Inquiry launched into visa deals linked to Scott Morrison ally

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A federal inquiry will examine a cancelled visa outsourcing project that cost taxpayers at least $92 million after years of political dispute over a bidder’s links to one of Scott Morrison’s closest allies.

The inquiry will consider the competing bids to outsource visa processing to a private consortium including a contentious proposal from Australian Visa Processing, which was backed by Liberal Party powerbroker and lobbyist Scott Briggs.

Scott Briggs was president of Scott Morrison’s Liberal federal electoral conference in his NSW seat, Cook.

The move, agreed by federal parliament’s peak audit committee on Thursday, sets up a new forum to question federal officials and call business executives to public hearings about deals negotiated when Peter Dutton was home affairs minister.

The previous government opened bids for the outsourcing in 2018 and received a joint bid from Australia Post and Accenture as well as a rival offer from Australian Visa Processing, which included Briggs as well as Qantas Ventures, PwC and Ellerston Capital.

When the media highlighted the link between Morrison and Briggs, who was president of Morrison’s federal electoral conference in the NSW seat of Cook, the then-prime minister recused himself from any decision on the contract.

The government cancelled the process in March 2020, amid estimates it would require a $1 billion investment, but the decision also uncovered the fact that $92 million in public funds had been spent on the effort without producing a result.

There is no suggestion Morrison, Dutton or Briggs engaged in any wrongdoing. When this masthead reported in February 2020 that Morrison had recused himself, senior government figures said Dutton had been “totally professional” during the process. Briggs declined to comment when contacted on Thursday.

The chair of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, Labor MP Julian Hill, said the public needed to know what had occurred with the waste of money.

“The parliament and public should understand what went on regarding the Liberals’ failed visa privatisation and what lessons should be learned given the critical importance of upgrading Home Affairs’ antiquated IT systems,” he said.

As well as the initial visa outsourcing project, the inquiry will examine a subsequent Home Affairs project called the “permissions capability” involving an outsourcing deal with Accenture.

The auditor-general found the department paid Accenture $16.5 million for its work on the failed project, which was terminated in August last year.

The parliamentary inquiry comes after tech giant Infosys revealed it had scheduled dozens of meetings with Briggs over the visa processing contract and other talks.

Infosys disclosed the 46 meetings to a separate inquiry by Hill’s committee that has looked at federal contracts linked to former cabinet minister Stuart Robert.

The list of meetings reveals the connection between Briggs and Infosys, which was in the running to offer tech services if the Australian Visa Processing consortium won the federal deal, but Infosys noted that it was disclosing meeting invitations in some cases and could not be sure if people actually attended.

The scheduled meetings began in April 2018 with Briggs and Infosys as well as David Milo, the chief of Canberra consulting firm Synergy360, and largely ended in July 2021.

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