The federal government has confirmed it is seeking to secure a border exemption for New Zealand shearers and shed hands, following concerns there will be a significant shortfall of workers during spring and summer.
WoolProducers Australia and contractors fear there may be a shortfall of between 480-500 shearers this spring and summer. WPA chief executive Jo Hall said it had been hoped a shearer/shed hand bubble could be established.
A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the Australian Border Force Commissioner had the discretion to grant an exemption to individuals working in critical sectors such as shearing.
"Such exemptions are currently being granted to temporary visa holders with critical skills required to maintain the supply of essential goods and services, working in areas such as agriculture technology and food production,' he said.
"We are working to secure a border exemption for New Zealand shearers and shed hands."
International passenger flights into Australia, including charter services, are subject to arrival caps, agreed to by National Cabinet until October 2020.
Sydney has a limit of 350 passenger arrivals a day, while weekly limits of 525 visitors have been imposed on Perth, and for Brisbane and Adelaide it's 500. No international flights are allowed into Hobart or Melbourne.
Ms Hall said she'd been told the visa application process for New Zealand shearers and shedhands were going to be streamlined.
"That is definitely welcome. They have been added to the critical skills list, so they are being granted an exemption to enter Australia," Ms Hall said.
There was also the provision for "bulk visas" to allow for groups of shearers to travel to Australia.
Mildura based sheep scanner, Peta Hibberd, of Gadsden Livestock Services, said under NSW's new permit system she was restricted from travelling to large parts of the state.
Under the system, she said Service NSW had not classified her as a critical worker.
"The person said 'I have just looked up Google and there are other sheep scanners in NSW' - so I have to prove every other sheep scanner in NSW can't do the job I want to do," she said.
But she said other service providers might be busy, or in a different area to the one she was working in.
"It's most likely a permit will be knocked back on the basis of a Google search," she said.
It's most likely I will be knocked back, for a permit, on the basis of a Google search.
Shirley Sprenger, Burrowye, and Mark Cheshire have a property in Victoria, just over the Murray River.
They're still facing problems with cross border restrictions, despite an easing of the NSW permit system and extension of the travel "bubble" to 100 kilometres.
They were among farmers told by Service NSW they would have to take their sale sheep on a plane to Sydney, before sending them to the Corowa saleyards.
Ms Sprenger said there was still confusion whether a shearer could come from Albury, NSW, to work at the property next month.
It was expected he would be working at Burrowye for about four or five days, but there was then uncertainty as to whether or not he'd have to self-isolate for 14 days before moving on to his next job.
The rules stated travellers to Victoria had to quarantine for 14 days, except when delivering essential services.
"Our shearer lives on the other side of the border - the problem for him comes when he needs to go home," she said.
"When he's shearing he has to go to the next job, wherever that may be. We are dealing with what I will loosely phrase as city ignorance - it's very frustrating," she said.
Wagga Wagga NSW shearing contractor Charlie Hutton said he could easily employ several more workers.
"I have quite a bit of work and I don't have enough men to get it done exactly when farmers want it done," Mr Hutton said. "It will push the season out."
He said once the rain had cleared, he and his team were facing "a challenging couple of weeks".
"We've got 9-10,000 sheep that are going to be shorn," he said.
But National Secretary of the Shearers and Rural Workers Union Bernie Constable said New Zealand workers were not needed to complete the season.
He said Australian Bureau of Statistics showed Australian sheep flock numbers stood at 68 million, but 10 million would be self-shedding breeds and one-third would have already been shorn. The statistics showed there were about 2800 shearers in Australia.
"During the spring and early summer there are hundreds and hundreds of cockies, or their sons, that go shearing, so we will work on a very conservative and easy figure of 3000 shearers," Mr Constable said.
"If these shearers average 700 sheep a week for the 20 weeks between August and Christmas, that's 42 million sheep. Blind Freddie can do the maths and see there is no shortage of shearers in Australia."