A PROPOSAL is in the air to charter a flight from New Zealand to Western Australia to lure agriculture workers west for the upcoming seeding period, without them first having to quarantine over east.
The suggestion was made by WAFarmers which is trying to gauge whether growers in WA would be interested in the plan.
The proposal would cost about $4000 per worker, which would not be covered by the WA government, and is something that will only be pursued if there is a demonstrated need and willingness from industry.
WAFarmers grain section president Mic Fels said WA growers were looking at potentially a worse situation at seeding than there was at harvest.
"The foreign workers that were in WA are slowly drifting home and the economy is taking off in WA, so a lot of the locally available labour that we had at harvest are back in work again," Mr Fels said.
"Universally from the farmers I've talked to, the last harvest was the most difficult they can remember purely because of the issue of inexperienced labour.
"That's an avoidable stress to have at seeding if there was a safe way to bring in experienced workers from New Zealand, which is essentially COVID-free."
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) has proposed two possible options for New Zealand workers.
The first involves a charter flight that would need to be filled with about 150 to 230 workers and cost $4000 per worker - $2500 for hotel quarantine and about $1500 for the one-way flight.
Under that plan, travellers entering WA from New Zealand directly would be considered international travellers and would be subject to the Commonwealth government's mandatory quarantine period of 14 days hotel quarantine.
The other option involves three different alternatives of workers flying to the Eastern States first on a commercial flight, before continuing on to WA.
However, Mingenew farmer Geoff Cosgrove said the WA border could cause huge issues with any of those alternatives.
"People from New Zealand can fly to the Eastern States on a commercial flight, but the issue is that they get to New South Wales or Victoria and McGowan (WA Premier Mark McGowan) throws the border back up and they can't get here," Mr Cosgrove said.
"We would want the workers on the charter flight to be able to self-isolate on the farm provided they test negative to COVID-19 prior to leaving New Zealand and test negative again when they arrive.
"As farmers, and even just as citizens, we've got to be able to assume some of the risk of COVID, I'm happy to put the right steps in place and be responsible for any outcome that might happen."
The travel bubble with NZ has since burst with community transmission cases unveiled.
Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said as the new community transmission cases in New Zealand showed, risks could not be taken when it came to international travel.
"We are in the midst of a global pandemic and there is no simple solution to this problem, so we will continue to follow WA's expert health advice that has kept our State safe and strong," Ms MacTiernan said.
"We know that seeding labour this year will be a challenge for growers, as it was last year, and that is why we are taking early steps to engage industry on possible solutions.
"One of those options is bringing workers in from New Zealand, either directly on a charter flight or through another State and we are working with industry to determine their preferred option."
Ms MacTiernan said that WA's hotel quarantine arrangements have worked and have kept everyone safe.
"For seasonal worker arrivals, the State government has covered the costs of standing up new quarantine hotels, security, medical care, transport and logistics," she said.
"Growers then cover the direct hotel and meal costs, at $2500 per person - the same cost applied to Australians returning home.
"This is a significant cost burden for the State, but one we are willing to foot to assist growers, the same would apply for any direct New Zealand arrivals."
Mr Gosgrove said he could see that there was going to be a worker shortage at seeding.
"I'm sure if we look hard enough, we will find workers in WA, but they're going to get really expensive," Mr Cosgrove said.
"During harvest, I had a guy driving a truck for a few weeks before he started a new job driving a truck in and out of the Geraldton Port - he went from $32 with us to $48 at the port, that's just not a number that we can contemplate paying.
"There are two workers from New Zealand who we have had over once before, so if we could get them across that would take a lot of stress off our end."
Mr Fels said the workers from New Zealand would be arriving for a particular job and they would have a farm to go to.
"There's already a few States in Australia where people from New Zealand can fly in quarantine free, so why can't WA do that as well?," he said.
"It is possible under the Federal laws for that to happen, so really all that is needed is for the State government to agree to it."