International travellers will be subjected to extensive grilling before entering Australia when the borders reopen in mid-2022, as the government plans to ditch passenger declaration cards.
Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo said the department faced a massive task of creating a digitised version of the customs declaration form that would force travellers to provide significant health information before flights were booked, before checking in and before they were allowed to enter the country.
The Morrison government revealed in the federal budget it was tracking to open borders by mid-2022, but the Australian Border Force (ABF) will demand extensive health details such as an individual’s Covid-19 vaccination status.
The jab verification and digital declaration process will allow tourists to enter Australia without the need for 14-day hotel quarantine.
“The technical difficulty of doing this should not be in anyway underappreciated,” Mr Pezzullo told Budget Estimates on Monday, detailing the massive task to find a tenderer to produce a functional prototype in time for travel to resume.
“It’s just simply a function of the way the post-war travel system has evolved, (but) health has typically been a separate part of the exchange of information.
“So when you would fly into an Australian international airport, you would get your international passenger card an hour or two out from landing.
“There would be various passenger declarations that you would make – are you carrying excess currency? Are you carrying liquor? Are you carrying cigarettes? Have you been in certain parts of the world? Have you been camping? Do you have soil on equipment?
“We’re going to have to bake in and build in health information into that declaration and there’s no point being told that when you’re an hour or two out from landing.
“The digital passenger declaration will have to be mounted onto our system so we receive the information before you check in and as you check in so that you are agreeing to travel.
“That is not an easy technical solution and we are working through that as quickly as we can.”
Mr Pezzullo said the department intended to have a prototype running by the end of the year.
“But looking at the technical requirements of digitising health information, which we’ve never collected in the form I’ve just described, I would have thought at the earliest at scale would be at the first half of next year to trial it, make sure that it’s working.”
The top security figure said the ABF processed about 50 million travellers a year entering the country before the pandemic began but just 2 per cent of that figure now.