Govt pays consultants $13m for visa processing advice

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government has paid consultants nearly $13 million to assist with its new visa processing system before a contract has even been signed, with many of the same companies which helped with a failed previous attempt involved again.

The Department of Home Affairs went to the market in October last year for a “permissions capability” to initially handle visa processing but with the platform eventually to be used across the Commonwealth for various digital government services.

It came after the government abandoned its previous attempt to launch a new Global Digital Platform for visa processing early last year.

The new tender was for an “integrated, enterprise-scale workflow capability to be used across the Commonwealth”, with plans for a contract to be signed nearly six months ago.

digital people consultants
Permission granted: Visa processing

Despite reports Accenture has won this work, the Department has said that no contract has been signed, with the inclusion of COVID-19 related health information delaying the plan.

In answers to Senate Estimates questions on notice, the Department revealed that a smorgasbord of private consultants have been paid $12.7 million in total as part of the program, before a contractor has even been selected.

Between April last year and March 2021, Pragma Partners was paid $6.5 million, KPMG landed $2.98 million, Maddocks received $400,000 and MinterEllison was paid $1 million for work on the permissions capability plan.

All of these consultancy and legal firms were involved with the previous failed plan to launch a new visa processing system. KPMG was paid just under $8 million for this work over three years to the start of 2020, while Pragma received $2 million, MinterEllison received $2.7 million and Maddocks got just under $1 million.

Boston Consulting Group, which received the large majority of consultancy fees for the previous plan at $40 million, have not been contracted on the new plan.

McKinsey has been brought in and was paid $720,000 in the last year, while fellow consulting giant Deloitte has also been paid $1 million.

These contracts for the new scheme have been jointly signed by Home Affairs and by the Digital Transformation Agency.

Consultants were paid a total of $65 million to advise on the previous attempt to develop a Global Digital Platform to replace the existing visa processing system, which was scrapped early last year before a contractor was selected.

The answers on notice also revealed that the Department received eight responses to its tender for the permissions capability, with five of these deemed to be compliant with the tender requirements.

The requirements around taxation in the new tender raised eyebrows, with concerns they had been watered down compared to the previous effort.

This time round, the successful tenderer is required to have a “satisfactory tax record”.

The Department has explained that this is because the new plan has a “completely different” economic model where it will be “publicly funded, owned and operated”, and the requirement is now uniform under the Black Economy Procurement Connected Policy.

“That policy was not in force when the Global Digital Platform tender documents were issued and so the Department drafted its own tax requirements having regard to the underlying economic model for that procurement,” the Department said.

The national audit office is eyeing the procurement process behind the permissions capability for a potential audit in 2021-22.

The plan to go to the private sector for the visa processing platform has been criticised by the public sector union, which has said it should have been done in-house.

“Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members know that they have the skills and experience to deliver this project for the department,” CPSU assistant national secretary Michael Tull said.

“But they were not given an opportunity to make a case that the work be done in-house. It’s yet another example of the rush to use consultants, contractors and external vendors for work that could and should be done by the public service itself.

“We believe that there are strong arguments, on both cost and capability development grounds, for the government to reconsider the decision to go for a complete external build.”

It’s the third time in the last two decades that the federal government has attempted to replace its existing visa processing platform.

In 2006 it embarked on plans for a Generic Visa Platform, to be built by IBM. Five years later and after $450 million being spent, the platform was launched. But it was in operation for less than 12 months before it was decommissioned after being deemed to be not fit for purpose.

In March last year the Coalition ditched its previous plan for the Global Digital Platform, before soon announcing its intention for the new permissions capability.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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