The Australian Government’s move to outsource key visa functions has drawn a sharp response from the Commonwealth Public Service Union (CPSU).
Although it came into existence only on 1 January, the new Department of Home Affairs has been quick to continue the outsourcing strategies of its predecessors, the Australian Border Force and the Department of immigration.
The Department has announced the privatisation of the call centre that provides information about visas and other aspects of Australia’s immigration system. A three year contract has been awarded to Datacom, an international IT services company that already has contracts with other government departments including the Australian Taxation Office.
Under the terms of the contract 250 call centre jobs will move in the Department of Home Affairs to Datacom’s call centre in Adelaide. The transition of services from the Department’s current service centres in Sydney, the United Kingdom and Canada will occur progressively with full implementation expected by mid-2018.
Minister Peter Dutton says the move will save money and reduce wait times for callers. The CPSU does not see that way. It has condemned the decision, saying it puts sensitive personal information hands of a private company and will reduce the quality of service.
“Datacom has a poor track record in terms of the wages and working conditions for its staff. It rakes in sizeable profits from Commonwealth contracts,” said CPSU Acting Deputy Secretary Brooke Muscat-Bentley.
“At the same time it may be artificially reducing its profits to reduce tax liabilities. Datacom has reported very low profit margins, raising questions as to whether it is using multinational tax structures to avoid tax obligations.
“This is a devastating decision for the 250 dedicated staff currently doing this work, along with their families, but also for the people who are so reliant on their assistance to navigate Australia’s complex Immigration rules and processes. Outsourcing this kind of work to a private company like Datacom means paying more and receiving less in return.
“Staff in the current call centre are well trained and work under strict Commonwealth guidelines to ensure the sensitive personal information they have access to is protected. By contrast we have serious concerns about the training and protections that will be in place under Datacom.
“This also has disturbing implications for transparency, which is so critical in ensuring public services are being delivered appropriately and efficiently. Not only will a private company have access to sensitive information, but it won’t be open to the kind of scrutiny that’s needed. Just this week we’ve heard disturbing reports that information about a crisis line for former Defence service people is being kept secret in the interests of a private company.”
“A parliamentary inquiry was launched late last year into just this kind of deal. The audit office recently found Commonwealth procurement through contractors, consultants and labour hire totalled nearly $50 billion last financial year alone, and the Turnbull Government is looking for even more opportunities to line the pockets of private companies through these kinds of arrangements.”
The value of the Datacom contract has not been announced, the governments in July last year that much of Australia’s visa system will be contracted out, with new contract valued at $9 billion over the next decade.
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