Australian, Kiwi passengers to use electronic passport control

Published 21 August 2009

New electronic passport control for Australians and New Zealanders will allow bypassing queues for baggage screening from the end of this year

Travelers between New Zealand and Australia will be able to use electronic passport control and bypass queues for baggage screening from the end of this year. Prime Minister John Key and his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd have just outlined details of a new streamlined Trans-Tasman travel arrangement at a joint press conference in Canberra today.

The Press’s Colin Espiner writes that electronic passport kiosks could called Smart Gates will be installed at Auckland Airport arrival hall in December and in Wellington and Christchurch airports from mid-next year. The kiosk will also be available to departing passengers in Auckland from late next year and in Wellington and Christchurch by mid-2011.

Australia already has the kiosks and New Zealand passport holders are able to use them now.

Smart Gate allows travelers aged over 18 with a new electronic passport containing a biometric chip to be able to scan their own passports and use facial biometrics technology to identify themselves and proceed to departure gates without going through immigration control.

Only New Zealand and Australian passport holders are eligible and they must have one of the new biometric passports, issued since 2005.

At the same time most Kiwi and Australian passengers arriving in New Zealand will no longer automatically have their baggage screened, under changes announced by MAF.

All travelers arriving in New Zealand have had their luggage screened since 2001 when the government ordered 100 percent x-raying in response to a foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain.

An increase in passenger numbers, however, has made this increasingly difficult.

Australia does not screen all luggage and already has a “direct exit” lane for low-risk passengers.

Instant fines for bringing risk goods into New Zealand will double, however, from $200 to $400.

Officials are also exploring the use of x-ray image transfer allowing bags to be screened in one country at departure and images viewed by arrivals officials while an aircraft is still in the air.

The change falls some way short of full passenger pre-clearance as occurs in EU countries and between Ireland and the United States but Queensland University is to undertake an “Airports of the Future” research project looking at full integration of Trans-Tasman travel.

Key said the changes announced today were just the first step but would mean more people would get a faster exit from border control. “Significant progress has been made since I met with Prime Minster Rudd in March and I’m pleased both countries will continue to work on further streamlining the travel experience for our people.”

Key said he believed the changes could be achieved without sacrificing New Zealand’s border security.

Border officials would in future concentrate on “risk profiling” to more effectively manage the risk posed by individual travelers.

MAF research indicates only four percent of all screened bags contained risk goods.