McGowan pushes back Feb 5 WA border reopening

WESTERN Australian premier Mark McGowan has announced the February 5 border reopening date has been scrapped and the state’s hard border will remain, albeit with more exemptions, indefinitely.
McGowan pushes back Feb 5 WA border reopening McGowan pushes back Feb 5 WA border reopening McGowan pushes back Feb 5 WA border reopening McGowan pushes back Feb 5 WA border reopening McGowan pushes back Feb 5 WA border reopening

WA premier Mark McGowan

Mark Tilly

Senior Journalist

Mark Tilly

The reason for the delayed reopening is the emergence of the Omicron strain of COVID-19.

That strain was first detected in Australia on December 8 in the eastern states and case numbers have since exploded. 

More alarming are the numbers of people being hospitalised and dying as a result of the disease. Today NSW recorded 46 deaths from the virus. 

"Unfortunately, the world changed in December when Omicron arrived," McGowan said in a press conference last night.

"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."

Part of WA's delayed border reopening is to get a better understanding of the Omicron outbreak and to give Western Australian adults time to get a third vaccine shot and children to get two.

WA's resources sector had been preparing for the border reopening with a mixture of trepidation over what an Omicron outbreak could do to their workforces and also with hope that they would be able to source the workers they desperately need.

Throughout the pandemic, WA operators have seen various delays to projects due to the need for interstate and overseas workers to undertake 14 days quarantine, with some personnel being locked out completely, according to peak oil body APPEA.

The workforce shortages have also led to a spike in labour hire costs leading to blowouts in project budgets.

However the hard border has allowed WA companies to opreate more-or-less unabated thanks to the state's lack of COVID transmission until recently. 

Earlier this week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a visa application fee rebate for international students and backpackers coming to Australia, in the hope to fill workforce gaps.

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The WA Chamber of Mines and Energy said the state's mining and resources sector could face a shortfall of 40,000 workers within two years if the situation was left unaddressed. 

"The reopening of borders into WA on February 5 will be a very important first step towards alleviating some of these skills pressures, providing access to labour pools interstate and overseas that industry has traditionally been able to call on in times of need," CME chief Paul Everingham said on Tuesday.  

"International entrants are likely to react positively to initiatives like this visa rebate, which will remove one of the potential barriers associated with travelling to Australia."

This morning, a CMEWA spokesman told Energy News that the Chamber would no longer be commenting on the border situation. 

APPEA WA director Claire Wilkinson told Energy News that the body would "continue to work within the border arrangements as set by the state government to ensure vital energy supplies are maintained and our workforce is supported".

"A key element of the hard borders post February 5 will be the expanded exemption criteria," she noted. 

The government has expanded the exemption criteria for WA entrants to include returning West Australian with strong, recent connections or direct legitimate family connections, compassionate grounds, family members, provision of specialist skills not available in WA among others. 

"We look forward to working with the government on the exemption criteria to ensure critical interstate workers, some of whom have been denied entry under the existing hard border, can enter the state and quarantine before undertaking their essential work for industry," Wikinson said. 

"During the pandemic the industry has focused on the health and safety of people, whether they are employees, contractors, or are part of the wider community."

McGowan said the state government would observe how the outbreak unfolded on the east coast before deciding on when a new border reopening date would be set. 

"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," he said.