Griffin on Tech: Seamless travel across the ditch a big tech test
It seems our once tepid relationship with our Aussie neighbours is warming up in a big way.
The opening up of an immediate pathway to Australian citizenship for Kiwis living in Australia, which went into effect on July 1, was a major breakthrough and addressed a key disparity in how we treat each other’s citizens.
The FIFA Women's World Cup has been a major success as a co-hosted effort between the two countries, spurring some to suggest that we joint bid on future major sporting and cultural events.
Australia, the UK, and USA have also opened the door to New Zealand joining Pillar 2 of the AUKUS security agreement, which would give us access to advanced technologies in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and cybersecurity, without us having to support the problematic and hugely expensive nuclear submarine deal.
So things are looking up after years of bickering over Australia sending home 501 deportees and rejecting our offer of assistance to take refugees in.
A really big and symbolic move would now be to ditch passport access for Kiwis and Aussies between the two countries so an Auckland to Sydney flight, from the traveller’s point of view anyway, is treated like an Auckland to Christchurch trip. We could also allow international travellers to apply for a joint Aus-NZ visa when visiting this part of the world, making it easier for them to travel between the two countries while they are here.
A joint taskforce set up with the backing of Prime Ministers Chris Hipkins and Anthony Albanese has been assembled to tackle just that scenario. It sounds simple, but will be technically complex to pull off.
There are some easy wins that could be achieved now, such as removing the need to fill out an arrival card in each country, effectively replacing it with a digital process that happens in the background based on data the traveller submits online. We are in the process of rolling out an online digital declaration system, the New Zealand Traveller Declaration, which can be filled out on a phone or computer and replaces the need to fill out an arrival card. A paper card will still be available for those who need to do it the old school way.
We ditched departure cards in 2018, removing unnecessary duplication of effort by travellers.
Ditching the passport is a much bigger deal. We still need to be able to verify the identity of everyone travelling between the two countries. The tamper-proof passport, coupled with facial recognition at Smartgate terminals we are required to walk through, is the gold standard for verification.
We could just go for facial recognition for New Zealand and Australian citizens via a fast lane, but facial recognition isn’t 100% accurate. You need backup verification. If not a physical passport, then what?
Passport in an app
We could use RealMe verification to store a verified travel certificate linked to our passport record, with a verifiable QR code, secured by a biometric like a fingerprint scan, if the facial recognition system throws up a red flag. But even that is a step beyond what RealMe currently offers, and would raise the spectre of a national digital ID, which we don’t seem to be philosophically ready for as a nation. So the task force may find ditching the passport a Trans-Tasman bridge too far.
Still, most travellers find that passport control isn’t the big hold-up at airports anyway. It's Border Control, where biosecurity agents grill you about what is in your luggage because they want to avoid biosecurity hazards.
A fast lane for Aussies and Kiwis at our airports, coupled with express passport checks, could shave 10 - 30 minutes off the time spent being processed through an airport at peak periods. But how do you do that without increasing the biosecurity risk? The answer would be to pre-clear bags before they depart the airport, which would require more effort on the part of customs officers upfront.
But both of our countries depend on zealous border protection to stop nasty organisms from slipping through and devastating our primary sectors. Easing the travel admin, while maintaining the level of biosecurity will be the key challenge.
Still, it is one worth pursuing, with a view to pursuing the ease of travel European Union nations currently enjoy. An innovative solution would only cement our recent improvements in the trans-Tasman relationship.
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