Cobar Shire councillors are conducting further investigations into tax laws in an effort to lobby for change that would make residential workforces more appealing to mining companies.
Councillors discussed the matter at their April Ordinary Council Meeting following a notice of motion from Cr Peter Abbott calling for council to lobby the Federal Government and the Association of Mining Related Councils to have Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT), including living away from home allowance, exempted for remote mining communities.
Cr Jarrod Marsden spoke for the motion.
“What we’re actually looking for is a change to the Fringe Benefits Tax laws to make residential more attractive when it comes to mining companies or any companies in general.
“It won’t change the bottom line for governments and it won’t change the bottom line for companies,” Cr Marsden said.
“I think where there is a community that can support a workforce, such as we have in Cobar (and there’s other towns that are like us), companies should not be able to have a tax advantage for FIFO and DIDO related expenses but they should be able to have a tax advantage for residential related expenses.
“This is where I think we should be headed with this,” he said.
“This I think is a great step towards reducing or turning around the population decrease we are seeing in Cobar.
“If it’s more advantageous for companies to have their people residential, then I think they will push to have a residential workforce.”
Cr Tracey Kings said she was not opposed to the motion as such, but questioned if the accommodation for miners is not supplied by mining companies, whether the contractors would be getting a tax advantage.
Cr Abbott said the intent of his motion was not so much to penalise companies who build dongers etc, but to encourage mining companies to build more permanent housing and attract families.
He said the living away from home allowance was “a big boost to people who come to far away towns like Cobar and then have their salary embellished” but people who live in the community don’t get the same result.
“We should have some sort of residential taxation allowance to encourage people to actually live in the town itself,” Cr Abbott said.
Cr Kings said she knew that a couple of the local mines currently had “excess housing”.
“If families wanted to come here, they could with housing available at the moment,” Cr Kings said.
“Things have changed, maybe it’s not about tax cuts, they don’t want to live here, if housing is available and not being taken up.
“Do we need to do more homework?” Cr Kings asked.
Cr Abbott said he acknowledged there was some resistance from families to accommodate themselves in Cobar instead preferring to live in Dubbo and further afield.
He said we needed to offer a bigger incentive to live here rather than elsewhere.
“I see this more as a conversation starter, rather than the legislative end,” Cr Abbott said.
Cr Bob Sinclair said while the motion might not be quite right, he also saw it as a good conversation starter.
Council will conduct further investigations into the possibility of law changes and, in particular, consult with tax specialists on the matter.