Australian and New Zealand business and government leaders who meet in Auckland today have 3 million reasons to give greater weight to more seamless travel across the Tasman.
Again, a sub-group of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum will recommend ways of making life easier for travellers — around 1.5 million of them a year from each country. While there is some encouraging work underway, nobody will be holding their breath for a breakthrough any time soon to make the Tasman more like a domestic journey.
The push to streamline the Tasman to make travel more like it is between European Union countries has been going on for a decade or more, but is often pushed down the agenda by other pressing issues and political changes.
A "trusted traveller" trial two years ago involved about 200 frequent fliers who were deemed low-risk. They were given access to an electronic Customs lane, and if they had nothing to declare, could proceed directly to the green MPI lane rather than go to officers.
Arrival cards were still required and sniffer dogs were in the green lane.
On the face of it, that seemed a good idea, especially for the thousands of travellers who frequently cross the Tasman every year, but it was dropped when the there was a change of government here.
This Government has dropped the niggly departure cards, which took about 100,000 hours of travellers' time to fill in every year. And Australian citizens are not only spared the new border levy, they also don't need to pay to get a NZ Electronic Travel Authority (which comes in next month).
All good stuff, and Customs says it is "committed to implementing new and improved ways to deliver more streamlined and less intrusive" clearance processes for travellers, while ensuring a secure border. But the agency says it is achieving this through what has been in place for 12 years now — eGates.
There has, however, been real progress for cruise ship travellers. This is one of the fastest growing areas of travel and about 160,000 Australians a year visit on ships.
Customs has worked closely with the Australian Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Immigration NZ and now 98 per cent of of cruise ship passengers travelling across the Tasman can be pre-cleared and no longer have to present their passports upon arrival in New Zealand.
Instead, a Customs Officer will just screen their arrival cards.
Biosecurity New Zealand is also working with Australian biosecurity officials to develop software for new baggage scanning technology. The intention is for this technology (computer tomography) to automatically detect biosecurity risk items such as fruit and meat products.
Biosecurity NZ is trialling a CT unit at Auckland Airport, and similar trials are underway in Melbourne.
The new technology has the potential to improve biosecurity and could also speed up processing time for arriving passengers, as the technology can screen baggage more quickly than current x-ray units.
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The key here will be turning a trial — if successful — into a meaningful rollout. Biosecurity is paramount to both countries and if there is a way of improving it — and improving the travel experience — there should be no delay.
Margy Osmond, the chief executive of Tourism and Transport Australia, co-chairs the tourism working group at the forum with Auckland Airport's general manager of aeronautical commercial, Scott Tasker.
She says biosecurity is critical, as is the ability to share information between agencies, which has been a stumbling block in the past.
"They are not complex issues that need to be solved. Maybe two years would be realistic," she says.
"Nobody is talking about lessening the level of security at anybody's borders — what it would mean would be a closer relationship between the two countries in being able to share information."
Tasker agrees — the aim is combining security with efficiency.
"How can technology such as biometrics, smart gates, self boarding, pre-clearance of hold baggage be applied to the Tasman to make it more seamless?" He doesn't expect a common border "any time soon", but technology will help. There could be ways of digitising arrival cards, for example.
The working group, and Tourism Industry Aotearoa, are also pushing for dual destination visas as trialled four years ago during the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
"We would like to see it in place again for the T20 Cricket World Cup to be held in Australia next year and there seems no reason it couldn't become a more permanent arrangement," TIA says.
Plenty of groundwork has already been done; the key now is to get some momentum in rolling it out widely.