Foreign multinationals are jostling to take over the payment of tens of billions of dollars in Medicare and other Australian government benefits.
Companies from the US, Germany, Japan and Britain have approached the Commonwealth, interested in taking over the Medicare, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Veterans Affairs payments in an outsourcing deal.
Only three home-grown players, Eftpos, Australia Post and Telstra offshoot Stellar, are in the hunt to secure the massive contract if the Abbott government decided to go ahead with the privatisation.
But British services giant Serco, Japanese-US outfit Fuji-Xerox, German software behemoth SAP as well as American outsourcing powerhouse Accenture are all circling too, according to well-placed sources in the local "business process outsourcing" industry.
The news comes as Prime Minister Tony Abbott moves to place limits on purchases of Australian agricultural land by foreign entities.
The Health Department called in August 2014 for expressions of interest from private players interested in taking over the payment of $29 billion each year in health and pharmaceutical benefits currently managed by the Human Services.
Human Services Minister Marise Payne says much of the Department of Human Services IT infrastructure used to process the payments was ageing and needed to be replaced and the private sector might be able to supply cheaper solutions.
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The government has insisted that the expressions of interest process is a "market testing" exercise but has been coy about those companies expressing an interest, merely conceding that some of them have had an "international presence".
Outsourcing industry players have complained recently that the process has been in a "holding pattern" with little news trickling out of government.
Senator Payne's office referred questions to the Health Department which said in a statement that progress was being made.
"The potential to have health service claims and payments provided by commercial providers has been tested through an initial expression of Interest process," a spokeswoman said.
"The evaluation of the responses and consideration of options is still in progress."
A spokeswoman for Australia Post confirmed on Thursday that the service was keen to get its hands on the payments contract as part of its broader expansion plans.
"Australia Post is committed to growing the range of trusted services that we provide our customers," the spokeswoman said.
"We believe we are uniquely positioned with our extensive distribution reach and proven trusted services capabilities to deliver more services."
Oracle, Fuji-Xerox, SAP, Accenture, Serco, Eftpos and Stellar were all also contacted for comment and only Fuji-Xerox responded, saying it would not comment.
The Labor opposition, public sector unions and most recently the Australian Medical Association have all come out against any move to outsource the payment with the AMA criticising the idea in its submission to a Parliamentary committee on health policy.
"The call for expressions of interest appears to have been made without any analysis of the cost savings and efficiencies already provided by medical practices," the submission said.
Shadow minister for Human Services Senator Doug Cameron said the idea of outsourcing the payments to the private sector was purely ideological.
Stellar (Telstra, Australia)
Australia Post (Australia)
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