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Canberra Opens Up Australia to Skilled Workers



By Jo Clarke

November 26, 2021 - The Australian federal government will open the country's international borders to skilled migrants from 1 December, although state border closures because of Covid-19 will reduce the ability of Queensland and Western Australian (WA) mining firms to benefit from the move.

Skills shortages have reduced coal and iron ore production, delayed project developments and pushed up costs over the past 18 months since Australia's international borders have been closed. It has also added to a slowing of the freight system as port and rail operators struggle to secure qualified staff.

Canberra will open the international borders on 1 December, allowing fully vaccinated arrivals with skilled worker visas to enter the country without applying for an exemption.

This will allow mining and energy firms in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria to bring in workers to ease skills shortages, particularly in the Hunter valley and Illawarra coal mining regions of NSW. But Queensland, which contains large coking and thermal coal mining regions and the LNG export hub at Gladstone, along with WA that contains the biggest iron ore export facilities in Australia and LNG export projects in the Pilbara, both mandate 14 days of hotel quarantine for international arrivals.

This quarantine is a major barrier to entry, particularly for those that might be on shorter term contracts to carry out specific technical work or as part of a maintenance programme.

It means that WA iron ore mining firms like Mineral Resources, which last week cut its output guidance partly because of skills shortages, will find it difficult to attract the additional workers they need until the WA state government eases its quarantine requirements.

Queensland's swing producers of coking coal, such as Fitzroy Australia Resources and new thermal coal mining projects like Indian firm Adani's 10mn t/yr Carmichael thermal coal mine will continue to struggle to find the qualified workers to sustain their operations.

WA will open its borders to vaccinated international arrivals when 90pc of over 12-year-olds are double vaccinated. The state had reached 72.9pc on 22 November.

Queensland will allow home quarantine to vaccinated international arrivals when it reaches 80pc double vaccinated and free entry once it reaches 90pc. The state had reached 73.4pc on 23 November.

Advocacy group AMMA, which helps Australian resources and energy firms secure the workforce they require, welcomed Canberra's easing of international border restrictions for skilled workers.

"There needs to be a circuit breaker to the present unsustainable situation of Australian industries cannibalising each other for talent," AMA chief executive Steve Knott said. "The arrival of skilled migrant employees in some of these key occupations will ease the great anxieties of employers on how they will both continue to resource existing operations and secure the skills required to support expansion and new project growth."