2 Mar 2009

NZ, Australia push for stronger economic ties

9:20 pm on 2 March 2009

The leaders of New Zealand and Australia say more needs to be done to bring the economies closer together in the face of a global recession.

Prime Minister John Key and Australian leader Kevin Rudd have agreed to investigate treating flights between the countries as domestic travel in an effort to boost tourism.

Under the move, travellers would have their passports and biosecurity processed before the flight and not face any controls upon arrival.

Radio New Zealand's political editor says Mr Key has been pushing the initiative, but it was one Mr Rudd was prepared to back when the leaders met in Sydney for talks on Monday.

The prime ministers have agreed their departments will look at the issue, instead of their respective customs departments and want a decision on whether it can be done within one year.

Mr Rudd says the issue has languished since 1992 and it would make sense to make travel between Australia and New Zealand as easy as possible.

Both leaders acknowledge issues such as immigration, physical security and biosecurity have to be considered before a final decision is made to go ahead with the proposal.

But Mr Key says it could be possible to make a decision in August when he next visits Australia.

It could still be some time after that though before trans-Tasman flights become domestic travel.

Biosecurity concerns

Conservation organisation Forest and Bird says biosecurity controls cannot be reduced in any move to simplify trans-Tasman air travel.

Advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says even inside Australia there are stringent biosecurity controls between states at both ends.

Mr Hackwell says local biosecurity controls are important because Australian agencies do not understand the specific risks to New Zealand from dangerous pests.

He says "front-loaded" border protection will never be able to replace expert quarantine officers patrolling the arrival gates.