But the government said a competitive tender process was being run, and the prime minister had no responsibility for choosing who got the deal.
Labor’s Mark Dreyfus asked if Turnbull had a conflict of interest in relation to reports Pacific Blue Capital was planning to bid for the visa processing privatisation.
The firm is run by Turnbull’s former employee and friend Scott Briggs, who reportedly put together a consortium of companies including Qantas and NAB in a bid to win the visa contract.
“Given it’s reported the prime minister launched Pacific Blue Capital and that Mr Briggs worked for the prime minister’s private investment firm, does the prime minister have a conflict of interest in relation to this $1bn government contract, and if so, how will he manage it?” Dreyfus asked in parliament on Tuesday.
The government called it “a slur and a smear” of Turnbull. The leader of the House, Christopher Pyne, said: “The prime minister has no responsibility for public tenders in other ministers’ portfolios.”
Home affairs minister Peter Dutton said the “normal probity arrangements” were in place for the tender process. “The prime minister, myself, we are not decision-makers in relation to this particular tender,” he told parliament. “They are dealt with by the appropriate officers within the respective departments.”
A 2017 briefing by the former immigration and border protection department said Australia’s visa applications were set to rise to 13m a year in 2027, up from 9m in 2016.
The department called for expressions of interest in designing, building and operating a “global digital platform” to run visa processing.
Greens senator Nick McKim said privatisation would be “a corruption of the integrity of our visa system”.
“We are deeply concerned about the conflicts of interests that come with giving such power to corporations, especially given Dutton’s enthusiasm for it to be sold part-and-parcel with commercial services like finance, travel and banking,” Senator McKim said in a statement.
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