Home Affairs slows 'pace' on passenger declarations, visas platform

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Home Affairs slows 'pace' on passenger declarations, visas platform

Takes greater care to bake in health data capabilities.

The federal government has slowed plans to introduce a permissions capability platform to handle passenger declarations and simple visa processing in light of the delayed reopening of the border.

Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo cast doubt on the platform being ready by the end of the year as planned at senate estimates last night, with a final service provider still yet to be selected.

When it went to market for the platform in October 2020, Home Affairs expected to begin co-design with the successful provider by April and have the base platform in place before July.

Initial use cases, including digitisation of the paper-based incoming passenger card for international travellers – previously attempted in 2017 – and a simple visa product, were then anticipated by October.

But Pezzullo told estimates on Tuesday that no contract had yet been awarded and that the tender was still “going through an ongoing evaluation process”, leaving the door open to future changes.

US software giants IBM, Pega and Oracle have already reportedly been shortlisted for the procurement, though only IBM is seeking to design and build the permissions platform on its own.

Pezzullo put much of the delay, which is in line with new “assumption[s] about the opening of the border” in mid-2022, down to the need to integrate health data into the immigration process.

“The government has… asked us to pace the work such that we take greater care in ensuring that we build capacity into the platform to ensure that health data is able to be ingested,” he said.

“Health data in relation to foreign citizens in particular will be quite challenging.”

Pezzullo said that there has been limited integration of health data into travel systems to date for both single jurisdiction countries and collectives like the European Union.

“We’re grappling with the jigsaw puzzle of… how do you ensure that you’ve got a robust digital signature of someone’s health status before they get on the plane,” he said.

Pezzullo said this challenge, which he described as “complex and technically difficult” could “take the best part of 6-12 months”.

“I would have thought at the earliest at scale we'd be looking at the first half of next year to trial [the platform] to make sure that it's working," he added at an earlier estimates hearing on Monday. 

"I'm confident, given the amount of work that we've been doing... that we should be ready to operate at scale by the middle of next year.

"But we'd like to trial the system and have smaller scale digital trials, certainly in the field, by later this year or first quarter next year."

Deputy secretary immigration and settlement services Andrew Kefford also told estimates that the $74.9 million set aside for the development would largely be spent during the procurement process.

“It was for procurement, as well as a number of preparatory activities for the implementation of the system,” he said.

“It will also cover off the staffing for the taskforce, as well as the usual legal and probity and other advice that’s necessary for a procurement of this scale.”

Kefford added that the entire project consisted of a “design element, the construction of the base capability and then the configuration of that base capability for the… two use cases”.

Home Affairs spent $92 million on its first failed attempt to overhaul the visa system through the outsourced global digital platform, which it dumped before embarking on the permissions capability.

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