Long distance commuting into Australian regions: its determinants and impacts on wellbeing in the region and social capital's capacity to mediate those impacts

Nicholas, Christopher Roy (2018) Long distance commuting into Australian regions: its determinants and impacts on wellbeing in the region and social capital's capacity to mediate those impacts. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Overall, this thesis examined whether spatial dependence is a cause of the ambiguity in the literature about the impacts of inbound LDC on resident wellbeing in communities in Australia. This thesis provides two arguments for the relevance of spatial dependence; one operates at the regional level and the second at the community level. The first argument is that spatial dependence at the regional level influences the scale (and hence impact) of LDC, which may explain the unobserved variance in the LDC impact literature. The second argument is that spatial dependence between communities, which influences socio-economic and sociological characteristics of a community, causes the unobserved variance.

The overarching aim of this thesis was to consider the determinants and impacts on resident's wellbeing of long distance commuting into Australian regions and social capital's capacity to mediate those impacts. Three questions drove this research:

1. What circumstances in and outside a region affect the extent of LDC in that region?

2. Does social capital mediate the impacts of inbound LDC on resident wellbeing in the host region?

3. What (if any) dimensions of social capital are effective in mediating the impacts of LDC on resident wellbeing in a host region?

The first stage used spatial panel modelling, 516 Local Government Areas (LGAs) across Australia over two census periods (2006 and 2011) to explore drivers of LDC. I found that local labour market characteristics had minimal influence on recruitment strategies of companies that typically use LDC. Housing affordability does not impact on the decision of non-resident workers to either migrate into a region or adopt LDC into that region. However, local service provision and the availability of rental accommodation reduces the uptake of LDC. In addition, higher turnover of the resident population erodes social capital in host regions, which reduces the attractiveness of the local area and leads to increased use of LDC. Spatial dependence was detected in the dependent variable and the error term. This infers that the scale of LDC in a given region is influenced by the regional circumstances in neighbouring regions that were not captured within the model.

The second stage used a case study approach, 150 residents from Kalgoorlie-Boulder (an Australian resource town) were surveyed about perceived levels of wellbeing, social capital and LDC impacts. This study purposes that circumstances within the host community could be a contributing factor to the unobserved variance in LDC impact models. These circumstances involve social capital and its use to mediate the impacts of LDC. Differing level of social capital may change the perceived impacts of LDC. Mediation analysis found that social capital did not mediate the established negative relationship between LDC impacts and wellbeing. Social capital therefore does not explain the difficulty to generalise LDC impacts outside of host communities.

In the third stage, also using a case study approach in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Australia, I explored the potential of social capital as a mediator between LDC impacts and resident wellbeing. I concluded that whilst bonding and bridging social capital were important to wellbeing, they were not effective mediators of LDC impacts. Linking social capital was the least effective, providing no benefit to either subjective wellbeing or mediation of LDC impacts. Structural limitations (such as 12-hour shifts) may prevent connections between residents and LDC workers, limiting available bridging capital. I recommend further research into whether 8-hour shifts would improve social integration of these two groups. Furthermore, linking social capital may have been ineffective because the community members lack a connection with LDC decision makers. These decisions are made in company headquarters which are usually located in capital cities or overseas; not in the host region.

Overall, awareness of spatial dependence was an important consideration at the regional level but not at the community level. There was no evidence that a host region's local labour market is a driver of LDC, limiting local job opportunities. Kalgoorlie-Boulder residents indicated the presence of a hollow economy, suggesting the town is being treated as a resource bank.

This thesis contributes to both academic and wider society through methodological and policy recommendations. The policy goal of this thesis is to improve the wellbeing of individuals living in regional/remote Australia. LDC is widely acknowledged to reduce life satisfaction, commonly through community fractionalisation and the hollow economy. Policy recommendations aimed at addressing these, include: (1) reduce the scale of LDC within a host region (reduce the hollow economy); (2) reduce community fractionalisation in the presence of LDC and (3) empower residents within the host region to influence decisions around LDC. Methodologically this thesis (1) provides an alternative method to operationalise LDC empirically, (2) highlights the importance of space in LDC/mining research, (3) separates LDC and mining impacts and finally (4) measures social capital at a (remote) community level and its role as a mediator of LDC impacts on wellbeing.

Item ID: 54788
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Australia, case study, DIDO, drive in drive out, FIFO, fly in fly out, Kalgoorlie, long distance commuting, mediation analysis, mining, regions, social capital, spatial analysis well-being
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Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 4: Nicholas, Christopher, and Welters, Riccardo (2017) What drives long distance commuting into Australian regions? A spatial panel model approach. Journal of Rural Studies, 49. pp. 140-150.

Chapter 5: Nicholas, Christopher, Welters, Riccardo, and Murphy, Laurie (2018) Does social capital help communities to cope with long-distance commuting? Regional Studies. (In Press)

Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2018 23:54
FoR Codes: 14 ECONOMICS > 1402 Applied Economics > 140218 Urban and Regional Economics @ 70%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160401 Economic Geography @ 30%
SEO Codes: 91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9102 Microeconomics > 910208 Micro Labour Market Issues @ 35%
91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9102 Microeconomics > 910203 Industrial Organisations @ 30%
91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9102 Microeconomics > 910205 Industry Policy @ 35%
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