Karratha business leaders have backed a $185 million State Government plan to lure international students and visitors to Western Australia. With the State racing towards 90 per cent of the population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Premier Mark McGowan announced on December 2 an 18-month, $185m Reconnect WA plan that included putting $65m towards re-establishing pre-COVID flight routes. Another $65m will be spent on a marketing campaign to promote WA to foreign students as one of the world’s safest locations, as well as to attract key workers such as teachers and backpackers. Business leaders have backed the announcement, but had concerns because of the Pilbara’s lagging vaccination rate. Stardeck Group owner Bart Parsons said he welcomed the announcement but had reservations because of low vaccination rates. “Hopefully we don’t have any situations where they say that anyone who is not vaccinated can’t dine so you need conditions up here,” he said. “Karratha is in that very infant stage of trying to become a tourism destination, so any sort of travel incentives is welcomed.” As of November 29, 54.4 per cent of West Pilbara residents had received their first dose of a COVID-19 jab, with 42.2 fully vaccinated, while in the East Pilbara, 56.6 per cent had had one jab, and 43.2 per cent had had both. Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Tanya Dodd said local businesses had come to her about skill shortages in the region. “We welcome the announcement with open arms because a lot of people need their staff and we need more tourists to come through our local community and support our businesses,” she said. “Next year we’re looking to do a speed-networking event where we’ll get primary caregivers to come along and meet businesses and try to do a bit of interview process to see if they’d like a job.” It comes after the December 1 deadline for mandatory vaccines in the resources industry came into effect, causing some backlash in the community. More than 30 resource industry workers lined Pilbara MLA Kevin Michel’s office in Karratha and Port Hedland on December 1 with high-vis shirts and signs protesting against vaccine mandates. Miner and single mother Leigh Gibbs, who has worked in the industry for 14 years, said if she was forced to get vaccinated, it would not be with her consent. “To me, if I take the vaccine, that will be saying to my children that one day government or big corporations will be allowed to tell them what goes into their body against their will,” Ms Gibbs said. Mr Michel said he respected people’s right to protest peacefully. “These rules are in place to make sure anyone working with vulnerable people or delivering a critical service is vaccinated,” he said. “We can’t risk parts of our community and economy being compromised.” Mr Michel said everyone had the right to decide whether to get vaccinated, but they did not have the right to decide to put others at risk. “I just encourage everyone to listen to the science — not the conspiracy theorists — and get vaccinated,” he said. Meanwhile, the Indigenous population in the Pilbara has had a rise in vaccination rates, with all four Pilbara local government areas surpassing 50 per cent for their first dose. The Shire of Ashburton has the highest vaccine rate, with 66.3 per cent having one dose and 43.7 full vaccinated. Meanwhile the Town of Port Hedland is lagging behind the rest with 51.5 having had a first jab and just 27.6 per cent having had both.