Part 1: Introduction

Border security: Using information to process passengers.

In this Part, we discuss:

Why we did the audit

All New Zealanders benefit from an effective border security system. People, goods, and craft cross our border every day, potentially carrying harmful items, such as drugs and weapons, or biosecurity threats. These could damage our social wellbeing, primary production industries, natural habitat, and reputation.

Staff who work at the frontline – that is, at the ports of entry into the country – include Customs officers from the New Zealand Customs Service and Quarantine officers from the Ministry for Primary Industries. These officers need the appropriate information, tools, and resources to properly process incoming passengers and ensure that our border is secure.

There are more international passengers coming to New Zealand than ever before. This creates more risks at the border. Frontline staff are working in an environment where they have to process passengers as efficiently as possible, while also identifying passengers who could pose a risk.

Increasingly, the agencies that operate at the border are using information they receive in advance of a passenger's arrival to assess their risk. This approach helps the agencies to identify high-risk passengers, goods, and craft before their arrival and to decide what level of intervention will be necessary.1

The shift in the way the agencies are operating means that they need to collect, analyse, and assess large volumes of information to effectively and efficiently process incoming passengers and their goods.

The agencies that operate at the border

The main government agencies with a role at the border are:

  • the New Zealand Customs Service (Customs);
  • the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI);
  • Immigration New Zealand (part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment);
  • the Ministry of Transport; and
  • the Department of Internal Affairs.2

Along with other agencies, including New Zealand Police and the Aviation Security Service, these agencies work to prevent unwanted people and prohibited goods and materials from crossing New Zealand's border.3 Other agencies with a role at the border include the Ministry of Health, the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Justice, and the Inland Revenue Department.

Agencies operating at the border also need to process trade (imports and exports), international mail (in and out), and craft (arriving and departing). Multiple agencies are involved with this, each with their own risk assessment procedures.

Border security involves targeting, profiling, and intercepting passengers who pose a risk, while having a minimal effect on the other passengers. To do this, the agencies collect information from various sources before and as a person arrives in the country. The information collected is analysed and assessed against established risk profiles so that threats can be intercepted and managed as early as possible.

The agencies that operate at the border have different priorities and look for different risks. We looked at MPI, Customs, and, to a lesser extent, Immigration New Zealand (the agencies).

MPI is the lead agency responsible for biosecurity policies, regulations, and enforcement activities. MPI works both offshore and at the ports to prevent harmful pests and diseases from entering the country.4 Passengers who pose a high risk are not necessarily trying to evade detection. For example, MPI finds that it is the parent who has forgotten there is a half-eaten apple in their child's backpack, or the tired business passenger who forgot about their left-over lunch, who present an unintentional biosecurity risk.

For MPI, border operations make up only a small part of its core business. We did not focus on the work of MPI outside of the scope of this audit.

At the ports, Customs performs limited immigration duties on behalf of Immigration New Zealand, such as checking the travel documentation for incoming passengers so that passengers who do not pose a risk can enter the country as efficiently as possible.

Customs' role is to prevent people concealing drugs, weapons, or objectionable material (either illegal or banned) from entering the country. It is also responsible for collecting duties, excise taxes, and goods and services tax on imports and exports. In this report, we focus only on the information available to officers who process incoming passengers at the ports.

Immigration New Zealand is responsible for deciding whether people who are not New Zealand citizens can enter the country. Although Customs performs an immigration function in processing incoming passengers, Immigration New Zealand makes decisions about passengers who do not comply with New Zealand's entry requirements.

Customs staff (and Immigration New Zealand) are also interested in the risk posed by the individual passenger, including assessment of any national security and terrorism-related risk they might present, and enforcement of travel restrictions on certain people (such as people subject to arrest warrants or travel conditions imposed by the courts or the Parole Board).

Who and what we audited

Border security is complex. To ensure that our border is secure, multiple agencies, each with a different focus, play a role. For some of these agencies, border operations make up only a small part of their total operations. Other agencies focus solely on border operations. Because border operations both on- and off-shore are extensive, we had to limit the focus of our audit to a particular aspect of border security. We chose to focus on frontline staff at major ports who process incoming passengers and their accompanied goods.

We carried out a performance audit to assess whether frontline staff working at major ports had the appropriate information, tools, and resources to effectively and efficiently process incoming passengers and their goods. For the purpose of this report, we consider frontline staff to be those who work at the air and sea ports.

We assessed whether the frontline staff have the appropriate information, tools, and resources to process incoming passengers and their accompanied goods effectively and efficiently to ensure that our border is secure.

We also wanted to know how well the agencies work together, on the frontline and strategically, to improve border security.

What we did not audit

We have not assessed the end-to-end process of border security and, as a result, Immigration New Zealand's border services were not the focus of this audit. Immigration New Zealand provides risk-screening services at the border and profiles behaviours, conducts interviews, and makes entry decisions based on assessed immigration, criminal, and security risks. Immigration New Zealand responds to secondary line referrals from Customs and the Ministry for Primary Industries. It also does screening at the off-shore border where a passenger embarks for travel to New Zealand, which is an important aspect of New Zealand's management of border risk but was beyond the focus of this audit.

As mentioned in paragraphs 1.13 and 1.15, we did not focus on the entire border operations of MPI and Customs. Our scope was confined to the processing of incoming passengers at major ports.

We did not audit how the agencies processed outgoing passengers or private aircraft or boats. We did not audit the International Mail Centre or look at how cargo is processed.

Although the Aviation Security Service is part of the border sector, we did not include it in this audit because it deals with outgoing passengers.

We did not audit other agencies with a role in border security unless they have a specific role in processing incoming passengers.

How we carried out our audit

We spoke to frontline staff and observed their processes at four major ports: two international airports and two sea ports that process cruise ship passengers. These were Auckland and Queenstown International Airports and Auckland and Wellington Ports.

For this audit, we:

  • conducted focus group meetings with frontline staff at each of the four ports and sent a questionnaire to all frontline staff at these locations;
  • interviewed a variety of staff from the agencies, including senior managers, legal advisors, and staff working to support frontline operations; and
  • reviewed corporate publications, policy, operational, and training documents, and agency systems, processes, and policies.

Structure of this report

In Part 2, we describe how each agency operates at the border.

In Part 3, we describe how each agency uses information to process incoming passengers and their accompanied goods effectively and efficiently.

In Part 4, we discuss the systems, tools, and resources available to frontline staff to process incoming passengers and their goods.

In Part 5, we look at how well the agencies work together and collaborate where appropriate, and we describe the governance arrangements for the border sector.

1: The Ministry for Primary Industries is required to screen all passengers on arrival for biosecurity risks.

2: The Department of Internal Affairs works with contribution from almost 20 other associated agencies.

3: They also collect government revenue, support New Zealand's national interests, and uphold international laws and agreements.

4: Ministry for Primary Industries (2016), 2015/16 Annual Report, Wellington, page 3.