The announcement in this week’s Budget that Australians (as well as those from the US, Canada, Japan and New Zealand) will have access to e-passport gates when entering the UK is a welcome sign that Britain is serious about going global. The million or so Australians who visit each year are sure to be delighted by this gesture.
There’s a backstory here: when I was the Australian high commissioner in London, I told everyone in government with ears to hear (including the then-home secretary Theresa May) that Australians were upset about being subjected to long queues at Heathrow while EU citizens went through a special fast-track process. Frankly, given our history of fighting alongside Britain and our shared head of state, it was downright insensitive.
In fact, as foreign minister of Australia, I had introduced the e-gate system at our airports back home. We didn’t question for a minute that these systems would be open to British visitors – yet when the UK upgraded to e-passport systems it chose not to reciprocate. Instead the best offer available was a registered traveller’s scheme costing seventy pounds a year.
But from next year that will all change, as all Australian passport holders get fast-track treatment at Heathrow airport. It might sound a small thing but the symbolism and the convenience of this initiative is important: it makes Australian visitors feel that there is something special in our countries’ relationship.
This decision sends a strong signal of intent for Brexit and the UK’s determination to strengthen its relations with countries across the world. And where better to start than Australia? For all the geo-political, technical and demographic changes of the last half century, there are no two countries that can trust each other more than Australia and Great Britain.
Alexander Downer was Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK from 2014-18 and the country's foreign minister between 1995 and 2007