(Images: Department of Home Affairs/Apple App Store)

Australia’s new digital passenger declaration app was supposed to make entering the country quicker and easier, but only months after release the new system has been widely slammed as buggy, redundant and a pain to use.

In February, the Department of Home Affairs released the “Australia DPD” app that allows people to upload to the Australian government information like a person’s travel history, COVID-19 test results and vaccine status up to seven days before they travel to Australia — replacing the existing webform. The tender for the project was estimated at $75 million.

“The DPD will allow you to quickly and securely supply the information needed to meet health requirements for entry into Australia,” a post on the government’s Smart Traveller website read.

Travellers to Australia must use the app to submit relevant information before they board a flight. The app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and has been in the top 10 downloaded apps in Australia since April, mostly in the top three, according to app analysis company Sensor Tower. It’s one of the Australian government’s most used applications.

The reception from people who’ve used the app is clear: they hate it. Out of a total 1158 reviews on the Apple App store, 1057 have given it the lowest ranking. The most recent reviews call it “absolutely useless”, “what a disgraceful waste of taxpayer money” and “Absolute Useless Trash”.

The criticisms of the app boil down to three major issues: glitches, poor design and redundancy. Mark Newton has used the app on two trips since May and called it a “stupid broken data-entry app that doesn’t even work properly which is unique to our dumb backwater country”.

He explains that the app requires you to put in information that the Australian government already knows about its returning citizens. Despite knowing who comes in on what flights, their passport information and their vaccination certification, the app requires you to manually input or upload all this information. 

When Newton finished that task, he was sent an email noting his completion. Then, on both occasions, he was sent another email saying that he hadn’t completed it. Newton says he then relaunched the app, which showed him that he had in fact completed the required tasks — and then he got another email saying that’s the case. (He also notes that the email comes from “no-reply@d35ywk0fnc9dia.cloudfront.net” so it’s not clear if it’s official communication or a phishing attempt).

James Cridland is another Australian traveller who shares Newton’s frustration over having to submit information that the government already has. He also points out other design flaws like refusing to work with password managers, not saving your password, and having to re-enter the same information every time you travel to Australia.

 “It’s slow, clunky and almost never actually works to scan the fiddly QR code,” he said. 

Another issue frequently raised is that the app requires internet access — a problem for travellers who arrive at airports without wi-fi or working SIM cards. 

Both Cridland and Newtown pointed out other countries like the US and the UK don’t require similar steps.

“[The app] doesn’t replace the orange form that nobody looks at upon arrival, nor does it replace that blue ticket thing you need to queue up to get after scanning your passport,” Cridland said.

The Department of Home Affairs said it was going to respond to a set of questions from Crikey about criticisms of the Australia DPD app, but failed to do so before deadline. 

In April the department told Traveller, which first reported on issues with the app, that there were no bugs in the system. Since then, the Apple iOS version of the app has been updated four times with versions that contain “a number of improvements and bug fixes”.