Visa processing bidders asked to re-work proposals; seek funding

The twice delayed auction to design and run the country's new visa processing system has been delayed, again.

And it is not the political situation blamed for the timetable setback.

It is understood the federal government had asked each of the two heavyweight bidding groups to refine their proposals, which could potentially see one group water down its offering while the other ramps its up.

It means there was no final decision by the targeted August 31 decision date, let alone the initial June 30 target date. Sources said it could be months before either bidding group signed a contract, and there was no certainty one would be signed at all.

It means the likes of PwC, Ellerston Capital, National Australia Bank and Qantas Ventures' pet project is still more fiction than reality.

The heavyweight investors are backing the Australian Visa Processing consortium, which was put together by former Nine Entertainment Co executive and government staffer Scott Briggs and is now run by ex-News Corp executive Peter Tonagh. 

AVP's offering has been compared to property settlements exchange start-up PEXA, which was built from scratch and is now up for sale.

Sources said AVP's design had all the bells and whistles the government initially wanted, such as an "attract and acquire" capability, but its thinking had now changed.

The other bidding group, which includes consulting firm Accenture and Australia Post, had a simpler, less nimble structure than its opponent. The IT giant wanted to build and manage the technology required by the Department to deal electronically with the visa applications, while partner Australia Post will act as a retail channel.

Sources said the government had been back in front of the two bidders asking whether their models could be altered.

It is understood AVP was asked whether it could water its proposal down to a straight processing system that could be managed by the private operator for a fee, while Accenture's group was asked to whether it was able to take its model a bit further. .

The sense is that the government will consider all options at its next sitting, which could include putting it out to limited tender, choosing to work with one party, or even pulling together a hybrid deal.

Of course it comes at a volatile time in federal politics. The process is being run by the Department of Home Affairs and while its minister has not changed through the government's recent turmoil, it seems likely the visa processing contract may have slipped down the government's priority list.

It comes as AVP has spent the past few weeks pitching to new potential equity backers to fund the project should it win the tender.

It is understood AVP boss Tonagh and his team, including adviser Credit Suisse, have been in front of major institutions, pension funds and ultra high net worth individuals including the Pratt and Lowy families, seeking their backing.

The latest delay comes after both groups worked through the 16-week co-design process, which saw weekly meetings with senior government executives and tri-weekly meetings with the project's steering committee. - Source by Australian Financial Year News