John Key and Malcolm Turnbull New Zealand and Australian Prime Ministers have reached an agreement to access personal identity documents from either country and this is the first sensible step in having passport-less travel between both countries.
Their October cross-Tasman discussions have reached a new level of cooperation. First was New Zealanders living in Australia on visas and who have been caught up in the legal system.
Second were the 2,600 young New Zealanders who have been living in Australia as children of Kiwis who will now be entitled to the types of tertiary financial support offered to Australian young people.
But at that time there was nothing on the current passport on demand viz customs between Australia and New Zealand. As I wrote last October, almost one year ago, travel writer Clive Dorman is sounding like someone shouting across a valley and getting his own echo back.
In October I wrote a fifth article on this subject. New Zealand Prime Minister John Keys thought he had a deal with Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and then Tony Abbott. But the issue has been come at from a different angle.
The information-sharing initiative was mainly designed to combat identity crime, but would also help promote cross-border travel, migration and commerce.
New Zealand's government agencies and businesses would now be able to use Australia's Document Verification Service (DVS) to verify a customer's identity documents with official records. The DVS held details about Australians' passports, Medicare cards, visas and drivers licences.
In return, Australia would be able to access the New Zealand Confirmation Service to verify passport details, birth certificates and citizenship certificates.
There are 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia and 65,000 Australians based in New Zealand. Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne and Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the agreement would help protect them from identity theft.
This is believed to be the issue that will open the domestic travel door for flights between Australian and New Zealand airports.
The drama to date
The Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) had been urging Canberra to slash the punitive $55 international travel tax to $25 for trans-Tasman routes and streamline passenger processing to cut the door-to-door travel time between Australia and New Zealand to no more than five hours.
The TTF push was titled "Bringing our Neighbour Closer" as New Zealand is Australia's biggest source of international visitors as well as the busiest foreign destination for Australians heading overseas.
The bad news is that this sector has remained stagnant for some time while the Australia – US sector is racing forwards. Something has to be done to get this vital Australia – New Zealand section into running shoes and forge ahead to bigger and greater.
The original idea was reducing the international tax from $55 down to $25 was a first step, this is the initial methodology to create a crack in the silver glass as Government thinks in terms of huge $ numbers. Cut that figure in half, then perhaps, it's not that big a figure to cut out entirely next time.
There is an expectation that the numbers of travellers across the Tasman each way will triple with such an ease of travel with domestic flight experience, and extending the destination routes such as Canberra, Newcastle, Avalon and the like.
In my previous articles I have noted how strong the mission travel movement is between Australia and New Zealand. How many mission $s are simply used up needlessly in this greedy grab bag of money as the system currently exists.
But with all their current 'speed up' processes between Australia and New Zealand our last trip across the Tasman showed little progress. Now according to the The Daily News physical passports may be a thing of the past – a very interesting analysis.
First, the smart passport system worked for most but not all. Second, lining up was still the norm for most people. The speed test must have been done when a flight had 10 people on it, not the 200 plus people on our flight. Third, you still had to encounter the customs wrap where it seemed like simply good luck rather than any science to be directed to the straight to the street gate or show all-your-gear line.
It is a vital issue for Christian ministry as there is so much ministry travel across the Tasman (either way)! Now there is some positive light at the end of the tunnel (as it were).
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html