Australian Customs Service
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Output 2 - Facilitation of the legitimate movement of people across the border, while identifying illegal movements

Facilitation rates

A total of 20.7 million international air passengers were processed in 2004–05, compared with 18.6 million in 2003–04. The increase of 11.5 per cent reflects a growth in the international aviation industry and tourism market.

Customs has an agreed government standard processing target that requires 95 per cent of air passengers to be processed within 30 minutes of arrival.

Customs achieved the target. Of the 10.4 million passengers processed inwards, 95.1 per cent were processed within 30 minutes.

Figure 21 illustrates the percentage of incoming international arrivals cleared at the entry control point within 30 minutes, as a proportion of all incoming international air passengers. The control point is where passengers are subject to Customs and Immigration formalities. The formula assumes a delay between aircraft arrival and the time a passenger arrives at the entry control point. The delay is tailored for each airport and varies between 12 and 17 minutes.

Challenges to maintaining processing rates in 2004–05 included:

Figure 21: Proportion of international air passengers processed within 30 minutes of arrival, by arrival airport

Figure 21: Proportion of international air passengers processed within 30 minutes of arrival, by arrival airport

Improving airport flow

International passenger numbers significantly increased in comparison to 2003–04. The Australian Tourism Commission believes that this trend is likely to continue. As passenger numbers grow, a whole of airport approach will be necessary to maintain high processing standards without placing undue pressure on any single aspect of airport operations.

Customs is continually working with airport operators, airlines and other border agencies to improve the flow of passengers through airports. This year, the work focused on issues such as:

Customs also redeployed staff to airports and recruited additional staff in response to increased workload pressures.

At the same time, Customs is exploring avenues for use of new technology, including automated processing systems using biometric technology.

National Passenger Processing Committee (NPPC)

The major role of the NPPC, chaired by Customs, is to develop whole-of-government policy approaches to processing international air passengers. The committee also coordinates various work for Commonwealth authorities at airports related to passenger processing responsibilities.

Significant issues addressed in 2004–05 included automated border-processing initiatives, designation of international airports, international health regulations, response to increased passenger numbers and the planned introduction of new large aircraft.

A major issue facing NPPC is international airlines and charters seeking to operate international services to regional airports in Australia. This has a significant impact on border agency resourcing and service levels.


SmartGate, an automated passenger processing system, has been trialled by Customs since November 2002. The primary objective of the trial was to develop and introduce a system of self-processing utilising face-recognition biometric technology to confirm identity and streamline the traveller facilitation process.

The provision of $3.1m to Customs in the 2004–05 Budget allowed further research and development. The funding enabled Customs, with the assistance of its strategic partner SAGEM Australasia, to extend the trial to a second international airport and to holders of prototype Australian biometric passports and selected frequent flyers.

The expansion of the SmartGate trial to selected frequent flyer members more than doubled the enrolled users in the four-month enrolment period. In excess of 225 000 SmartGate transactions have been recorded since the commencement of the trial.

Funding of $74.607m was received in the 2005–06 Budget to implement automated border processing nationally.

Qantas crewmember uses the SmartGate kiosk at Sydney Airport.

Qantas crewmember uses the SmartGate kiosk at Sydney Airport.

Customs teams – SmartGate system improves passenger facilitation and border security

The Traveller Strategies team in Customs successfully developed an automated border control system using face recognition for identity verification. SmartGate uses the biometric chip in the prototype Australian ePassport to quickly and securely process users through the Australian border.

With the $3.1m allocated in the 2004–05 Budget, Customs was able to incorporate a passport chip reader into a new SmartGate kiosk. This allows SmartGate to use the image contained within the prototype Australian ePassport, rather than stored images, for matching with the person presenting at the SmartGate kiosk.

Customs overcame many challenges to achieve this outcome within the timeframes set down by the Government. On 13 December 2004, Customs installed the new ePassport SmartGate at Sydney and Melbourne airports, nearly one month ahead of schedule. Around 2000 volunteer Qantas crew were issued with the prototype ePassport for their official travel. They will be able to use ePassport SmartGate at Sydney and Melbourne airports.

Customs worked in close partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs to trial ePassport SmartGate.

Evaluations of the new kiosk by Defence Science and Technology Organisation found that face recognition software used in ePassport SmartGate performed exceptionally well when using the single passport image as the source for matching with the person presenting at the SmartGate kiosk.

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