The Western Australian Government has delayed its border reopening beyond the planned date of February 5, throwing another spanner into its skilled labour shortage.
On December 13, 2021, the state government announced a safe transition date for the first Saturday in February, after which time its hard border controls would be eased subject to a 90 per cent vaccination rate.
At time of writing, the state had reached a full vaccination rate of 88.9 per cent after a rise of 0.21 per cent on the previous day – keeping the state on track to reach its 90 per cent target by February 5.
Notably, Premier Mark McGowan did add a caveat to the safe transition date for mining communities.
“Additional restrictions may be required in some at-risk regional communities where current projections suggest higher levels of vaccination may take longer to achieve – this currently includes the Pilbara (currently 46.1 per cent double dose rate), Kimberley (currently 60.8 per cent double dose rate), and Goldfields (currently 65 per cent double dose rate),” McGowan said in December.
But these dates and restrictions were thrown back in the air this week as the state government updated its plan to reopen, citing concerns over the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
While the border will still reopen on February 5, the conditions to cross the border now look much different.
The new border settings will allow for compassionate travel and the return of Western Australians for reasons such as funerals, palliative care or terminally ill visitation, family members, or specialist skills not available in WA.
McGowan gave his reasoning for the sudden change in border rules.
“Unfortunately, the world changed in December when Omicron arrived,” he said.
“It would be irresponsible and reckless for the State Government to ignore the facts and ignore the reality of the situation playing out on the east coast.
“A decision on further easing of the new hard border controls will be made in the near future – once the east coast has reached the peak of infection, and we have a better understanding of the true impact of Omicron.”
There was no recognition of the state’s mining and resources sector, or what the border rules would mean for skilled workers.
The announcement came one day after the federal government altered its rules for Working Holiday Maker visa holders.
CMEWA chief executive Paul Everingham said international entrants are likely to react positively to initiatives like the visa rebate, which will remove one of the potential barriers associated with travelling to Australia.
“The backpackers among them will provide an important labour source for the agricultural, retail and hospitality sectors in particular, which may in turn free up other workers to pursue opportunities in mining,” Everingham said.