Border security: Using information to process passengers.

A secure border is important for New Zealand's security, reputation, and economic prosperity. Passengers and crew cross our border on airplanes, cruise ships, and leisure craft (such as private yachts or small, non-commercial aircraft). Goods arrive through container ports, air cargo facilities, or the International Mail Centre. With these crossings, people can intentionally or unintentionally bring harmful items, such as drugs and weapons, or biosecurity threats into New Zealand.

People are coming to New Zealand in greater numbers than ever before, increasing the number of risks at the border. Border agencies have to balance processing passengers as efficiently as possible while identifying those who could pose a risk. To keep up with these increasing demands, border agencies are increasingly refining the application of physical inspections by using an intelligence-led approach – using information to identify high-risk passengers, goods, and craft before they arrive.

We assessed whether staff working on the frontline at major ports have the information they need to effectively and efficiently process incoming passengers and their accompanied goods. Frontline staff include officers from the New Zealand Customs Service and the Ministry for Primary Industries. We also looked at how frontline staff use information from Immigration New Zealand.

The information available to frontline staff enables them to process incoming passengers effectively. Passengers can be assessed for risk before arrival and alerts can be placed on passengers of interest. Biosecurity risks are more typically assessed on arrival.

There are differences in the quality of the information agencies receive from airlines and the information they receive from cruise lines. This affects how efficiently the information is used. Agencies are working with cruise lines to further improve the availability and quality of pre-arrival passenger information.

We also looked at whether frontline staff have the systems, tools, and resources to best use and share information, and whether there is effective collaboration between agencies operating at the border. The information technology systems, tools, and resources used by the border agencies are generally adequate. However, there are limitations with some of the systems and tools, which means that, although information is used effectively, it could be done more efficiently.

In our view, the New Zealand Customs Service and the Ministry for Primary Industries are operating effectively. However, both need to focus on preparing and putting in place workforce planning tools that would improve the efficient deployment of staff. The relationships between frontline staff from different border agencies are strong, which allows staff to work together well.

A particular strength for the New Zealand Customs Service and the Ministry for Primary Industries is the recently updated training programmes for both Customs and Quarantine officers. However, in my view, more explanation about the roles of the other agencies is needed as part of the formal training for new staff.

At a strategic level, the Border Sector Governance Group has improved collaboration between agencies in recent years. I have recommended that they strengthen the vision and strategy so the border sector can work more collaboratively. The long-term strategy also needs to be effectively communicated to all staff.

I thank the staff of the New Zealand Customs Service, the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, and the other agencies, including the many frontline staff we interviewed, for their time and co-operation.

The Auditor-General was previously a member of the Border Sector Governance Group. To ensure independence, I have overseen this work.

Signature - GS

Greg Schollum
Deputy Controller and Auditor-General

16 June 2017

Photo acknowledgement: mychillybin © Lynn Clayton