The government decision to abandon its long-running plan to outsource the country’s visa processing system has been welcomed by the federal Opposition and public sector unions as a “win for the security and health of Australians”.
In a taking out of the trash for the ages, acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge revealed in the last line of a press release issued just after 4.30pm on Friday afternoon – on one of the biggest news days in years – that the government would “terminate” the $1 billion tender for a private sector firm to develop a new visa processing system.
The government would instead adopt a “new approach to technology capability acquisition and delivery”, Mr Tudge said, which would seek an “integrated enterprise-scale workflow processing capability that could be utilised across the Commonwealth”.
The tender was issued at the end of 2018, and the government had planned to select a winning bidder by October last year. But a series of conflicts of interest delayed this process, amid ongoing concerns surrounding transparency, data privacy and philosophical objections to outsourcing a core function of government.
With revelations the plan would likely require new legislation, and staunch opposition from Labor and the Greens, the plan was already considered “dead in the water”, with a question mark over government’s ability to get it through the Senate.
The process has already cost the Commonwealth at least $87 million, with the work already completed to be “utilised and extended to other areas in developing and specifying requirements for this much broader capability, on which visa processing will still be the first product delivered”.
While government has not committed to building the system in-house, the news was hailed as a big win by the Community and Public Sector Union, which has been campaigning against the plan since it was first announced in 2017.
“[The] backflip is an enormous win for the over 2000 APS workers whose jobs were on the chopping block. This was always a friendless plan, universities, migration experts and conservative pundits have all been calling for the government to abandon it,” CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
“What is extraordinary is that it took a global health pandemic for the government to see the flaws of this plan,” she said.
“COVID-19 has further exposed the flaws in the Morrison government’s plan – 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’ multinational companies. This is a win for the security and health of the Australian community.”
Labor has also publicly opposed the plan, and shadow immigration minister Andrew Giles also welcomed the government’s backdown.
“We have consistently argued that controlling Australia’s visa processing system is an essential function of government,” Mr Giles said. “The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of the Australian government retaining control of our borders and visa processing system.”
“At its core, privatising our visa system would have resulted in a tension between integrity and profit – it would have undermined Australia’s national security. This is a win for the thousands of hard-working public servants who do vital work in keeping Australians safe.”