The role of "Liberal-linked figures" in a failed Coalition government plan to privatise visa processing at the Department of Home Affairs will be the subject of an inquiry by a powerful parliamentary committee.
The Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit has launched an investigation into the procurement by Home Affairs of an IT system to process visa applications that was ultimately abandoned by the previous government after incurring $92 million of costs.
Committee chair, Labor MP Julian Hill, said the inquiry would examine the multi-stage procurement, including the costs incurred and the conduct of "persons involved or interested in the process, the ethical use of resources and ethical behaviour".
The investigation will examine the competing proposals considered by Home Affairs for the project, including one from the Australian Visa Processing consortium led by Liberal powerbroker Scott Briggs, who was also a close friend of the-then prime minister Scott Morrison.
Mr Briggs' involvement in the bid process, launched in late 2017, proved controversial and he left it in early 2020.
It has since been revealed that the Liberal figure exchanged numerous text messages with former Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo, who was dismissed this week after it was found he had breached the public service code of conduct 14 times, including for using his position for personal benefit.
The initial phase of the procurement was scrapped in early 2020 amid warnings setting up the system could eventually cost $1 billion.
Mr Hill said the committee would look at the procurement process, including "what was the role of Liberal-linked figures".
A related procurement launched by Home Affairs in October 2020 was subsequently the subject of an Australian National Audit Office investigation that found shortcomings in the way it was handled that hampered it ability to prove that value for money had been achieved.
Mr Hill said the audit office findings would "absolutely" be taken into account by the inquiry, "but further questions that have emerged warrant a stand-alone inquiry".
"The previous government wasted $92 million on a failed attempt to privatise visa processing, yet after they abandoned their tender process [they] still forced Home Affairs to bear a $180 million cut from fake savings that never materialised," he said.
Where those savings fell would form part of the investigation, the MP said.
"The parliament and public should understand what went on regarding this aborted, wasteful privatisation and what lessons should be learnt given the critical importance of actually doing something to upgrade Home Affairs' antiquated IT systems," Mr Hill said.
"The committee looks forward to hearing from Home Affairs and to considering the conduct of entities or persons involved or interested in that procurement process."
The inquiry will take submissions until the end of January and has not set a reporting date.