A return to 10-year passports appears to be on the horizon after the Prime Minister said the Government was considering the issue and advice was that modern biometrics technology was strong enough to address passport fraud security issues.
Mr Key said yesterday he would not rule it out after a select committee report recommended 10-year passports almost a decade after New Zealand moved to 5 year passports. That was in response to security concerns after the New York Twin Tower attacks on September 11 2001.
He expected the cost of a 10-year passport would be more than a 5-year passport, but for many people it was an issue of convenience rather than cost.
Mr Key said New Zealand had expected most other countries would also move to shorter term passports. However, that had not happened - countries including Australia and the United States were still at 10-year lengths. "I think the general view of officials has started to be that if you really wanted to move to 10 years, you wouldn't be out of step with other countries."
He was waiting for Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne to report to the Government on the matter, which he expected to happen soon.
"We would want to be sure passports were protected because New Zealand's is a very desirable passport for people to hold and you wouldn't want to get to the point where people thought in any way that those passports were compromised because it would make it more inconvenient for New Zealanders to travel."
He said the view appeared to be that biometrics technology had improved dramatically, which made the move possible.
Previously, officials' advice has been that passports needed to be shorter term to allay security concerns and keep up with techonology changes. It was also claimed that changing to a longer term could jeopardise New Zealand's visa-free agreements with other countries because it risked reducing confidence in the passport system.
The select committee's report was in response to a petition by Australian-based Kyle Lockwood.
Mr Dunne said he was getting advice on a range of options and had asked for more information on fees for different validity periods to ensure any changes to fees covered processing costs but were not unreasonable.
He said another option was extending passports to five years nine months, which would at least ensure the 5-year passport was valid for that time because many countries require passports to have at least six months left.
The Department of Internal Affairs recently dropped passport fees but was criticised for keeping them high for longer than had been needed to cover the costs of the original change to 5-year passports.