Originally posted on ABC News. Written by Sarah Taillier.

A fly-in, fly-out workforce can provide benefits to regional communities, a Senate inquiry into the future of regional capitals in Australia has been told.

The Senate committee has travelled to Tasmania and Victoria and had its first West Australian hearing today in Geraldton, in the state’s mid-west.

Co-director for the Centre for Regional Development at the University of WA said it would be a mistake to dismiss long-distance commuting, and instead people should focus on its positive impacts.

Professor Fiona McKenzie said there was a lot of emotion around FIFO and drive-in, drive-out work forces, but they provided significant benefits when the workers lived in regional communities.

“There are significant benefits for those [regional] communities where mining, long-distance commuting workers live,” she said.

“It means that your schools, your services, are going to better utilised and probably better resourced.

“But it also means that people will spend money where they live and their families will spend money.”

“I think to dismiss long-distance commuting is a mistake and I think we’re better off to identify the benefits and work with them so that everyone is a beneficiary.”

Remote areas different from regional capitals: Greens

Panel member WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert said it was important to acknowledge that remote areas were different from regional capitals.

“A lot of the funding directed outside of the metropolitan area is for remote [areas] and the point being made is that remote centres are very different to our regional capitals and there needs to be a differentiated approach to funding to regional capitals as opposed to remote centres, because there are very different issues,” she said.

“What happens when resource booms come off, what are the different needs for some of the education, training those sorts of supports, inland versus coastal … those sorts of drivers all need to be taken into account when they look at how they [governments] are investing in regional capitals,” she said.

“Governments are making these decisions, we want them to be hearing from our regional capitals, so that they get a feel for what’s happening on the ground.”

During her submission, Professor McKenzie said research clearly showed regional capitals and smaller communities often experienced very different growth rates and dynamics but were lumped together in a ‘one size fits all’ policy stance.

She told the inquiry about the “dangers” of a lack of consistent and reliable population data.

“Unless we have a really good understanding of growth rates; why places are growing, what their strengths are … incredibly expensive mistakes are made, incredibly expensive policy decisions could be made,” she said.

“A 10-year census I think is just incredibly short-sighted and potentially very expensive mistake to made.”

The inquiry is expected to report to Federal Parliament in the first half of 2016.