Former Department of Immigration Deputy Secretary, Abul Rizvi, has slammed the Morrison Government’s attempted outsourcing of Australia’s visa processing to the private sector, claiming that it carries “immense risks” for the integrity of the visa system:
[Abul Rizvi has] called for any proposed contract to be first vetted by Australian National Audit Office and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission before it is inked…
“The risks associated with visa privatisation, once Home Affairs has become totally dependent on a monopoly owner of the visa processing IT platform, are extensive,” Rizvi said in a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry into the impact of changes to service delivery models on the administration and running of Government programs.
“Home Affairs has provided no explanation of how these many risks are to be managed.”
The essence of the alarm bell Rizvi is sounding goes to the commercial-in-confidence shielding from public view of the visa processing outsourcing program’s business case and the assumptions it is based on…
While there is still a paucity of official acknowledgement on who is bidding for the work, the two main contenders are known to be ‘Australia Visa Processing’ – a conglomerate consisting of Ellerston Capital, PwC, Qantas Ventures, NAB and Pacific Blue Capital – and Australia Post and Accenture consortium…
“Maintaining an IT platform for such an increasingly complex visa system will inevitably involve growing costs. Will Government agree to ever increasing visa application fees to meet the demands of the private company that would be the monopoly owner of the IT platform?”…
“Another ‘innovative’ way for the owner of the IT platform to increase profit would be through the extraordinary data the owner would hold,” Rizvi said.
“Australia’s citizenship and visa databases hold some of the most extensive and detailed data on Australian citizens, family and humanitarian sponsors, education providers, overseas students, tourists and companies who sponsor overseas workers. This database would be incredibly valuable.”
Aside from the issue of data protection, Rizvi questions if and how “the IT platform owner could use and/or sell the data.”
“While Home Affairs may argue it would never agree to this data being used inappropriately, the pressure from the owner of the IT platform to chip away at Home Affairs’ resistance would be relentless.”
The first assistant secretary of the immigration department, Andrew Kefford, recently claimed the privatisation of Australia’s visa system is the “most significant reform to the Australian immigration system in more than 30 years”, and said it would make the “visa business” profitable by including “premium services for high-value applicants”, different access for those able to pay more, as well as “commercial value-added services”.
However, the experience in the United Kingdom, which privatised its visa processing in 2014, has been nothing short of disastrous, with the Dubai-based firm holding the government contract accused of rampant exploitation, providing a “substandard” service for “inflated” prices, as well as turning the visa system into ‘pay-to-win’.
Abul Rizvi is right. The plan to outsource Australia’s visa processing should be vetted by Australian National Audit Office and the ACCC before it goes ahead. This is unlikely, however, given there is no way that an independent and comprehensive review would approve the plan.
In addition to the inevitable cost increases a monopoly provider would charge as they load-up their profits, Australia’s sovereignty would be compromised as the system is inevitably corrupted and turned into ‘pay-to-win’, whereby those willing and able to pay extra fees are granted priority treatment, as witnessed in the United Kingdom.
Seriously, how can the Australian Government ‘control’ immigration numbers when it adds a profit motive and turns the visa system into a quantity-based business? It cannot.
We have already witnessed what happens with the international student market, where Australia’s tertiary institutions have obliterated entry and teaching standards in order to suck in as many full fee paying students as possible.
Clearly, privatising Australia’s visa system carries enormous risks. It will swiss cheese Australia’s borders, drive private monopoly profits, and put Australian taxpayers on the hook when the inevitable privatisation disaster must be fixed down the road.
The Coalition’s visa system privatisation is another prime example of Australia’s ‘Game of Mates’ and must be stopped.
Governments must provide these essential services, they must be sacrosanct and marked ‘never to be outsourced’.