Santa receives preferential treatment

NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012
Santa

SEEING RED: What with Customs, Immigration, the CAA - there's just about no end to the regulatory bodies Santa must deal with.

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Spare a thought for Santa Claus and Rudolph as they battle red tape and government departments in New Zealand this Christmas.

As he soars over the homes of children waiting in expectation for his gifts, Santa Claus will also be flying high over the rules governing the land.

He is getting the VIP treatment - with government departments and politicians snipping red tape and turning a blindish eye - just for one night.

It is fair to say Santa has a big job, and if the rules did not bend a little, it would make his life pretty tough.

He would need to employ a huge team to untangle all the red tape, and compliance costs would hit his activities hard.

The first piece of admin the bearded gift-bearer would have to deal with was actually getting over the border, a Fairfax Media investigation found.

To ease his way, Santa had been granted a multiple entry "specific purpose" visa, acting head of Immigration New Zealand Steve Stuart confirmed.

"We have considered Santa's application carefully. We were happy that he met our ‘good character' requirements but did have some concerns about his health, given his propensity to overindulge in mince pies and other gifts left under the Christmas tree," he said.

"Santa is required to depart before sunrise on December 25, but can rest assured he'll be welcome back in New Zealand on December 24, 2013 (provided everybody behaves themselves during the year of course)."

So Santa would get the green light to come into the country, but what would become of the mysterious boxes clad in festive wrapping paper?

No worries there, Santa's elves had already pre-cleared all of Santa's gifts with the Customs Service, a spokesman said.

All Santa would need to be mindful of was taking his hat off when he went through SmartGate at the airport, he said. Biosecurity overlords at the Ministry of Primary Industries had already done most of the hard work in preparation for Santa's arrival.

He would get special treatment - similar to the treatment dignitaries received when they came to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup.

Ministry officials would work hard to make sure there were no holdups for Santa and his reindeer when they turned up tonight, its spokesman said.

It had arrangements in place to treat Santa as a very important person, used for visiting dignities during last year's World Cup, involving pre-inspection of baggage before it arrived, he said. Biosecurity staff would travel to the North Pole to inspect the sleigh and presents. The sleigh would be sprayed (at the North Pole) to ensure it didn't pick up any nasty bugs during its travels on Christmas Eve.

A potentially eyebrow-raising situation would be Rudolph the reindeer's nose. It would need investigating, the spokesman said.

"There would be some concern about the unusual red swelling on the nose of one of the reindeer, but we understand that this has already been investigated by a registered vet and found to be a hereditary condition," he said.

"As long as Santa was carrying the correct documentation when he arrived, there shouldn't be problems allowing any of the nine reindeer into New Zealand."

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Though considered a low-risk passenger, Santa would still get checked by the detector dogs.

He would also arrive to some advice from SPCA chief inspector Ritchie Dawson, who wanted to protect the reindeer from unnecessary pain or discomfort.

Santa Claus should watch out for signs of exhaustion, including laboured breath and heavy panting, Mr Dawson said.

"These reindeer have a long way to travel in a short amount of time, and it's important that they receive the rest they need," he said.

"If possible, rotate the leadership of the reindeer when they're pulling the sleigh; this gives the leader a break (much like in cycling)."

Santa would also need to give his reindeer plenty of encouragement, Mr Dawson said.

Santa posed special problems for the Civil Aviation Authority, which was not used to dealing with airborne sleighs, spokesman Mike Richards said.

CAA would have to be satisfied the sleigh had an air-worthiness certificate and Santa held a current pilot's licence before he would be allowed to operate in New Zealand airspace.

"A concern we would have would be if Santa had completed the pilot licence ‘fit and proper' person test which includes a lengthy questionnaire, background check and interviews to assess his suitability to hold a pilot's licence," Mr Richards said.

"Santa appears to have a ‘squeaky clean' record, so this should not be a problem for him", though CAA would also have to be satisfied with the North Pole's standards of air safety and aircraft maintenance.

This could involve CAA inspectors staff going to check them out.

"We do not currently have any airborne sleighs on the register of some 4900 aircraft in New Zealand, so we would have to closely examine the build quality and compliance of the sleigh," Mr Richards said.

"Fortunately there are no known records of any flying sleighs being involved in any aviation accidents so we would be reasonably comfortable with Santa's aircraft."

As he was carrying out a private operation, Santa would require only a property owner's permission before landing on their roof. He would be expected to file a flight plan as well.

If it was a one-off outing, there would be no problem, but if roof-top landings were to become a regular activity, Santa would probably need resource consents from every regional council, Mr Richards said.

The safety aspects of those landings would also need to be looked at.

In the interests of goodwill at Christmas, the director of Civil Aviation would most likely support temporary exemptions for Santa to enter New Zealand airspace on Christmas Eve, he said.

Worryingly for Santa, police proved the Christmas government grinch, twice refusing to answer questions about plans to monitor his operation.

A police spokeswoman told Fairfax Media she had "lost her sense of humour" and referred reporters to the legislation.

This attitude seemed to point to the boys in blue taking a hard-line with the jolly gent in red, even though Santa's work had not been considered criminal in the past. Santa could soon be looking at breaking and entering charges when he climbed through chimneys, and climbing back out carrying beer and food may also take some explaining.

Or he could be harassed by traffic police checking his load was secure, his warrant of fitness up to date, he hadn't exceeded limits on driving hours, and his blood alcohol levels were within legal limits after all that beer left out for him.

There was some good news though, as Santa's data-gathering procedures were recently cleared by the privacy commissioner.

After examining the following material: "Santa Claus is coming to town, he knows if you've been sleeping, he knows if you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good", Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff decided Santa was not in breach of the Privacy Act.

"Transparency is a key part of privacy," she said.

"Mr Claus displays commendable openness in his data collection policies, even setting them out in song.

"As always, children who wish to obtain a copy of the information he holds about them . . . can do so by writing to the North Pole, allowing 20 working days for a reply.

"Reports of the unauthorised disclosure of millions of naughty/nice records by a disgruntled elf are still being investigated."

This story was based on an original idea by the late Lindsay Mutch, who investigated Santa's battles with administrative red tape when working at the Timaru Herald in the late 1990s.

- Fairfax Media

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