Australians pay cash to avoid passport lines

Campbell considers herself very fortunate. “I don’t honestly know how my application was expedited so quickly,” she said. “I was like – ‘this is insane’. Everyone I’d spoken to said their passport had been taking over eight weeks.”

The following morning, she put a call-out on Airtasker with a budget of $90. “Need someone to wait in the line at the Passport office at Haymarket while I am at work,” she wrote. “You can [call] me when close to the front of the line and I will come meet you.”

After the Airtasker she chose queued for several hours, Campbell returned to the line 10 minutes before the passport office’s closing time and took the Airtasker’s place.

Within minutes, she had the passport in hand, and zero regrets about paying extra for a queue stand-in. “It wasn’t even the line itself – I knew it would take long. But the stress of people around [me] – it honestly felt like we were trying to cross a border, because it was so frantic and awful.”

Melbourne on Monday: Long queues at the Australian Passport Office, Collins Square, snake outside onto the footpath and around the block.Credit:Eddie Jim

On Thursday, Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Tim Watts said passport office hours were being extended and staff were “triaging” customers to get lines moving more quickly.

Passport call centres will also gain 70 more staffers across this and next week and 250 more will be employed to help clear the passport processing backlog, he added. But it will take six weeks for the newly hired staff to be fully trained.

“The processing times are unacceptable at the moment,” Watts told 3AW, pointing to the Morrison government for failing to assign adequate resources to the passport office department.

“There’s no silver bullet. There’s no quick fix. But we’re hoping to see the issues start to be gradually turned around this week and next week, particularly as people go into the call centres.”

Airtasker boss Tim Fung said the first passport queuing task was listed in the middle of last week. About 15 more have popped up since.

Airtasker CEO Tim Fung.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“Because of the way Airtasker is really a community platform, when somebody sees somebody else posting up this kind of task, other people go ‘oh my gosh, that’s a great idea. I’m gonna do that too’,” he told The Herald.

It’s also far from the first of this type of gig the platform has seen: people have issued call-outs for help obtaining Air Jordan sneakers or London theatre tickets, for instance.

And when American burger chain In-N-Out first popped up in Sydney in early 2016, people posted queuing jobs for that.

“That really set the trend for people doing more and more of these kinds of jobs on the platform.”

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