The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been asked to investigate the planned outsourcing of the federal government’s new billion-dollar visa processing platform.
Just weeks out from the announcement of a successful bidder for the new externally operated platform, the federal opposition has requested that the ACCC look into the Department of Home Affairs’ proposed contract.
Labor is concerned that contact for the global digital platform that will process 90 percent of all visa applications when rolled out in 2021 will create a monopoly and negatively impact competition.
Shadow assistant ministers Stephen Jones and Andrew Giles said that these “significant and detrimental anti-competitive impacts” could affect “both visa applicants and businesses providing services to visa applicants”.
“Privatising our visa system will lead to increased costs of visas, greater risks of worker exploitation, data security breaches and will make protecting national security more difficult,” they said.
The call comes more than two years after Home Affairs first went looking for a partner to deliver the platform, which it has repeatedly stressed “does not involve privatising Australia’s visa system or visa decision making”.
The new platform is expected to replace the country’s two existing visa processing platforms, which while stable are more than twenty-five years old and considered “increasingly difficult” to alter.
“The department has made significant productivity gains in recent years and implemented a range of interim projects to assist it to meet increasing demand and expectations,” Home Affairs said in a recent inquiry submission [pdf].
“It is increasingly the case, however, that the opportunities to improve current legacy systems and processes are being exhausted and a step-change in capability and service delivery approach is required.”
In contrast to the federal opposition, Home Affairs expects that moving to a “fully digital service offering” will improve competition.
“Current legacy ICT systems and processes are already creating potential pressure points and uncompetitiveness in the global market,” the department said.
The new platform is expected to allow individuals to apply for visas at the point of booking travel, or purchase travel and accommodation at the same time as their visa.
However it is also expected to offer additional commercial services, which the department claims will enhance the experience for visa applicants while generating additional revenue for the government.
The successful bidder will recover the cost of building, operating and maintaining the global digital platform through a service fee from each visa issued.
While Home Affairs has not named the two shortlisted bidders vying for the final contract, they are widely understood to be Australian Visa Processing – a conglomerate consisting of Ellerston Capital, PwC, Qantas Ventures, NAB and Pacific Blue Capital – and Australia Post and Accenture.
The opposition is concerned that one of the two shortlisted bid for the deal is backed by Pacific Blue Capital CEO Scott Briggs, who is a “close friend of Scott Morrison and a former colleague of Immigration Minister David Coleman”.
Calls for the ACCC to intervene in the procurement process follows similar calls by the former architect of the country’s immigration visa system, Abul Rizvi.
Rizvi, a former deputy secretary at the then Department of Immigration during the Howard era, has warned the outsourcing of visa processing to private infrastructure carried “immense” IT risks.