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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1415

Mr WRIGHT(8.20) —The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron) gave us a diatribe and a presentation which, I suggest, if we had a parliamentary actors award, would qualify him for that award. I also suggest that he might even consider a screen test for Sons and Daughters, but I would want to check that he is in Actors Equity. We certainly saw a bit of acting just then. The honourable member ought to remember that people who follow Opposition members in debate get the chance to refute the claims they have made. It seems to me that the honourable member for Moreton has been convinced by his own propaganda. He talked about the growth in bureaucracy and said that this was a criticism of the Australia Card. In the propaganda that the Liberals and Nationals are putting out everything they propose involves increased bureaucracy-more people in the Commonwealth Employment Service, more Social Security officers, more tax officers. So we cannot really depend on what the honourable member for Moreton says.

The key to the Liberal-National Party proposal in this area is the tax file number. By putting that proposal forward Opposition members are saying: `Leave it to the Tax Office'. The honourable member for Moreton said that the Australian Taxation Office is incompetent and that it cannot handle even the information before it now. Yet the Liberals and Nationals tell us that the way to handle the problem is to leave it to the Tax Office-the Tax Office that the honourable member for Moreton says cannot even do the job now.

The honourable member also talked about the high and honourable position he has taken on phone tapping. When the issue of phone tapping concerning Lionel Murphy, which sent him to an early grave, was raised I do not recall the honourable member for Moreton standing up for civil liberties. He was prepared to condone that. It seems we have two different rules here. The honourable member for Moreton ought to think very carefully when he talks about this debate being farcical because it is the Liberal-National Opposition that has kept the debate going. It will probably go for a couple of days. This will not only cost the people of Australia a lost of money because of the revenue gains we are losing but also because there are some 3,000 people employed in the parliamentary system. Their wages are about $180,000 a day. So every day the Opposition prolongs this second debate-and that is what it is-on this Bill it is costing the Australian community $180,000. Yes, it is farcical but it is farcical not for the reasons given by the honourable member for Moreton; it is farcical for reasons which are quite clear and which have been demonstrated by Government members.

I appreciate that it is the task of the Opposition to oppose but it is also the role and responsibility of any opposition to act responsibly, to criticise constructively and to present alternatives. But have we seen that in this debate? Of course we have not. Instead, because of some mistaken belief by Opposition members that they might gain politically, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives they have placed themselves in a position in which they are actually working to protect not only the dishonest Australians who evade and rort the taxation and welfare systems but also the illegal migrants in this country. In their campaign of opposition they have done everything to build up the fear and trauma in the community. We just heard it then from the honourable member for Moreton talking about kids carrying ID cards. Next minute we will hear about numbers on the forehead or something like that. Opposition members have resorted to blatant untruths when they have talked about the expansion of the use of the Australia Card. The people who think about this and the people who listen to this debate must appreciate that this is a blatant untruth because it is legislation that determines and specifically sets out the application of the Australia Card. It would take new legislation to expand Australia Card use.

We simply have to look back at the performance of the Liberals and Nationals. I do not think the people of Australia have forgotten that the Liberal and National members voted against measures that were brought forward by the Hawke Labor Government to retrieve the hundreds of millions of dollars illegally reaped by business under the bottom of the harbour schemes. The people have not forgotten that the Liberal and National parties in power between 1975 and 1983 closed their eyes to welfare fraud. But the Hawke Labor Government acted in these areas. Last year the Hawke Labor Government acted to save this country something like $50m a year by stopping New Zealanders from coming to Australia, stepping of a boat or getting out of a plane and going straight on to welfare benefits. The Hawke Labor Government toughened up the controls concerning the application for benefits. The Hawke Government upgraded the field checks on long term welfare recipients. The Hawke Government has taken action against those who have been rorting the welfare system. It is not surprising that the Hawke Government is also now acting to further combat tax evasion, welfare fraud and the activities of illegal migrants in this country.

I and other Government members believe that people of this country have a right to expect that their elected representatives will protect them, and I mean protect them, from those who are operating dishonestly within the tax and welfare systems. They have a right to expect that this Government will ensure as best it can that everybody contributes his fair share of tax. They have a right to believe that welfare benefits are paid only to those who are legally entitled to those benefits. But it appears that that is not the view of Liberal and National members because they are opposing these measures. The people of Australia also want to ensure that immigrants here are legally here and that their activities are also legal. The people of Australia also expect that in achieving these objectives of overcoming welfare and tax fraud the government of the day must do everything within its power to ensure that any identification system or Australia Card system is not abused or illegally used and that the rights of the individual relating to civil liberties and privacy are safeguarded.

I have listened to this debate and other debates. When we endeavour to address the problems of tax and welfare fraud and illegal migrant activities that we have in this country different solutions will always be proposed and canvassed. It is understandable that in the first instance people will suggest that we tackle it through the tax system. I thought that at first too. I listened to some of the debates in the Government's legal committee. I think it is also understandable that when people first hear about these things without knowing the detailed proposals they could be concerned about the unfettered use of any identification card system. It is also understandable that the invasion of privacy would arise in the debate.

The facts are that the invasion of privacy area has been very carefully considered and proper protections have been built into the proposed system and are in the legislation. They are not something that will be done by regulation; they are in the legislation. The use of the card is not unfettered. Instead there are rigid-I stress-tough, stringent legislative controls that carry heavy penalties for abuse and misuse of the Australia Card. They also restrict the use of the Australia Card. In contrast to the tax control propositions, the Australia Card is clearly the most cost-effective, efficient, all-embracing and suitable method of addressing the difficult tax evasion, welfare abuse and migration problems confronting our country.

I believe, as other Government members do, that the Australia Card will give to Australia's overburdened tax and welfare systems a fairness that we have never known before. It will save an estimated $880m in lost revenue. This is over $2m per day. This legislation first came before the House last year. It was rejected on 10 December. This means that this nation now faces a cost or loss of $200m since this legislation was first rejected-I stress rejected-by the Liberals and Nationals. That $200m could have meant something like 6,000 new homes for Australian families, a significant increase in age pensions, thousands of loans for needy farmers and small businessmen, hundreds of extra university places, thousands of new places through Jobstart positions for young people, the upgrading of country roads and a brand new approach in so many areas of government expenditure, because there would have been more money. But instead it is revenue lost. And why? Because this Opposition, the coalition of Liberals and Nationals, thought it was on a political winner. It thought it would gain something politically by opposing the concept of the Australia Card.

I have asked myself why Opposition members would do it. Surely they must have thought it through. They knew the tax problems. The honourable member for Moreton said that there are `millions of Australians rorting the tax system'. He admitted that there was welfare fraud. So, why would Opposition members do it? When one considers their gung-ho approach to phone tapping and when one realises that they have never really cared about the welfare system, why have they suddenly taken this approach? If one is to believe the talk in the corridors, it seems that the real reason the Liberals and Nationals have decided to oppose the identification system is that way back in the last part of last year they thought that if they did they might split the Australian Labor Party. They thought that there might be enough people in the Goverment, the Labor Party branches and the labour movement who would oppose the idea. But it has not worked. Instead, Government members, branch members and the people generally-the majority of Australians-have realised that if we are going to redress the situation and attack the problems the card has to be. If one listens to the talk in the corridors, many Opposition members now agree with the introduction of the Australia Card but they are caught up in their own early intrigue.

I have a bit of sympathy for the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt) because he has had to try to put forward some sort of reasonable case for the Opposition. He has done a pretty poor job. He cannot explain, for instance, why, if tax evasion, welfare fraud and migrant illegalities could be stopped by his list of administrative measures-he has listed all the measures-the Liberals and Nationals did not do it when they were in government. Why did they not do it between 1975 and 1983? When Labor took over it was estimated that there were some 55,000 illegal immigrants in Australia. The New Zealand visitors I mentioned before were ripping off about $1m a week from the Australian welfare system. Hundreds of millions of dollars was being lost each year because of non-declared income. It has been left, as usual, to the Labor Government to act, not only with the introduction of legislation for the Australia Card but also with precise and tough administrative measures.

This is the Government that has toughened up the application procedures for social security. It is nonsense for the honourable member for Richmond to get up and say that under Labor all one needs is a driver's licence or some sort of credit card. One needs three documents which have integrity-such as one's birth certificate and one's marriage certificate-before one gets benefits. Under Labor, recipients of unemployment benefits must physically call in to the Commonwealth Employment Service and Social Security offices to lodge their forms weekly. This was not the case under the Liberals and Nationals. Under the former Government, farmers' sons would work on the family farm but send in their forms and get the dole. That cannot happen under the Labor Government. One fronts up or one misses out. New Zealanders, as I said, cannot get off the plane and pick up welfare benefits. Now they must be in the country for six or twelve months.

Field officer checks have been increased. We have seen in the media recently that hundreds of people who have been receiving welfare are now under challenge. Many have had their benefits reduced and others have had them cancelled. At the same time, some people have had their benefits increased because as we have done this work we have found that some people were missing out on the benefits that were due to them. There has also been a massive clamp-down in the administration area to bring about efficiency. This is all happening before the introduction of the Australia Card. It has already meant tens of millions of dollars being saved for the people of Australia.

In the area of migration, again we have acted properly. There was the amnesty for illegals, but when the amnesty was over this Government moved against the illegals. Much to the trauma of some people, we have actually deported a number of people. On this side of the House we believe that an immigration system must have integrity. One cannot have queue jumping or people coming to this country on visitors visas and then illegally getting jobs, changing their names and drawing benefits. There has to be integrity. This Government has brought about that integrity.

In the tax area, again it is the Hawke Government that has endeavoured to retrieve the money lost to the people through the bottom of the harbour schemes. Whichever test or measure one uses, it is the Hawke Labor Government that has acted with integrity, purpose and precision, and acted properly, to try to ensure that the rights of the people which I outlined before are adhered to. It is in the tax area that I think we will see the greatest gains. It is in the tax area that the people of Australia want to see an Australia Card because that is where the revenue gains are. In the tax area alone it is very conservatively estimated that the revenue gains to the people of Australia will be $724m. One can say figures quickly and it does not mean very much, but that is $150m more than this Government gave to all the local authorities-the 830 local authorities-last year. It is more than half the total money we gave to the States for roads last year. We gave the States $1,240m for roads and the revenue gain from the card will be $724m. Yet, despite the advantages and gains to local authorities, to States, to people in every capacity, the Liberal and National parties intend to close their eyes and again vote against this legislation.

For the first time, and this time through the Australia Card, the Australian Taxation Office will have a highly secure and effective means of linking all sources of income, whether it comes from employment, investments, welfare payments or interest earned on bank accounts. It will be the first time the Tax Office can do the job that it should do. It is no wonder the honourable member for Moreton criticises the operation of the Taxation Office. It has been hampered and fettered. But now we are going to give the Office an instrument that will allow it to chase up the employment income, the investments and the welfare payments and link them together. This will mean an end to migrants working illegally in this country. It will mean an end to non-declared investment returns. It will mean an end to non-declared interest on bank accounts and building society deposits. It will mean an end to the income tax dodgers who have two or three jobs. It will mean an end to the unemployment benefit recipients who drive hire cars, have part time taxi licences and use false names to work in the seasonal industries, for small crop farmers and so on. It will mean an end to the rorts pulled by the spouses who falsely declare that they are separated in order to get benefits. It will mean an end to all those things. The list goes on and on.

It is no wonder that the vast majority of Australians support the Australia Card. It is no wonder that public opinion has turned so hard against the Nationals and Liberals on this issue. I join the millions of honest Australians who support the Australia Card. I believe that they understand what it is all about. They realise that the card will ensure that no longer will the families, pensioners, small business proprietors and all other people out there have to subsidise the cheats within our society. They also realise that only through the Australia Card will real integrity be returned to the tax system and that only through an identification system will the links be made between investment income and benefits that are received by people and that they will be forced to be declared.

I see hundreds of reasons why the Australia Card should be introduced. It is not so much for financial reasons but because we need to bring integrity back into the welfare system and the tax system. I have not heard a decent argument yet come forward from the Opposition. Its members have talked about administrative changes. We have made them. They have talked about increasing the number of field checks. We have done that. They have talked about improving the application system for benefits. We have done that. Yet it has been said by Opposition members that there is still a problem out there. Clearly, the honest thinking Australian knows the value of the Australia Card. It is about time this Opposition admitted its mistake, a mistake it made for sheer political reason, and got together with Government members to ensure that this legislation passes the Senate so that the tax, welfare and illegal migrant problems of this country can be beaten. It is time that party politics were cast aside and the good of Australia was put first.