New Zealand travel bubble a lifeline for WA shearing contractors

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman
Email Bob Garnant
Pic spread in a shearing shed, in Witchcliffe just past Margaret River. Pictured - Hayley Barker (17)
Camera IconPic spread in a shearing shed, in Witchcliffe just past Margaret River. Pictured - Hayley Barker (17) Credit: Daniel Wilkins

The reopening of WA’s travel bubble with New Zealand from late last month will throw a lifeline to the State’s woolgrowers and shearing contractors ahead of spring shearing.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden last week tweaked the travel bubble to allow flights from some states and territories, with a ban on quarantine-free travel between WA and the Northern Territory set to be lifted at midnight on Friday.

The ban on travel from New South Wales, which is 13 days into a fortnight lockdown, and Queensland will remain for now.

WASIA president Darren Spencer.
Camera IconWASIA president Darren Spencer. Credit: Countryman

WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer said New Zealand shearers were expected to land in WA early next month.

“Considerations will be the cost of airfares, availability of direct flights, COVID lockdown potential and competitive pay from our Eastern States counterparts,” he said.

Dongara-based Henderson Shearing owner Mike Henderson said the travel bubble would shore up supply of shearers for spring shearing, which runs from August to November.

He said he had already fielded several enquiries from New Zealand shearers and woolshed staff, mainly previously employees.

But he said WA contractors would face competition from their Eastern States counterparts willing to offer higher wages.

“They (the shearers) all seem keen to come,” he said.

“Mostly from August onward, which is ideal.

“If the travel bubble between WA and New Zealand remains open, we should have enough personnel to do the work.

“The late September to early November period will be hectic, but it always is.”

WA’s dependence on New Zealand shearers taking the wool off the State’s sheep has been interrupted for more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic closed Australian borders on March 20 last year.

The State Government reopened quarantine-free travel between WA and New Zealand on April 19.

But that arrangement was paused on June 26 in response to the growing number of cases being reported across Australia.

If the travel bubble between WA and New Zealand remains open, we should have enough personnel to do the work.

Mike Henderson

WA’s shearing industry has been battling to fill stands during the peak shearing seasons of August and November, and January to April.

Mr Spencer said the past 18 months had been a real struggle for the industry.

“We missed out on an influx of 350 New Zealand shearers and shed hand workers during WA’s peak wool harvesting months,” he said.

“Thankfully it was a dry spring last year, which meant less dags and fly-struck sheep that would normally require prompt shearing.

“The flock all got shorn eventually, but most shearing contractors were behind their schedules.”

Mr Spencer said one of the benefits of WA’s lockdown was that learner shed trainees had an opportunity to find employment.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails