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Issue 12: ScoMo's mates eye off visa goldmine

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From the editorFor those of a rugby league persuasion, today's a big day for you. The NRL grand final
 

SundayFocus

October 6 · Issue #12 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
For those of a rugby league persuasion, today’s a big day for you. The NRL grand final. Roosters versus Raiders. The winningest team of the modern era versus the perennial battlers. The glamour boys of Bondi versus the interlopers from our unfashionable capital.
The language and themes of sport also dominate the reporting of electoral politics: winners, losers, tactics, team selections, comebacks, point-scoring. I’ve always found this incredibly lazy and dull. Not only does it flatten debate into binary choices, it saps the national conversation of context, condemning us to relive the same hollow narratives on an endless loop.
SundayFocus doesn’t break news, but where possible we try to place events within something of an historical frame, and it seems like many of you appreciate that. We’ve rocketed past 5000 subscribers – many of whom are paid-up Solidarity Subscribers – which is really quite something. Thanks so much for your support and please keep the feedback coming.
Enjoy the issue! (And go Raiders.)
Guy Mosel, Editor

ScoMo's mates eye off visa goldmine
by Guy Mosel
Photo by Tina | Unsplash
Photo by Tina | Unsplash
In 2016, in what was described as a “blistering attack”, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said he was beginning to have serious doubts about privatisation.
“I’ve been a very strong advocate of privatisation for probably 30 years; I believe it enhances economic efficiency,” Mr Sims told the Melbourne Economic Forum.
“I’m now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it’s been done to boost proceeds, it’s been done to boost asset sales and I think it’s severely damaging our economy.”
Sims, hardly a radical socialist, slammed the sale of ports as “dopey” and said deregulating the electricity market and offloading poles and wires in Queensland and NSW had almost doubled power prices.
“When you meet people in the street and they say, ‘I don’t want privatisation because it boosts prices,’ and you dismiss them… recent examples suggest they’re right.
“I think a sharp uppercut is necessary and that’s why I’m saying: stop the privatisation.”
Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton obviously weren’t paying attention. Their plan to privatise our national visa processing system takes a major step this month with the winner of a tendering process set to be announced.
The winning bidder will build a digital platform to process most temporary visa applications (tourists, temporary workers, international students) thereby freeing up the Department of Home Affairs to assess “more complex applications”.
The upfront investment is likely to be $1 billion, but the winning consortium, while guaranteeing the $2 billion the government receives every year from applications, will be able to charge an additional $35 service fee per visa, or $315 million per annum based on 2017-18 volumes.
The government insists that the outsourcing does not, in fact, privatise visa processing despite the very obvious fact that that’s precisely what it does.
The people like it public
So what’s behind this decision? Well it’s not because it’s a vote-winner. The Australian public, much like Rod Sims, is deeply opposed to governments selling off the family silver.
A 2015 Essential survey found that 70 per cent of Australians believe that privatisation increases prices for services, while the same number believe that privatisation mainly benefits the private sector. Only a third of respondents believed that private companies delivered better services than the government.
And you can hardly blame them for thinking that. Since privatisation became all the rage during the neoliberal turn of the 1980s, our national institutions – Telecom, Commonwealth Bank, Qantas – have been hocked for cash and morphed into loathed monopolies and corporate monoliths. Another Essential survey actually found strong support for re-nationalisation.
While some argue that privatisation has improved services, costs to the consumer have soared while governments have surrendered decision-making, hamstrung their ability to make long-term plans, and transferred vast quantities of money into private – and often offshore – hands.
As Scott Phillips wrote in a 2017 piece:
“Think about Sydney Airport, the nation’s power stations, our state TABs and the ‘poles and wires’ deal in NSW. Add in Medibank Private and QR National (now Aurizon). No-one takes the deal unless they are expecting to make money from it – cash that could have otherwise accrued to government coffers.
“It’s also tempting to wonder what decisions might have been made differently if government still owned some of those assets, particularly in energy. Would there be as many coal-fired power plants? Would distributed energy (where locally produced and stored energy replaces or augments the main 'poles and wires’) be further along if there was no government incentive to lease the distribution assets?”
Mates’ rates
Privatisation is almost always a bad idea, but there are specific reasons why outsourcing our visa system is especially troubling. For one thing, one of the two consortia vying for the big pay-day is so deeply linked to the Liberal Party generally, and to Scott Morrison personally, that they may as well share office space.
As Michael West and his team have so forensically laid out, the Australian Visa Processing consortium, one of two remaining bidders for the billion-dollar contract, is backed by fruit and vegetable mogul Santo Peter Tripodina and his property developer son Adrian. “The Tripodina family,” reports Michael Sainsbury, “has been reported as being members of the Liberal Party in Scott Morrison’s electorate and Adrian has donated money to the party in the past.“
The face of the bid is Scott Briggs, a friend of and ”fixer“ for Scott Morrison, who also used to work with Minister for Immigration David Coleman at Nine Entertainment. Morrison and Coleman have recused themselves from the tender process, but that’s really just a fancy way of saying their signatures won’t be on anything.
Meanwhile, the Migration Institute’s John Hourigan said they were concerned that in private hands the visa system would be "misused as a commercialised platform for added on and ‘premium’ services … and be detrimental to government initiatives, such as those designed to encourage the ‘best and brightest’, investors and skilled migrants to Australia”.
And in his senate inquiry submission, former Department of Immigration deputy secretary Abul Rizvi also slammed the move: “The risks associated with visa privatisation, once Home Affairs has become totally dependent on a monopoly owner of the visa processing IT platform, are extensive.
"Home Affairs has provided no explanation of how these many risks are to be managed.”
And so we now have the prospect of a privately held company with a convoluted ownership structure and deep ties to the Liberal Party, enriched at the expense of you and I, and suddenly in possession of the personal data of millions of people.
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Read more
The CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) has been leading efforts to stop the privatisation of Australia’s visa system. Over 3000 people’s jobs are at risk of being wrecked through the privatisation . The CPSU has also been a leading opponent of privatisation. You can add your name to their petition here.
Abul Rizvi reveals an “increasingly dysfunctional” organisation in this excoriating account of the inner workings of the Immigration Department. You can also read more of his thoughts about the visa privatisation here.
This Eureka Street piece from a few years ago is a good dismantling of the neoliberal logic of privatisation.
And for a glimpse of what may lie ahead this report from The Independent reveals how the UK’s Home Office has increased visa profits by outsourcing operations to a Dubai-based firm accused of exploiting vulnerable applicants.
In other news...
Missing the mark The National Energy Emissions Audit update for September paints an unsurprisingly damning picture. As per Giles Parkinson in Renew Economy, “Some 27 countries have actually lowered their energy emissions in the last decade. Only eight countries increased these emissions, and only Turkey, Mexico and South Korea did worse than Australia.”
One hand on freedom Australian Jock Palfreeman, jailed in Bulgaria in 2009 for killing a right wing football fan while defending two Roma men, may soon be paroled, but his case remains a political weapon for the country’s far right.
Can you spare a dime? Millionaire restaurateur Matt Moran really tugged at the heartstrings last week when he complained that “compliance” (also known as “not stealing wages”) took “a lot of resources” and “should be simpler”. The heartfelt plea from a man worth $5 million came during the same week Subway franchisees were again revealed to have engaged in large-scale wage theft.
It’s not the economy, stupid Scott Morrison suggested in his repudiation of Greta Thunberg that the economy was something people inhabited, rather than a conglomeration of man-made systems and tools to facilitate the exchange and distribution of goods and services. This piece digs into why politicians like to pretend the economy is a “living, breathing thing”.
Gillard gets cosy with BoJo Former Labor PM Julia Gillard appeared at a fringe meeting of the Tory Party conference in Manchester last week (so did Tony Abbott, by the way). Guy Rundle correctly points out [$] that no one should be remotely surprised.
“You don’t look Aboriginal – you’ve got blue eyes” In IndigenousX, Marni Tuala explores the entitlement white Australians feel in challenging the identities of First Nations peoples.
Billionaires running scared Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom (in different ways) have gone after the ultra-wealthy, are riding high in the race to the the Democratic Party’s candidate for US president, and the billionaires are getting nervous.
Coming up this week
Brisbane rebels Brisbane climate activism will ramp up from tomorrow with the start of Rebellion Week, five days of mass non-violent civil disobedience. Chris Graham in New Matilda argues that this is just the beginning.
NDIS hearings Public hearings into the “implementation and performance” of the NDIS will be held this week in Brisbane and Sydney.
If you're in Canberra on Mon 7 October, visit our Labour Day Festival and Union Picnic.
If you're in Canberra on Mon 7 October, visit our Labour Day Festival and Union Picnic.
Longreads
Melbourne's renewal and homelessness: urban space, erasure and redemption
Impeachment is the Republican Party's final test
Dark crystals: the brutal reality behind a booming wellness craze
For your bookshelf
Finding the Heart of the Nation, by Thomas Mayor
Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben
Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden, by Andrew Stafford
Shop
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