The government’s plan to privatise Australia’s visa processing system has raised further concerns, after officials informed industry stakeholders that the department is exploring whether “commercial value-added services” can be integrated into the system.
The announcement has fanned fears that Australia’s visa processing platform may soon be clogged with travel and hotel advertisement if the government elects to outsource control of the platform to a private entity.
The issue was debated earlier this month at a senate estimates hearing held in Canberra, with the Department of Home Affairs official, Andrew Kefford, suggesting the system could be used to assist travellers in locating accommodation.
“Simple examples of that would be things like travel bookings for tourists,” Kefford said.
“More complicated ones that we’re starting to explore are things like connections to government licensing for people who are coming on a work visa, for example, or perhaps connections to over service providers.”
“So separate to but associated with the applicant’s purpose of coming to Australia,” he said.
The move has already drawn significant crossbench criticism in the Australian parliament, with senator Stirling Griff expressing concern about the possibility of nepotism driven endorsements, or implied favouritism of certain service providers of others.
“Will this mean we have a situation where visa holders may feel obliged to use these providers?” he said in a statement afterwards,” Griff said.
“And who will determine which links to provide and to which service providers?”
Griff also warned that the move would inadvertently give the Department substantial market power over the commercial migration industry, while also leaving the government open to scams and potential misuse.
The deputy secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Malisa Golightly, defend the government’s move, saying that the “value-added services” may not necessarily take the form of advertising.
“It might actually just be other links, for example, that could be provided with useful information,” Golightly said.
“It might be links to other government services or to a private company.”
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, directed strong criticism towards the Department’s plans, saying that it would likely result in an anti-consumer outcome.
“We have seen what privatisation has done to the energy sector in Australia and it has been a disaster for consumers, especially as the government has very little say as to how these companies operate,” Lingham said.
“Our view is that privatising visas is one thing, but looking to offer a range of products-for-profit will dilute the offering and purpose of Australia’s visa program, and leave it open to corruption and misuse of the highly sensitive information provided.”
“We also believe that this will be anti-competitive, and that the ultimate loser in all of this will be the consumer, especially when the government can blame any issues on a third-party provider, rather than taking ownership and responsibility for the evolution of the program,” he said.
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