Privatisating visa system could further damage Australia's reputation - Speech, House of Representatives

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 14 OCTOBER 2019

Those opposite like to style themselves as the political heirs of John Howard, the man who once said:

'We will decide who comes to Australia and the circumstances in which they come.'

But, as a result of this visa privatisation plan, private firms will decide who comes to Australia and private firms will decide the circumstances in which they come. Indeed, Mr Howard noted recently the link between trust and confidence in the visa system and the way in which it is operated. He said:

'If they feel that control is slipping they will turn against it.'

-- by ‘they’ he meant the Australian people --

‘I think that would apply to just about any country in the world. It's basic common sense.’

It's not just John Howard who's saying this. The submission to the Senate committee from Migration Council Australia's Carla Wilshire noted:

Maintaining public trust and confidence in the immigration program is critical to affording policymakers the political and administrative space to manoeuvre the complex and shifting context …

As the mover of the motion, the member for Scullin, has noted, there is a serious issue in our migration system right now—more than 230,000 people on bridging visas, more than 220,000 people on waiting lists for their citizenships, and a significant backlog at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. So, yes, there are significant problems to be addressed in our visa system, but the government has not explained in any way how privatisation would solve those problems. As the CPSU noted:

Visa applications should only be assessed on their merits, as is the case now, not based on how much profit they can generate for a private company.

That's been a strong campaign run by Nadine Flood and her successor, Melissa Donnelly, who I acknowledge today. The CPSU noted:

This is not an open tender, as only two shortlisted companies are in line to be handed our visa processing system.

Some of the most biting remarks about this proposal have come from Abul Rizvi, formerly the deputy secretary of the Department of Immigration, responsible for the design and delivery of Australia's visa and citizenship program. This is a man awarded both the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for his contribution to the development of Australia's immigration arrangements. Mr Rizvi noted there has been 'no business case with risk plan and key performance indicators' put forward by the government, and that ‘the privatisation seems to have been driven by the artificial constraints imposed by the public service staffing cap’. We know that the public service staffing cap is lowering the quality of public services that are delivered. It is increasing spending on consultants and contractors, and it is hurting the institutional knowledge of the public service. Mr Rizvi said:

It is not clear how privatisation will address the massive visa and citizenship backlogs Home Affairs has allowed to be built up …

Those words are key: 'allowed to be built up'. To a large extent this has been a policy choice by the coalition to ensure that now the backlog of people awaiting citizenship is almost equivalent to one per cent of the Australian population. Mr Rizvi notes:

There is no question the IT platform for visa processing requires regular upgrading and possibly even major re-development. But no explanation has been provided for why this is best done via a 'privatisation' model …

The Migration Institute of Australia and the Migration Council of Australia have warned of systematic risks. The Migration Institute of Australia said:

It is difficult to reconcile the complexity of the current migration program with attempts to automate 90 percent of processing or to automate subjective decision making.

The government that brought you robo-debt now wants to extend the automation of visa processing. Would you really trust the Morrison government, after the robo-debt scandals, to now engage in a process that will lead to more automation of visa processing? I think not.

There is significant concern among recruiters, who are looking for overseas talent to fill skill shortages, that poorly configured automated systems would make Australia an unappealing destination. Skilled migrants often look at a choice across a range of different countries, and waiting times are already causing a headache. Problems that arise through the privatisation of the visa system could further damage Australia's reputation as a great tourist destination and could further damage Australia's ability to attract skilled migrants.

ENDS

Authorised by  Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.