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Eight minutes to clear customs

Published: 2:38PM Thursday August 20, 2009 Source: ONE News

It should take an Australian tourist and New Zealanders coming from Australia eight minutes to get into New Zealand under a deal Prime Minister John Key has done to speed up trans-Tasman travel.

But it will be a year or two before New Zealanders departing for Australia will be able to take advantage of the faster passenger clearance system.
Key is on a state visit to Australia where his counterpart Kevin Rudd says the trans-Tasman relationship is very important.

"The reason that this relationship is so important to Australia is because it is our closest relationship," says Rudd.

And practical steps are being taken to bring us closer still with a new deal to reduce the time and hassle of trans-Tasman travel.

The steps will involve New Zealand adopting the so-called SmartGate system already in place in Australia. Passengers scan their electronic passport and face recognition technology checks their identity instead of a customs officer. 

"Australia is a very important market for New Zealand. Over a million tourists a year come to New Zealand so whatever we can do to make that process less painful, make it more like a domestic experience and to streamline it I think is very important," says Key.

But to cut the queuing time you will need to be one of the 1.5 million Kiwis with a new electronic passport and the system will not be fully operational from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for another two years. 

"Effectively we see the airlines going to electronic check-ins. So there will be electronic check-in, electronic use of passport and then straight through potentially out the other side," says Key.

Biosecurity checks will also change. New Zealand will stop x-raying all incoming Australian passengers, and only screening those who appear to be high risk.

"An Australian coming through to New Zealand may be able to transit through the entire process within eight minutes," says Key.

Meanwhile, the instant fine for bringing risk goods into the country will increase from $200 to $400.

The feasibility of x-ray image transfer is being looked into. This would mean inspectors would be able to assess and clear incoming passenger baggage during flight time.

ONE News Political Editor Guyon Espiner says there will be greater co-operation but competition is only as far away as Saturday's rugby test.

An agreement has been struck that the Prime Minister of the losing team must wear the winner's colours come Monday.