be in terms of what new markets can be accessed by having a commercial flight that landed in a regional town like Busselton.

Ashleigh: Is it frustrating, Joanne, for you to see these roadblocks being put in the way of that expansion when obviously Rio is making good use of the airport at the moment?

Joanne: We use the airport three days a week. It's very important for us obviously, and we have a great partnership with the city of Busselton and the surrounding area. The more it can become vibrant, the better that we think it'll be. It'll mean that our employees will have different options in terms of employment beyond us, it'll mean that there isn't any sense of dependency on Rio Tinto. So, a broad and dynamic community and economy is fantastic. So, if this infrastructure can facilitate that, it'd be fantastic.

Ashleigh: I was going to ask you about that, just picking up that point of dependence, of having one very large big company being so important in a town like Busselton. Is that a healthy relationship in your view? I mean, obviously, it's a two-way street, but we have seen examples, and I'm thinking of some in the eastern states where a big company has been so crucial to a town and then pulled out, and it's ended in tears. Here, the sort of investment strategy you have, I know it's a long-term investment that you're making and Rio Tinto has invested millions of dollars here but, do you see that as a healthy relationship?

Joanne: It's a very healthy relationship. We've been here 10 years. We started with 80 employees flying in and out of Busselton, we're now at 700 employees and 200 contractors, that means 200 people that work for other businesses that fly into our sites. So that's where the infrastructure and the facility of being able for other people to use those flights to come to our sites or to go to other mine sites. The ability to grow has been facilitated by the council and the businesses in Busselton. They've had a vision about what this looks like, and we've been very pleased to partner with in that vision. We're 700 with the 200, 900 people out of a population of 28,000. So, we're not the only game in town, we are an important game in town because our employees have built houses, they've brought children to the schools, in the household they're then demanding medical services, and those sorts of things that have enabled the town to grow in that aspect as well. But I think the diversification of Busselton has been very important, and the more that we can do to facilitate that, we'll be very pleased with that.

Ashleigh: Jennifer, I feel like we've had a number of prime ministers now trying to claim the mantle of being the infrastructure prime minister. It's such a big issue, isn't it? You just can't underestimate the importance of getting this infrastructure up and running.

Jennifer: Absolutely. You asked about migration before, and it's a classic example where we need to have a vision for regional Australia. We need to go back to the old fashioned regional economic development work we used to do pretty well I think many, many years ago because the airport is just a classic example of - the council's got a vision, companies are willing to put their investment in. Chris is ready and waiting to put the workforce in. The call on government spending is $15 million, which in the scheme…

Ashleigh: Which is tiny.

Jennifer: …of investment, but it would have this catalytic effect to actually start a whole lot of the things that would diversify the economy. So, sometimes you need governments to make that first step, and then businesses will step up and that will allow that diversification to come.

But we need to do that not just in cities like Busselton, but all over Australia, where we need government working with local government and business to say, let's put in some crucial infrastructure, let's set a vision for this particular region in conjunction obviously with its residents. Now, let's put that piece of infrastructure in that's going to transform things. It can't be that hard. I mean, you see it happening in other countries. It's not rocket science, and we should be able to just get some of these things done. I was at the airport the other day, and it's fantastic, but it does need a terminal that will attract a commercial airline to come here. If we spend the whole of the next 10 years saying, “We're going to wait for you to do this, until you do this, we can't do this,” nothing will happen.

Badgerys Creek, a classic example, to the federal government's credit, a big infrastructure project, they decided they were going to put up a lot of money, billions, and billions of dollars because they know they've got to get things moving. We need that around the country.

Ashleigh: Grant, can a town like Busselton, and the southwest more broadly, handle that injection of tourists that would come, that would flow on from that sort of investment in a regional airport?

Grant: We have the capacity and we certainly have the people here who can develop further capacity in the region. While we don't want to over-love the region and certainly spoil that which draws people here in the first place, we do have that capacity and there's certainly, like a lot of seaside towns, there's certainly a lot of seasonality.

That's what we're trying to address by events such as we have at the moment with Cinefest, in drawing events throughout the year that capitalise on our wineries. There's nothing better at winter than a nice local red and a good movie, or a book club or whatever that event might be, or a mountain bike ride if you're more adventurous. But these sort of things that draw people all year round from internationally and interstate into this region.

Chris: I was just going to add that two income families are very important now, right. For every worker that's flying up on to a Rio mine, there's actually a partner here in Busselton that is available to work. We actually have quite a few that actually work within our business more locally as well.

I think that that's one of the key things about getting that diversity. So often if there's an income source from a resource operation, there can be another income source, maybe from a local tourism, hospitality or they might even start a small business for themselves. We see that all the time, and I think it's been quite successful in this particular area. But you can grow on that and that's actually where the workforce comes from.

Ashleigh: Chris, is regional Australia at the forefront, do you think, of this sort of flexible working arrangements. When we saw in that package that we ran earlier, one worker saying, “I go up, and my partner goes up,” there is a flexible scenario there. There are concerns about that though with the casualisation of the workforce. Where is that heading in terms of not giving people certainty, it’s a balance?

Chris: Well, I think there are very good examples, and almost if you go and speak to every family, they're an example of flexible working right now. I think what is actually happening on the ground, is quite divorced of how people talk about it in Canberra.

I mean firstly, casualisation has not really increased, it's been about 20 per cent of the work, the total workforce including independent contractors, for the last 20 years. What has risen is actually part-time work. There's a lot more students in the economy and there's a lot more working parents, and particularly working women in the economy than there used to be 20 years ago. I think that's a very good thing and I think that that flexibility has actually been a key part of this Australia achieving 27 years of economic growth.

We should be careful what we wish for sometimes. To make changes that could introduce more inflexible ways to work could be very dangerous for the economy.

Ashleigh: There have been horror stories in this area though. Is more regulation needed on any level?

Chris: I think, almost every horror story which have been terrible, is already breaking an existing rule, existing law, existing regulation, so I think what is really required is stronger enforcement of the current regulations.

Joanne: It's the matter of choice, so optional working models allow people to make a choice about whether they're working full time, whether they're working part-time. In FIFO, it allows them to make a choice about where they live. I think we need to think long and hard about what we're doing in terms of going to a single solution, in terms of really closing down all those choices.

Grant: I think we saw locally the impact that the backpacker tax had on our industry, our viticulture and agriculture industries in the regions and how they impacted because we needed that seasonal influx of workers that have peak demand times. That's the casualisation of a workforce. But it's to meet a peak demand. With so many seasonal industries around here, at the moment tourism, which has a peak where you can't get those hospitality staff, and you really need to, to be able to get those people into the region for a short period of time. We'd like to extend that all year but at the moment there is that seasonality.

Certainly, with our agriculture and viticulture that's similar, but casualisation of the workforce is nothing new. Our whole construction industry runs on casualisation of a necessity. It's not a factor, it's not a nine to five. We've moved beyond that. The flexibility of our lifestyle now there's seven day a week, 24 hour a day means that we need to have flexible and adaptable lifestyles and employment opportunities.

Chris: I mean the safety net is still fundamentally important and every business absolutely support that, that's where the horror stories of people who are breaking the current rules say. Business and certainly our business, we want to care for our people, and we want to do the right thing, but these are choices these people make with us. We have people telling us when they want to work and when they don't want to work to suit their lifestyle.

Ashleigh: We have seen a positive story, Jennifer, in this region when you look at the employment data that's coming through. It's a good positive story to be able to tell in a place like Busselton?

Jennifer: Absolutely. It's a faster growing economy than the rest of the state, it's a lower unemployment rate than pretty much anywhere certainly in Western Australia. Youth unemployment is high at 10 per cent but lower than the national average, and I'm really worried about young kids. You go to places like Townsville and Cairns, Townsville, gone up to 20 per cent youth unemployment. Now if we don't get investment into these regional cities, if we don't get big and small companies working together, what's the future that we're saying to those people?

But here, because there's this vibrancy, because of the diversification of the economy, because of the investment that Rio is making and then all of the flow through effects, that 10 per cent is one of the best figures in the country.

Ashleigh: Chris, I know you've got a few children going out to no doubt get their first jobs. What's the advice that someone like you running the company that you do, Programmed, being a specialist in employment essentially, what do you tell young people? For parents sitting at home wondering what advice they should be giving their kids, where do you start?

Chris: I think the main thing is often kids now - I think they're brought up in a system where they narrow their choice, not only that, narrow their thinking about what they think would be a good job. So really my advice is to start somewhere. Don't say no to that opportunity, no opportunity is a sideway move. You do learn something, you learn new skills and so on because as I said I think we’re almost narrowing kids’ choices from Year 10. Already their subjects are narrowed. I don't think the world's going to be like that. Take a broader view of what those opportunities are. Broadly, when an opportunity comes in front of you, take it. You never know where that door is going to lead.

Grant: Whatever you aspire to do, at the end of that may not be what you start at the beginning of that journey. But any experience that you gain along the way helps you in every job that you do throughout your life.

Joanne: Who would have thought we would have had a job title in our mine sites called chief drone pilot?

Ashleigh: Wow, okay. Goodness me.

Joanne: So, there are jobs that exist today that we didn't know about five or 10 years ago, just as there'll be jobs that will exist in five and 10 years from now that we don't know about. So, keeping your options open and keeping, really keeping that optionality clear I think.

Ashleigh: There you have it kids, get into drones, that’s the advice from Joanne at Rio Tinto, start looking into that. Do stay with us, more coming up after the break.

Ashleigh: Welcome back to the program. Well, a lot has been said and written about by FIFO communities, the impact on families for example and the importance of community involvement here in Busselton that is a key part of this whole strategy. There are local events for example, the local Ironman, there's CinefestOz Film Festival as well that really does rely on volunteers.

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Ashleigh: Our panel is still with us, Joanne Farrell, Rio Tinto sponsors those couple of events. FIFO communities can get a really bad rap. How important is that community engagement, having the whole town on board for these sorts events when you're looking at creating that engagement really with what's going on?

Joanne: Those partnerships with the City of Busselton and their events is important. It's fantastic because those volunteers, some of them are our employees, some of them are not, they get to be giving back to the community. We support them through the t-shirts and those sorts of things. It's a partnership that allows us to be fully participant in the event without taking centre stage. It's still a community event and we're facilitating it.

Ashleigh: It looks like lots of fun too, Grant?

Grant: Absolutely. Volunteering for these events gives you so much pride in your community. But also when you're facilitating someone completing something like an Ironman, and the gratitude that they express to you as a volunteer at the end, and it's fantastic, the support that Rio's given us in those volunteer programs that really underpin the success of all of our events, which rely so heavily on the volunteers to make them happen.

Joanne: And the programs allow us to grow the ideas. So, CinefestOz has grown now to enable Indigifest, which is a passion of Rio Tinto in terms of the way we partner with Indigenous Australians. So, we're able to support that.

Another passion of Rio Tinto is children and families and so supporting the children in the Family Day that we've had seen today. It's again, that story of how a large business can partner with a community and get that synergy where both of us benefit.

Ashleigh: Chris, I mentioned that, FIFO, the culture has had a bad rap, we've seen a lot of inquiries into how it works out, the impact on family life, etcetera. Is it a myth or are we getting better at that FIFO lifestyle?

Chris: I think there have been some challenges, that's not all a myth, but we're certainly getting better at it. Really, it's about getting better at where the people live in the communities and make sure they got the support that enables them to make a choice that actually suits their family as well.

I think Rio has done a fantastic job here in Busselton. I know that having two people working often, double income families is very important, and therefore working on the other side about where there's other employment opportunities there are as well and making sure that they feel part of a community, particularly if you got to move someone to a new location in an employment opportunity where there might be a growth market.

We know in Australia, that's been quite challenging moving people from an area which might not have jobs to an area that has jobs, getting that family setting right, it is all about community, all around a range of other activities, it's fundamental and I think a credit to the team there at Busselton. They've been able to set that kind of vision, create greater opportunities for families to live and thrive and have a great life and enjoy their work at the same time.

Ashleigh: Because, Jennifer, if you're in a country like Australia, this is the reality, people need to travel distances?

Jennifer: Exactly. I think Chris and Joanne make a really important point, you’ve got to get the right place for people to come. I think the fly in and fly out from capital cities is very difficult, but coming and going to somewhere like Busselton where you've got great schools, you got a fantastic facility, you've got a beautiful place to live, you got this new modern runway and airport, you've got a lot of things that flow off it and you just got to get the model right.

But the idea that everyone can live right on site and actually have a good quality of life is just as challenging as the FIFO model where there aren't the services, there aren't the schools, there aren't the facilities and then, Joanne's then got the challenge of keeping that workforce engaged.

So, you’ve got to get the model right. I think the Busselton model is a cracking model and I think we should look at that across the country because the flow-on effect to this community as well as I guess making your employers a bit more wanting to stay with you, that's really important.

Grant: That's proved itself. We've seen in the retention that Rio's enjoyed with its local workforce, they enjoy it. There's less fatigue in them travelling from their desired living location to where they've got to commute from if they can do it direct from that source community.

Joanne: If they're flying in and out from Perth, they can change jobs like that, by changing aircraft and they can go and work for another company. We're the only ones in Busselton doing regional FIFO. It's an advantage for us and it does involve longer employee retention.

Ashleigh: Joanne Farrell from Rio Tinto, thank you for making the time for us this evening. Chris Sutherland from Programmed, thank you very much. Grant Henley, the mayor of Busselton, good to hear your insights about how all of this works on the ground. And of course, Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, thank you for joining us. Do stay with us, a tad more coming up after the break.