​Labor slams Commonwealth's visa privatisation plan

Labor announces 'fight' against the privatisation of Australian border control.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal opposition has slammed the federal government's plan to privatise Australia's visa processing system, labelling it a concern to national security.

A tender, released on the Department of Home Affairs website late Friday and since removed, calls for a private company to own and operate Australia's visa processing system for a period of 10 years.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection -- now Home Affairs -- went to tender initially in September 2017, seeking a provider to design, implement, and operate a new visa business.

At the time, it was explained that the new visa business would be outsourced to another party that will be charged with processing visa applications.

"Now there may well be problems with current arrangements that more resources have to be dedicated to provide a way to expedite visas but, frankly, the idea that we should outsource decision making has national security implications," Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Brendan O'Connor said on Sunday night.

Labor is concerned that functions of immigration -- specifically where decisions intersecting with national security decision-making are concerned -- should not be handed to a private operator.

A report from SBS says however, the tender papers note that having the private sector process visas will not involve privatising Australia's visa system or decision making.

"Australia needs a visa system that is easier to understand, better suited to the rapidly growing number of visitors, and flexible enough for Australia to remain a competitive destination for temporary visitors and the longer-term entrants Australia needs," according to the tender documents quoted by SBS.

"The platform must be flexible and able to quickly and efficiently accommodate policy changes made by governments-of-the-day."

Australia's visa processing system is responsible for administering approximately 9.5 million visas annually and generates around AU$2 billion worth of Commonwealth revenue each year.

It is believed the successful vendor will make its money from service fees.

In addition to putting Australia's border security at risk, Labor -- echoing remarks made by the Community and Public Sector Union earlier this year -- is concerned that privatising the visa efforts would slash 3,000 Australian Public Service jobs.

Currently, only 20 percent of the country's visa service is outsourced, and during his 2016 election campaign, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned against outsourcing too many government services.

According to a statement from O'Connor and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Shayne Neumann, one of the two front-runners for the Home Affairs contract is a personal acquaintance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.


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