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10-year passports shouldn't come at a price

We are repeating our calls on the Government to increase the term and lower the price of New Zealand passports. Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show that despite the review having been scheduled for completion by the Department of Internal Affairs in December 2014, it only now before Cabinet which is expected to come to a decision next week on whether to return to 10-year passports.

In August last year Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne made it clear that the review of our current passport regime would be complete by December 2014 and presented to Cabinet for approval. We were worried that he had been sitting on his hands for four months or perhaps hoping that the issue would go away. Instead we understand that officials are advising that technical barriers exist which make ten-year passports difficult (presumably those difficulties do not apply to Australia, the UK, the USA, and those european countries listed in our report on 10-year passports).

Nevertheless, there is positive news in this morning's NZ Herald:

New Zealanders are set to enjoy 10-year passports once again - but at a price.

It is understood the Cabinet will decide in the next few weeks to extend the passport validity period, which was reduced to five years in 2005.

This will require an amendment to the Passports Act, and is likely to lead to higher fees for renewing a passport.

Prime Minister John Key said officials wanted the validity period to remain at five years. But he hinted that the Government would go against their advice and revert to 10-year passports.

"Good news is coming," he told NewstalkZB.

The change followed an independent review of passport security measures by former diplomat and Foreign Affairs chief Simon Murdoch, and a separate review of the costs related to processing passports.

The two reports were finished in December and sent to Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne to make a recommendation to the Cabinet.

The Government is unlikely to use urgency in Parliament to change the legislation. But it may seek a shortened public consultation process, which would require agreement from other political parties.

Mr Key has previously warned that a return to 10- year passports is likely to lead to higher fees because revenue from processing the documents will fall. At present, it costs $135 to renew a passport. Analysis by the Taxpayers' Union showed that fee was more expensive than nearly every other comparable country.

Increasing the cost of passports is unjustified. When we released the report on 10-year passports the Department of Internal Affairs was claiming on their website that the New Zealand passport fees compared ‘favourably’ with other countries. We proved them wrong.

Even if a 10-year passport cost the same as the existing 5-year one, New Zealanders would still be paying more than our trading partners for the ability to travel.

The price for a passport should reflect the cost. The Government has previously ran the passport regime at a profit and while returning to 10-year passports will help, the price should be benchmarked against our trading partners to ensure Kiwis are getting a fair deal.

We will be keeping a close eye on this issue.



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