Illegal accommodation is to be removed from the mining town of Paraburdoo, in WA’s Pilbara, and other towns – including Onslow and Tom Price – have been given notice they will also be audited.
The workers’ dwellings, called dongas, were developed on some industrial sites in recent years due to a lack of accommodation and residential land, according to the Shire of Ashburton.
A recent council inspection showed that 11 out of the 22 lots in Paraburdoo’s light industrial area had unauthorised accommodation, ranging from two to 12 rooms per lot, with rooms containing various combinations of bed and bunk provisions.
Paraburdoo was set up by miner Rio Tinto, which still provides some of the town’s main infrastructure, such as power and water.
Ashburton Shire chief executive Neil Hartley said the council would liaise with land owners and lessees to remove illegal dongas and other accommodation.
He said they would be given until the end of March next year.
“When there was no accommodation available, there was a real dilemma as to how to address it,” he said.
“This has been something that has been occurring for a number of years, and particularly during the boom times of mining where construction or production is key and staff are critical.”
Illegal accommodation widespread in Pilbara
Mr Hartley said Paraburdoo was not the only town affected.
“This occurs in every industrial area across the Pilbara as far as I am aware,” he said.
Mr Hartley said the council had been in contact with Rio Tinto.
“The unusual situation for us in regard to Tom Price and Paraburdoo is that the vast majority of the land in those towns is owned by Rio Tinto, and the water and sewerage supplies and electricity supplies are also provided by Rio Tinto, so it’s not normal when you consider it against many other towns in WA,” he said.
“Rio Tinto have said they are happy to endeavour to offer vacant blocks they have in Paraburdoo, and they have about 40-odd, I understand.
“So they have said we are happy to make available some of those blocks for either businesses or investors to build residential accommodation on for these people, and that will allow them to move out of the industrial area.”
Mr Hartley said the offer could be a solution.
“When there was no accommodation available there was a real dilemma as to how to address it, now there appears to be a solution, in that land is there and we just need to now link the industrial land owners to the land and/or investors, and we should be able to address this problem over the next several months,” he said.
“In Paraburdoo there were virtually no other options left for the industrial people to take, other than to not engage in the business of a contract with whomever they were contracting to, to provide that service.”
Land offer may resolve issue, but time lag involved
Mr Hartley said any change to the housing situation would take time.
“It doesn’t make it right that this has ever happened but we have now got a solution to the problem and there will be obvious repercussions here; somebody has to build a house, somebody has to rent a house, time has to be taken, costs will be incurred, but it’s simply not appropriate for people to live on an industrial piece of land,” he said.
“There was a risk taken by the council of the day to try and find that solution, because you know if an accident did occur there would be some liability perhaps sheeted home to the shire and the council.
“But they were keen to try and work with all of the various parties to find a workable solution and, in Paraburdoo’s case, hopefully we have found it in that Rio Tinto has offered some of its land.”
A Rio Tinto spokeswoman has confirmed the company has had preliminary discussions with the shire regarding the matter, but says the talks are at an early stage.