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Should flights across the Tasman be 'domestic'?

JANE E FRASER
Last updated 17:00 14/03/2014
Air NZ and Qantas
Phil Carrick

ACROSS THE TASMAN: We're still waiting for Australian and New Zealand authorities to simplify travel between the two countries.

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OPINION: Jane E Fraser, an Australian travel writer, thinks that it's about time trans-Tasman travel got easier.

I really thought it would have happened by now, with the numbers of people flying back and forth across the ditch and the relatively low security risks.

I can fly to New Zealand a lot faster than I can fly to Perth - often cheaper, too - but there's still the hassle of taking an international flight and going through all the security procedures.

The Australian and New Zealand authorities have been talking for years about simplifying trans-Tasman travel and bringing the two countries into a common security zone, but we're still waiting.

European travellers can cross multiple borders without any hassle but we can't get into New Zealand any more easily than we can visit a country on the other side of the world.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show more than 1.1 million Aussies travelled to New Zealand last financial year. A similar number of Kiwis came to Australia, making up nearly 20 per cent of "overseas" arrivals.

While much of the traffic between the two countries is due to business travellers or those visiting friends and relatives, research by Roy Morgan shows New Zealand is the most popular country for five generations of Australian leisure travellers, topping the list for trips by Pre-Boomers, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.

The Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF), which has long been lobbying for easier trans-Tasman travel, says border formalities need to be streamlined to "replicate the domestic experience".

This includes automated checks as we leave and direct exit lanes for biosecurity when we return, to drastically reduce the time we spend going through border formalities.

Another move that would be welcomed by travellers is a proposed reduction in the Passenger Movement Charge (the bureaucratic term for our ridiculous departure tax), which is normally A$55 (NZ$58) per person but the TTF argues should come down to A$25 (NZ$24.5) for trans-Tasman trips.

The director of aviation policy for the TTF, Justin Wastnage, says a "common border" for Australia and New Zealand should have been achieved by 2015 but the ball was dropped under Julia Gillard's prime ministership.

The issue is finally moving again, with progress on pieces of the puzzle, but no one can say when the overall goal of a common border will be achieved.

"There are various things being done, but not enough in our view," he says.

Wastnage says one of the key issues for travellers is having automated checks for outbound passengers, such as we have for inbound passengers who use SmartGate lanes.

In July, Brisbane Airport will trial integrating SmartGate technology with the passenger check-in process, to allow outbound passengers with a boarding pass to New Zealand a faster journey through the airport.

For inbound passengers, "direct exit" for passengers arriving from New Zealand has been trialled over several years.

"What we're saying is 'you've done the trial and proved that there have been no more biosecurity issues, so why don't you formalise it'," says Wastnage.

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Wastnage says the short-term goal is to bring the door-to-door journey from Australia to New Zealand down to under five hours, which has been shown to be the psychological barrier for short break holidays.

"To get it under five hours, you've got to shave some time off both ends of the journey," he says.

Another proposal that could be a "game changer" is to introduce a lightweight border agency model for regional airports, with Customs officers also doing quarantine checks.

This would allow larger regional airports to process flights to and from New Zealand, giving travellers more route options. Under current regulations, the costs for a regional airport to become an international airport are prohibitive, says Wastnage.

The TTF believes we should also offer Asian visitors a common visitor visa for Australia and New Zealand, to allow cross-Tasman travel itineraries without the hassle and expense of getting two visas.

There has been a big step forward on this front, with agreement on offering a common visa for cricket fans coming to Australia and New Zealand for next year's Cricket World Cup.

Progress it is, but gee it's slow.

Next year marks 100 years since the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli and it would be symbolic for the two countries to demonstrate a new era of cooperation.

Would you like to see Australia become the equivalent of a 'domestic' destination? Post your comments below.

- FFX Aus

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