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THE TURNBULL GOVERNMENT'S PLANS TO PRIVATISE VISA SERVICES IN HOBART - Senate Adjournment Speech, Wednesday 28 March 2018

Last Friday, I met with the CPSU representatives in my Hobart office regarding the Turnbull government's plan to tender Australia's visa processing services, at the potential cost of thousands of jobs Australia wide and the integrity of our national security. This proposal threatens over 100 jobs in my home state of Tasmania—the jobs of people who deal with complex visa processing issues. The Turnbull government has begun a process to privatise the delivery design of Australia's visa services over the next five years, releasing a paper requesting 'expressions of interest for market providers'.

As we know, the Department of Home Affairs recently outsourced 250 departmental call centre jobs to the New Zealand company Datacom, while the Department of Human Services outsourced 250 Centrelink jobs to Serco. The Turnbull government's privatisation obsession fails to value the expertise and experience of Australia's public servants, both in Tasmania and around the nation. Visa processing services are too important to the security and fabric of Australian society to be handed over to private companies. I am extremely concerned by the loss of jobs and the potential impact on national security. We all know that when public services are privatised, Australian taxpayers end up paying more and getting poorer services.

I've been personally written to by a number of officers from the Department of Home Affairs in Tasmania who have grave concerns for their future employment and the integrity of Australia's visa processing regime. They are concerned with not just the loss of their own jobs but the integrity of our visa processing system. Their words convey the true impact of such privatisation. One said:

Losing these jobs will mean many families or individuals may have to leave Tasmania in search of work or place a burden on our welfare system.

Another said:

'The privatisation of this work undermines data integrity and will result in poorer service quality.'

Another officer said:

'Private companies and contractors cannot be trusted with the sensitive data required to do this job. Minister Dutton recently refused to rule out handing this data over to a foreign country.'

Another one said:

'A private company will inevitably end up providing a poorer service and at a higher cost to the government and to the taxpayers of Australia.'

Lastly, another said:

'My job is important to me. I proudly undertake my duties and serve the Australian community with integrity, diligence, courtesy, honesty and most importantly a sense of great responsibility. These traits are shared by the vast majority of my colleagues. I certainly have concerns regarding how private enterprise will instil these essential characteristics into their workforce.'

The Tasmanian Liberal representatives' approach on this issue has been incredibly disappointing. In response to public servants' letters of concern, Senator Abetz responded:

'I'm sure you perform your duties in a diligent and professional manner … However, no Government should make decisions on what is best for the country based only on how the decision impacts the employment of a particular group of public servants.'

At a time when so many national security concerns and different pieces of legislation are being put forward by this government, Senator Abetz fails to see concern in the loss of over 100 jobs in his home state, in Hobart, or the broader national security issues. This is a most short-sighted attempt to outsource the jobs of a group of public servants to the private sector, with no real guarantees in sight.

Senator Abetz's approach has been mirrored by the government's plans. The Turnbull government's obsession with privatisation fails to treat Australia's public servants with the respect that they deserve; instead it favours outsourcing to multinationals. Our visa processing staff in Hobart are dedicated, highly trained and hardworking, and they are the best possible people to deliver Australia's visa system and processes. This obsession of the Turnbull government with the privatisation of important government services must stop.