Time for an Anzac travel area

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 30 October 2015

Sunday’s Rugby World Cup final will add another episode to the long saga of trans-Tasman sporting rivalry. And after the Cricket World Cup (whose winner has just escaped me), it will be the second time this year that Australia and New Zealand meet in the final of a major sports tournament.

The entrenched sporting rivalry between Aussies and Kiwis stands in marked contrast to their countries’ social, political and economic integration. According to a McKinsey study published earlier this year, there are no two countries in the world with a higher ‘connectedness score’.

There is one area, however, in which Australia and New Zealand are more distant than they need to be: air travel.

Though their citizens would not feel foreign to each other, we still board flights across the Tasman at the international terminals of our airports. As if flying between Auckland and Sydney were the same as flying to Jakarta, Buenos Aires or Paris.

After decades of Closer Economic Relations and Closer Defence Relations between Australia and New Zealand, has the time not come to add a Common Travel Area to our relationship?

The idea is not as bizarre as it may first appear. First, New Zealand has a standing invitation to join the Commonwealth of Australia, enshrined in their Constitution’s preamble. If New Zealand ever accepted it, all travel between us would be domestic overnight.

Second, until the 1970s passports were not even needed to cross the Tasman.

And third, there are other countries with more troubled histories which allow the seamless crossing of their borders.

Maybe in times of the European refugee crisis, the EU’s Schengen Agreement is not the best example anymore. It does however allow free and passport-less movement of people within the area and even between former arch enemies, say France and Germany.

Another example is the common travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The two countries’ relationship has not always been easy, to put it mildly. Yet since the 1920s, no passports are required to travel between them. Recently, their governments even signed a memorandum which will allow the issue of joint visas.

If Australia and New Zealand did something similar, it would cut travel times significantly: Later check-ins, no more transfers between international and domestic terminals for connections, less hassle.

And of course, it would also make it easier for Australians to visit the Rugby World Cup champions.

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