House debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Constituency Statements


10:55 am

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It seems that to get any information on what the government is really planning to do to privatise Australia's visa services, you need to pick up a newspaper. If it's not the Financial Review reporting on the delayed auction to design and run the new visa-processing system, it's the revelations in The Australian about the bid. You certainly don't get much information from the Department of Home Affairs. A recent Senate estimates session confirmed that they're testing the market to see what outsourcing they can do, and they revealed a list of around 1,000 jobs currently involved in visa processing. But none of this addresses the fundamental issue that this government is intent on privatising a sensitive Australian government function. Seriously, what is more sensitive than decisions on who comes into this country and on what terms? And what is the government thinking in giving some or all of that control to the private, for-profit sector?

The CPSU has raised a number of concerns about what might end up as policy. They include the prospect that so-called low-risk functions of the Department of Home Affairs might end up fully automated, without a human in sight. Given the government's track record with Centrelink robo-debt, the census and what we're seeing now with My Health Record, can there be anything other than very low levels of community confidence in their ability to even know what the security provisions need to be? The CPSU also predicts a private provider running an online visa system that advertises the services of private companies to applicants as part of their visa application. Presumably the placement of those ads will cost a bomb, because it's pretty much a licence to print money.

Can we expect to see a two-tiered system, where those who have the money can fast-track themselves into Australia, courtesy of a hefty fee? And presumably the private provider will take a hefty cut of that fee. Ultimately, no matter what form it takes, we will end up with a private provider managing and deciding who is given visas and how much they cost. I, for one, value the integrity of Australia's Public Service, and I know who I would prefer to have in charge of this sensitive area—and it certainly isn't people who only see this vital service as a way of making a quick buck. Labor will keep working with the CPSU and other affected groups when the government—or perhaps the media—decide to make more information about this process available. Any changes that they are planning need to be disclosed early so they can have proper scrutiny. This is not the sort of thing that you can do a deal on behind closed doors. It has to be in full view and open to scrutiny.