Personal information collected by a new digital border pass for international travel will be passed on to the states and territories for contact tracing and other health reasons as the federal government looks to rely on the technology to remove a ban on Australians leaving the country.
The Digital Passenger Declaration will apply to all travellers entering the country and will be introduced within months after international IT firm Accenture was awarded the tender, estimated to be about $75 million, to automate the process of entering the country.
The DPD will replace the physical Incoming Passenger Card and the digital COVID-19 Australian Travel Declaration form. It will collect personal information including passengers’ vaccination status up to 72 hours before boarding and provide the digital authority for vaccinated Australians to travel.
Passengers coming into Australia will be able to complete the DPD on their mobile device or computer.
The new digital pass will also be designed so it can pass on information to state and territory public health authorities for them to track people entering the jurisdiction and potentially use it for contact tracing. The technology could eventually also take in visas, import and export permits and licences as well as other government services such as environmental and building permits.
It will also work alongside mobile applications that returned travellers will have to download to quarantine at home as the nation looks to move away from hotel quarantine. South Australia has already begun a home-based quarantine trial whereby people have to download the Home Quarantine SA app to access their testing schedule, complete daily symptom checks and confirm their location with regular check-ins.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the DPD would support the “safe reopening of the border at scale when supported by health advice” by providing digitally verified COVID-19 vaccination details.
“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,” she said.
Unlike the prospect of domestic vaccine certificates – which could be required for large-scale sporting events, nightclubs and major tourist attractions and are opposed by a growing number of federal MPs – proof-of-vaccination requirements for international travel appear to be less contentious.
The new digital system will link in with the QR code vaccination certificate to be introduced this month so it can digitally give permission to vaccinated travellers to enter the country.
A federal ban on Australians leaving the country will be dropped as soon as November under the plans.
The DPD, which is being developed by the Department of Home Affairs, will work with the vaccine certificates, which have been developed by Services Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to allow for the collection of health information.
The confirmation that the government is pressing ahead with the new digital system comes after it last year shelved a related plan to outsource Australia’s visa processing system after spending almost $92 million on the tender. The decision to bin the $1 billion outsourcing plan was made amid political conflicts of interest within cabinet.
The government said Accenture was awarded the work through a competitive tender process run independently by Home Affairs.
Minister responsible for data and digital policy Stuart Robert said following the implementation of the DPD, the government would consider how the same technology could be used to deliver digital upgrades to other government services.
“The overarching digitisation program could include visas, import permits, personnel identity cards, licences, registrations and other documents, making previously cumbersome processes easier, safer and more transparent,” he said.
Michael Tull, assistant national secretary of the Commonwealth Public Sector Union, said DPD would be a “critical digital infrastructure that should be built in-house by the public service, so it is publicly owned and controlled by Parliament.
“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,” he said.
“This is a troubling move in the wrong direction, the government must invest in in-house capacity not outsource essential public work to multinationals who wish to have a future monopoly on government services.”
The DPD will now move into a testing phase before being deployed throughout major Australian airports.