The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has described the government’s appointment of Accenture to build a new digital-verification platform for international travellers entering Australia as a missed opportunity ‘not to outsource essential public work to multinationals’.
The new digital passenger declaration (DPD) process announced by the government on Monday replaces existing hard-copy and digital forms that must be completed before travellers arrive in Australia.
The information collected in essential paperwork for travellers, such as the incoming-passenger card and COVID-19 Australian travel declaration form, will now be captured by the DPD. The new process will also digitally verify the COVID-19 vaccination details of people entering Australia.
CPSU assistant national secretary Michael Tull said it only made sense critical digital infrastructure like the DPD should be developed in-house and owned by the public service.
IT firm Accenture won the competitive tender for the project, estimated to be worth $75 million, from the Department of Home Affairs to ‘deliver the initial operating capability’ of the platform.
“Public assets like visa gateways should never be handed over to a multinational corporation, and certainly never in a circumstance where major questions about what is being built, how much it will cost are yet to be answered,” Tull said.
“This is a troubling move in the wrong direction, the government must invest in in house capacity and not outsource essential public work to multinationals who wish to have a future monopoly on government services.”
According to the union, public servants have the skills and experience to deliver the project for the Department of Home Affairs but were not given the opportunity to make the case for executing the project themselves.
“It’s yet another example of the rush to use consultants, contractors and external vendors for work that could and should be done by the public service itself,” Tull said.
In a joint statement with Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, minister responsible for data and digital policy Stuart Robert said the potential application for the same technology of the DPD would be considered for use in other digital upgrades for government services. One of the key features of the platform is that users can input and submit data to the government from their mobile and computer devices.
“The overarching digitisation program could include visas, import permits, personnel identity cards, licenses, registrations, and other documents, making previously cumbersome processes easier, safer and more transparent,” Robert said.
Tull pointed to a host of reviews that have underscored the need to reduce government service reliance on external providers and invest more resources to the APS.
“Most recently the chief statistician David Gruen who heads up the new APS Data profession has said that there is a need to build ‘native capability’ and have key skills in house. I’d say that a permissions platform that is intended for use across multiple departments is indeed a key capability the APS should further develop in-house,” Tull said.
Andrews said the DPD would ensure the ‘safe re-opening’ of Australian international borders.
“This will help us to welcome home increasing numbers of Australians, and welcome the tourists, travellers, international students, skilled workers, and overseas friends and family we’ve all been missing during the pandemic.”
The federal government said that testing of Accenture’s DPD will get underway before it is deployed to major Australian airports later in 2021.