The Government plans to increase the application fee when it extends the passport validity period from five to 10 years, even though there seems no grounds for doing so.
Last August, seemingly as a matter of pride, the Internal Affairs Minister, Peter Dunne, proclaimed that this country's passport system was "funded purely on a cost-recovery basis".
Such a service should, indeed, be provided on that basis, with the fee collected being no more than the sum required to issue the passport. Yet despite Mr Dunne's worthy sentiment, the Government plans to lift that fee when it extends the passport validity period from five to 10 years, even though there seems no grounds for doing so.
The Prime Minister has been coy on the likely cost. It will be higher than the present $135 but less than $270, the cost of two five-year passports, he says. His only attempted justification for the increase is that revenue from processing the documents will fall.
Mr Dunne, when announcing an independent review of passport security and a separate Internal Affairs review of passport costs, made the same point.
"Moving to a 10-year passport could lead to higher upfront passport fees as revenue could decline from processing passports on a less frequent basis," he said.
Obviously, the longer validity dictates that revenue will fall. But having half the number of passports to deal with surely means that half the number of staff and half the time will be required to do the processing. In that regard, the cost to provide each passport will decline. This suggests the fee should drop. Perhaps the only conceivable added cost will be the under-use of technology that caters for the renewal of passports every five years.
The Taxpayers Union suggests that even now New Zealanders are being overcharged, with the $135 fee being more expensive than nearly every other comparable country.
It also believes, contrary to Mr Dunne's assertion, that the Government has been receiving more in passport fees than is necessary to cover its costs. The account, it says, has been in surplus since 2001 and has an excess of $20.8 million. The Government must answer such claims, and also provide a rational justification for increasing the fee.
That aside, there is every reason to welcome the return of 10-year passports. Travellers have suffered from the shorter period for a set of circumstances that did not eventuate. In 2005, when this country moved to five-year passports in response to security concerns triggered by the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, it was expected other comparable nations would follow suit. That did not happen. In large part, this was a consequence of developments in biometric technology which allayed concerns over the counterfeiting and falsifying of passports.
There are no cogent grounds for not going back to 10-year passports. Even so, officials have been unenthusiastic and Parliament's government administration select committee, responding to a 12,000-signature petition, was unable to make up its mind. This led to the reviews established by Mr Dunne and the pending Cabinet green light.
The Government deserves credit for putting the convenience of travellers uppermost - a pity it is planning to sting them in the pocket for a cost it could reduce.
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