By Bridget Gourlay
Last year, on my way through Europe, I got up early in the morning in Budapest and hopped on a train. In the following nine hours, I travelled out of Hungary, through Austria and exited in Munich.
Nobody asked to see my passport. Occasionally I had to present my papers and ticket to the inspector, but they only really cared if I was accidentally sitting in first class (Hungarian isn’t my forte — and Eastern European ‘first class’ carriages don’t look it). My bags weren’t checked and I didn’t have to fill out any forms about what was in them.
During the next month I visited Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris, meeting the same disinterested glance at my passport, thorough inspection of where I was sitting and complete unconcern about my bags or their contents.
All this is because Hungary, Germany, the Czech Republic, Holland and France are in the European Union and have almost no border control. They’ve made the decision that it makes sense economically to treat the place as one big country. If you’re flying into Rome from Asia you will go through usual security and customs procedures, but from there you can drive or take the train all the way to Romania without any stops.
So the argument goes — why can’t New Zealand and Australia do the same? We are maybe a three hour flight away, but so is Rome from Bucharest.
The Australian based chief executive of Jetstar, Bruce Buchanan, has called for the New Zealand and Australian governments to drop immigration checks and passenger charges on one side of the Tasman. Jetstar commissioned an Access Economics report on the subject, which found dropping border controls could cut return airfares by $94 and increase passenger numbers by up to 13 percent.
However, Federated Farmers has slammed Jetstar’s call as “short sighted commercial self-interest”. President Don Nicholson says “It would take 670,000 flights at the $94 saving, just to match the $63 million we’ve spent on eradicating the painted apple moth, which is a minor pest there but deemed a major risk here”.
Nicholson says both countries have “nasties” the other country wishes to avoid. “I don’t think the Australian Government would like didymo entering Australia. Nor would they want the varroa mite that has heavily damaged our bee industry. Combined these are causing millions of dollars in damage but in Australia, millions would easily become billions.”
Closer economic ties with Australia, similar to the ones made in Europe during the 60s and 70s have long been floated – the most extreme of which involve creating a common currency or New Zealand becoming the 9th state of Australia. Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Australia and New Zealand have one of the most open economic and trade relationships of any two countries in the world.
This is based on a comprehensive set of trade and economic arrangements, collectively known as Closer Economic Relations (CER), which started under Muldoon’s leadership in 1983.
Making these relations even closer would be fraught with complications, as Federated Farmers points out. But the European model has shown these could be overcome with political will. Customs Minister Maurice Williamson has ruled out developing these ties in the near future, calling them a nice concept, but difficult and costly to implement.
“The vast bulk of these benefits can be achieved through initiatives like SmartGate, which make trans-Tasman travel a near domestic like experience, without exposing New Zealand to those biosecurity and immigration risks. Initiatives to further streamline travel between the two countries can be expected on an on-going basis.”