Sunday, 1 December 2013

Free speech in the company town

Apparently criticism isn’t welcomed at Middlemount, a coal mining town in Central Queensland roughly 240km’s west of Mackay. The story of the post office's licensee, Louise Hawkins and husband Chris Griffiths being evicted from the shopping centre which is owned by Anglo American coal has received media attention. This article was published in the APN chain of regional newspapers, Middlemount Post Office couple evicted over sign.
“The sign copied the local telephone directory featuring a child's drawing that said everyone was welcome at Middlemount.
Mr Griffiths added, "except families, except children, except visitors" prompting the breach of lease notice.
"They are limiting the number of families and children who can live here and making it hard for them," he said.
"The media is partly to blame for what's happening in small mining towns…no one is prepared to ask the hard questions and they get away with it."

Mr Griffiths, who has lived in the area since 1971 and served his apprenticeship at Utah Mine said he was pro mining.
"But I'm pro Middlemount as well and pro Dysart and Tieri, and pro agriculture.”

It’s my view that the core issue here isn’t pro or anti mining; in the quote above Chris Griffiths has said that he is pro mining. There is a debate to be had over a fly in, fly out (FIFO) workforce whose effects was what the post office operators were offering an opinion about. No the core issue is the basic right of freedom of speech.

 The sign offered an opinion, you may not agree with it as have some other locals as quoted in this follow up news story; but was it offensive, racist or sexist, did it denigrate any individual, and was it 1metre high spray painted graffiti next to the shopping centre entrance? No it was an A4 piece of paper stuck on a notice board in front of their own business. The message could have been presented childishly, perhaps, but is that a crime? Why has Anglo American got such a corporate glass jaw over this issue?  
EVICTED: Chris Griffiths and Louise Hawkins have been evicted from their Middlemount PO by Anglo Coal.

Although this web page is obviously designed to offer a positive view of family life in mining towns it does provide an insight into who Anglo American are and just how much they do own the town of Middlemount.

“Anglo American’s Metallurgical Coal business owns most of the 700-odd houses in town and rents the accommodation back to employees at subsidised rates, so the town is a great place to save money.

There's a fairly balanced mix of residential families and FIFO/DIDO workers and at the last count the population was 3,500.

Anglo American has seven mines in the area: Capcoal, Foxleigh, Central, Southern, Bundoora, Grasstree and Lake Lindsay mines. They're all located within about 15 minutes from town.

Macarthur Coal has Middlemount Mine and their workers also live in town.

If you're thinking of buying a house, think again. There's only a very small number of privately-owned homes so it's hard to live in the town if you're not employed by the mines.”

It may have not entered their calculations, but by evicting the couple Anglo American has created the opportunity for them to enlarge on their opinion about the effects of FIFO to a now interested media. In the Australian Mining magazine Chris Griffiths expanded by saying:
“Griffith said he is “pro-Middlemount” but growing up in the area he is concerned about the effects mining camps are having on the region.

“We think [the sign] is true, families and children aren’t welcome,” he stated.

He explained the increasing number of mining camps and the transient nature of the workers means there’s “not a lot of families and children here”.

“It’s creating a culture that denigrates the region.”

Alan Jones interviewed Chris Griffiths on his high profile national radio program where Griffith having lived in the area since 1971 said that once FIFO camps were once only for temporary construction and only used as single workers quarters on a permanent basis. Nowadays there are camps everywhere; families no longer move to the mining towns rather the mine worker is housed in a camp while the rest of the family stay behind usually in urban centres on the coastal strip. With fewer families and children in the likes of Middlemount, Griffiths believes it creates a social dysfunction. Those few families that do try and move to Middlemount find this prevailing culture too hard and often move away again.

post-office-closure.jpgThis CFMEU statement says in part:

The sign was a reference to the explosion of temporary worker accommodation camps in Middlemount and Anglo’s preference for housing workers in camps over family housing.

“Instead of addressing the concerns raised in the sign, Anglo’s heavy-handed approach is to shut down the post office,” said Mr Pearce.

“There are currently about 160 company-owned family homes sitting empty in Middlemount, while the company packs people into camps.

“This is severely undermining the social fabric of the town.

“The company is housing married couples in single men’s quarters. It is dissuading families from moving to Middlemount to settle.

“It is pocketing tax concessions for using FIFO workers and housing them in camps, rather than supporting the local community.


I have done no research into if it’s true as the union maintains that tax concessions have influence the rise in using FIFO camps. If you read the comments in the various links above there are people involved in the mining industry offering differing views. It’s the ability to offer a different view that I wish to return to; surely even in a company owned town we still have freedom of speech


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