Western Australia election: FIFO vote

When it comes to the polls, FIFO workers are most likely to vote for the party which will support their industry. Wesfarmers

In Western Australia business is booming for the mining and resources sector. The number of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers employed in the state has increased over the last five years to more than 35,000. As a growing part of the electorate, where will the FIFO workers vote go in Saturday’s state election?

There are many factors that determine political affiliation and voting behaviour, including the economy and personal income. As some of the highest-paid workers in the state, these issues lie particularly close to the heart and minds of FIFO workers.

Traditionally tradies, transport workers, and labourers are more likely to vote for Labor as are union members. Although union membership has been dropping consistently since the 1960s political affiliation seems to be stable. On the other hand, high earners are more likely to vote for the coalition with lower earners supporting Labor, a pattern that is more evident for men than women.

In the male dominated and high-paid world of FIFO work this places many employees in a unique position. Professionally one might expect their vote to swing to Labor, but from an earning perspective it could swing to the Liberal party.

With a close election the focus may then be on the swing voter as younger, foreign-born, and male voters more likely to switch allegiances. Foreign born FIFO workers who have claimed citizenship could be swayed to change their vote as could younger workers.

The carbon tax, already unpopular with industry, could be perceived as a threat specifically to mining but also to Australia’s overall economic prosperity. While the removal of support in the form of tax breaks for FIFO workers is certainly a threat to the lifestyle and benefits that come at a cost.

Typically the adage “let the good times roll” seems to apply, with strong economic performance helping to maintain the status quo while increases in inflation are most likely to lead to a change of government.

But as a high-income democracy the impact of economic factors on Australian voting isn’t particularly strong. This may arise from the perception that the government has limited power to influence Australia’s economic performance. With the advent of the Global Financial Crisis it’s possible that voters are well aware that governments have limited ability to influence global economics.

Other factors such as growth in China and the demand for Australia’s mineral wealth combined with the strong Australian dollar are likely to place the onus on the mining industry and socio-political events beyond the west coast. There’s the further point that retrospective economic performance seems to be more important to voters than future performance. In other words, it’s more important how well we have fared through the Global Financial Crisis than how well we think we will do in the aftermath. But this might not be the same for all FIFO employees.

At the end of the day the voting decision for FIFO workers is likely to come down to two factors; threat and support.

Which party is seen as presenting the biggest threat to the economy, and in particular mining, oil and gas? And which party is going to support the FIFO lifestyle?

The release of the parliamentary inquiry into the effect of fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in, drive-out work practices on regional Australia, branding FIFO as the “cancer of the bush”, and the political response has the potential for wide reaching repercussions including a change in government.

During the 2009 Western Australian referendum 6,763 votes were cast at booths in Perth’s domestic airport terminals and the Western Australian electoral commission are expecting an increase in numbers this year. Ahead of the election seven mine site polling booths and six airport booths have already been set up for FIFO voters.

It seems the biggest influence on the FIFO workers vote will be the incumbent government’s response to the parliamentary inquiry, carbon tax and an increasing federal deficit. Meanwhile, the opposition will wait quietly in the wings, trying not to say the wrong thing and the industrial giants bide their time before choosing sides.

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