A Senate inquiry into the future of big regional cities has heard fly-in, fly-out workforces can bring considerable benefits to regional communities.

The Senate committee has held hearings in Tasmania and Victoria, and is now in West Australia for a hearing in Geraldton.

In her submission, the co-director for the Centre for Regional Development at the University of WA says long-distance commuting should not be dismissed as wholly negative.

UWA’s Professor Fiona McKenzie said FIFO and drive-in, drive-out workforces spurred strong motions in many communities, when in fact when workers live in regional communities, they can bring a significant boost.

“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.”

WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert – a panel member for the inquiry – says it is important to note that remote centres are different to bigger regional hubs.

“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.

“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.”

Professor McKenzie said research revealed regional capitals and smaller communities could often have entirely different growth rates and dynamics, but are lumped together in an attempt to make a ‘one size fits all’ policy.

“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 will make a report to Federal Parliament early next year.