Plans to offload Australia's visa processing system to the private sector, potentially worth more than $3 billion to the winning company, would be dumped under a Shorten Labor government.
- The Commonwealth currently earns about $2 billion each year from visa fees
- Long processing times have contributed to the number of bridging visas doubling over four years
- The Community and Public Sector Union estimated up to 3,000 public servants could be made redundant
The Home Affairs Department last week moved closer to outsourcing its visa processing work by opening a tender process.
A friend of the Prime Minister, Liberal Party heavyweight Scott Briggs, is playing a key role in one of the groups shortlisted for the lucrative deal.
The successful bidder is due to sign contracts in October 2019, but the process would be terminated if the Opposition claimed power at next year's election.
"We're concerned that by outsourcing one of the most vital functions of the Australian border control system to a private company that it risks our borders," Labor's immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann told the ABC.
"This is a core responsibility of government, it shouldn't be done for private profit, it should be done in the national interest."
The successful company would be handed a 10-year contract and allowed to slug applicants up to $35 per visa on average, potentially reaping upwards of $3 billion over the period.
Citizenship applications could also eventually be processed using the new multi-million-dollar platform, which would be funded by the winning bidder.
Mr Briggs runs investment firm Pacific Blue Capital, which holds nearly 20 per cent of the Australian Visa Processing Consortium — one of two groups remaining in the race.
Mr Briggs is president of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Federal Electorate Council and previously worked with Immigration Minister David Coleman.
Both Mr Morrison and Mr Coleman will not vote in Cabinet decisions about the project.
The ABC is not suggesting any wrongdoing nor any political interference in the tender process.
The department will also consider a joint bid from Australia Post and professional services firm Accenture.
Number of applications expected to rise
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton yesterday told reporters the Government would remain responsible for security checks and decision-making.
"What we want to do is make it easier and more efficient for people to apply for visas online," Mr Dutton said.
He said the project was aiming to speed up processing times "whilst not compromising … the visa processing and scrutiny that we apply to these people before they come to our country".
Longer visa processing times have contributed to bridging visas — used so people can remain in Australia while an application is processed — doubling over four years to nearly 200,000.
Nine million applications for temporary visas were lodged last financial year, including tourist and student visas.
Applications are expected to rise over coming years, according to the department, meaning the winning bidder's revenue could jump to more than $400 million a year by 2028-29.
The Commonwealth currently earns about $2 billion each year from visa fees, and these government charges would continue.
Union says thousands could be made redundant
The Community and Public Sector Union has estimated that up to 3,000 public servants could be made redundant.
The Home Affairs Department last night rejected that figure but would not guarantee that jobs were not under threat.
"We want the Government to be listening to the voices of experienced, highly trained public servants [who are] sensitive to public policy issues and accountable ultimately to the Australian Government and the Australian people," Mr Neumann said.
"And we're not going to put at risk the privacy of individuals [by] giving personal data to private providers," he said.
The election is likely to be held in May 2019.
Home Affairs said the new system would begin operating in 2021.