A proposal to privatise visa processing was quietly dumped by the Federal Government last month as strict social distancing measures in response to the coronavirus crisis began to take hold.
Acting Minister for Immigration Alan Tudge MP left it to the last line of a Friday afternoon press release issued on 20 March to announce that “Department of Home Affairs has terminated the Request for Tender process for its proposed Global Digital Platform.”
Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) National Secretary Melissa Donnelly paid tribute to the member-led campaign to oppose the plan.
“This is an enormous win for the workers whose jobs were on the chopping block. This victory would not have happened without CPSU Home Affairs member’s tireless campaign to stop the privatization of Australia’s visa system.”
The privatisation push started in 2017 and took the form of an IT system upgrade allowing private companies to perform visa-related work, including fraud detection, administering tests and recommending decisions on visa applications.
Valued at $1 billion, the tender to outsource the visa processing system was dogged by controversy. CPSU predicted the plan would cost up to 2,000 jobs in Home Affairs and public criticism included those of former departmental staff who warned that privatisation could easily lead to profiteering.
Political links between the Liberal Party and a key figure in one of the leading multi-national consortiums bidding for the contract undermined confidence in the tender process; Scott Briggs was a former deputy state director of the New South Wales branch who retains close personal ties to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
A public campaign opposing visa privatisation – led by CPSU and supported by Labor and Greens – resulted in collaboration with key Senate cross benchers to stymie the plan. Revelations of political donations to the Liberal Party from organisations associated with Mr Briggs only increased pressure on the Government to abandon the privatisation proposal.
The introduction of widespread and indefinite international travel restrictions in response to coronavirus ultimately proved the coup-de-grace.
“This was always a friendless plan, universities, migration experts and conservative pundits have all been calling for the government to abandon it. What is extraordinary that it took a global health pandemic for the government to see the flaws of this proposal,” Ms Donnelly said.
“COVID-19 has further exposed the flaws in the Morrison Government’s thinking – it is simply irresponsible for any government to hand over our visa system to private interests. We are glad that Scott Morrison has finally seen sense and canned the plan.”
“When our nation is facing great uncertainty, Australians expect the Government to back local jobs and the integrity of vital public services, not flog off essential services to political donors’ multi-national companies. This is a win for the security and health of the Australian community.”