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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3725

Senator GEORGES(5.17) —I have found it enlightening to listen to the debate over two days and to realise that many Opposition senators who favoured the proposal have now changed their minds. It reminds me of an interview that I gave to the Special Broadcasting Service on the identification card quite some time ago. Just before entering the room to give that interview I spoke to a leading member of the Liberal Party of Australia, who said that he was in favour of the ID card. I said to him: `How is it that you, a Liberal and a capitalist, are in favour of the card, and I, a socialist, am opposed to it?'. I proceeded to the interview and one of the comments I made was that the matter would be re-examined by both political parties, that I considered this proposition to be an extremely dangerous one as far as our democracy is concerned and as far as our society is concerned.

Unfortunately, because there was no widespread opposition to the card, a certain momentum has been created in support of the card. That momentum is only now beginning, to a certain extent, to be opposed, and not before time. The debate over the last two days has been invaluable. Those who have considered the cost of our meeting over the last two days ought to think again. Even if we were not here we would be engaged in committee work, so cost ought not to be a consideration in this very important matter.

Debate has taken place. I am pleased that a number of views have been put forward. In the main I support the view of those who oppose the card, although those views are being presented with strange motives. I have been consistently opposed to the card from the moment it was proposed as being a very serious intrusion into the rights of the individual in our society. Although I am a socialist, I believe strongly in the rights of the individual to exist without unnecessary bureaucratic interference by the state. As a socialist who believes that the economic arrangements of our society should be in the hands of the state, I believe that the rights of the individual must be even further protected in that sort of society. When Dr Blewett says that privacy is the right and privilege of the rich, he is not quite correct. Privacy is the right of every individual, no matter which society he lives in. The right to privacy is perhaps more the right of a socialist than of a capitalist. It is perhaps even more necessary. So let us put to one side the question of privacy. Privacy is the right of each one of us, no matter what sort of society we live in. To destroy the privacy of the individual would destroy society.

I believe that the ID card is intrusive, cumbersome and unnecessary. The ID card has been presented to us as a licence to exist in our society. If one does not have that licence one cannot exist. On those grounds alone the whole proposition ought to be discarded. It ought to be put to one side and we should consider the alternatives. The alternatives are there to achieve what the ID card is supposed to achieve without interfering with our basic rights. The Australian Taxation Office has come under considerable criticism-unfair criticism. Governments of both political complexions have taken the attitude that we ought to restrict and limit the size of our bureaucracies. We have made decisions across the board. We have allowed certain bureaucracies to grow, perhaps unnecessarily. Having reached the position where we cannot afford the size of bureaucracies, we have decided to cut those bureaucracies across the board without considering the needs of each of the departments concerned.

One of the departments which was so limited and which demanded services in the face of the considerable evasion of payments to the public purse is the Taxation Office. It is no use coming into this place and criticising the Taxation Office for its faults, errors and so-called inefficiencies unless we properly examine what we have done. We have not provided the facilities or funds necessary to the Taxation Office to meet the challenge of tax avoidance and evasion. We all agree that taxes have been too high and that people have endeavoured to evade, minimise or reduce the imposition upon themselves or their companies. The Taxation Office has not been able to cope because the funds have not been made available. Nor has the technology been made available. Only now, belatedly, under the scrutiny of the Auditor-General and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure review is it starting to be realised that there are errors. We ought to respond to those errors by supplying the Taxation Office with the funds and technology it requires to gather the tax which the nation demands. Yet we are going to spend a massive amount to put into place the ID card system which will survey everyone in order to catch the few. Rather than provide the vast amount of money and vast number of public servants to set up this new bureaucracy, would it not be better to direct the funds to the Taxation Office and give it the technology, techniques and personnel to gather the funds which our society needs to carry out its responsibilities?

Recently the Joint Committee of Public Accounts considered the ID card in regard to social security overpayments and dismissed it because it realised that identity was not the problem. Overpayments result because the Department cannot respond quickly to the information it receives. It pumps out cheques endlessly despite the fact that someone has rung and said: `My husband has died, I no longer need the pension cheque'. The pension cheques continue to arrive. A pensioner who has died in a village somewhere on the side of a mountain in Greece continues to receive his cheques, despite the information that has been fed back to the Department that the pensioner no longer lives. We discovered that it was an administration problem, not a problem of identity. In our investigation we also discovered that in the area of computer technology and programming in the Australian Public Service, including the Taxation Office, there is a 54 per cent shortfall of people with the techniques to work the technology that has been provided. Yet there is such massive unemployment amongst young people. As a society we cannot respond to the challenge to provide the personnel to the departments to man the technology which could prevent the massive tax evasion we are now trying to correct by the establishment of a national identity system. My fear is that, once put in place, the system will not remain at the level the Government seeks to achieve. The very draconian penalties which will be imposed to prevent the misuse of the ID card are an argument against the card and its introduction. No argument has been addressed to the right of an individual in our free society to disappear, to change his past, to get away from--

Senator Walsh —A criminal record that you are about to be caught up with? A record of criminal activity?

Senator GEORGES —Yes. Why not, if that criminal activity took place during a person's teens?

Senator Walsh —If you had been running heroin and made a few million out of it you are arguing that all you have to do is to change your identity and you should be able to walk away from that record of criminal activity?

Senator GEORGES —I am not saying that.

Senator Walsh —That is what you are facilitating.

Senator GEORGES —No, I am not facilitating that at all. If the Minister directed his attention to the big boys around the place and if the system were directed to the major frauds in this society, we would not need to have to introduce the ID card. I received a letter the other day which indicates that 12 doctors in Sydney are ripping off the system. Yet, there is no use in exposing that as the Joint Committee of Public Accounts exposed fraud and overservicing because the Australian Federal Police do not have the techniques, the facilities or the personnel to follow it up and the Director of Public Prosecutions does not have the power to bring these people to account. What the Minister is saying to me is that if a youngster were in some way to come into conflict with the law--

Senator Walsh —What I am saying to you is that your formula will facilitate people walking away from a record of criminal activity.

Senator GEORGES —I would suggest that in the minds of reasonable people those who may have been in breach of the law or in breach of the normal behaviour of society should have a right to escape from that. All I am saying to Senator Walsh is that they should have a right to escape. They have a right to change their identity. One would not be able to escape at any time because of the procedures which the Government is trying to impose upon us. One would not be able to change one's identity. People who are poor, underprivileged, abused or socially disadvantaged will have no chance. All I can say is that we must realise that magnitude of what we propose. I would suggest that there are other means of dealing with the problems that Senator Walsh has raised about the mighty who can use the courts and sophisticated lawyers to escape the penalties. But let us not, because of them, impose upon the weak the need to be identified at will.

Although one is not supposed to be asked one's identity by the police, if in a certain situation one were stopped one would be expected to volunteer that information. The problem that emerges is that one would be expected to volunteer. If for some reason a person was in some place which the police determined that he should not be, he could now tell them: `No, I am not in breach of the law. I am not going to give you my name and address'. In such a circumstance the police would have to charge a person with vagrancy. They did it to me on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. I was convicted of loitering with intent. I am a convicted vagrant, and that is on my record. Not only will that be on future records, but so too will information of all of my associates. That is not part of the system which the Government has in mind at present. But at some future time that information held in the criminal record will also find its way into the universal record which the Government is endeavouring to set up under this legislation.

It is very convenient to have a universal ID card. It is very convenient to those who want to use it as a management tool. But let me say this: Beware, because it will become a weapon for social pacification. When all the information is gathered we will find that it contains not only a person's financial position but also his social position and social behaviour. Those people who think they have nothing to fear from that should remember that the categories can change as to what is normal and what is not normal. The categories can change quite easily on the basis of religion or race. This has happened before and it can happen again. The Government's ID system will not be one of high integrity unless a couple of things are done. First of all, a person will be obliged to carry his ID card at all times. Such is technology that all the information can be put on a very small card. The card will be a sort of dog tag that people wear in the army. It will be able to be carried quite easily. If that arrangement becomes too cumbersome, it is quite possible to put all of the information on a very small metallic or plastic card which can be suitably inserted as farmers are now doing with cattle that they want to identify from a distance. People will be able to be identified easily at will by anyone without any interference and without them knowing. Let me tell the Senate this: The steps that are being taken are steps towards that draconian situation. I am not prepared-I have not in the past and I will not now-to support a proposition that will set us along that path. It has been fairly clear in the past that I do not support an identification system. I do not support the legislation.

Honourable senators will recall that on a previous occasion I cast my vote against a piece of legislation which the Government brought forward-I cast my vote against every one of you-and for that I was suspended from my Party. As part of that suspension there was the warning: `Don't ever do it again'.

Senator Mason —So much for democracy.

Senator GEORGES —That is done in the honourable senator's party. It is also done in other parties. But I was under suspension and was warned: `Don't ever do it again'. Whether it was anticipated I would or not, I am not quite certain. But one thing is now clear-that is, I am not going to support this legislation. I am not going to oppose it; I am not going to support it. There is one more thing that I have to do. I have to cast my vote this Saturday in support of my successor and that vote will be cast. But I will not embarrass my colleagues after that task is finished because I have a concern for quite a number of my colleagues who are embarrassed by what has happened to me. So once that is over I will not seek to do that which will expel me from the Party. I will resign from the Party. But that will happen next week. The thing that has to be made clear is that when one begins to lose one's faith in a party which either denies its policy or moves away from its basic principles one can only come to a point of making a decision. So the decision is clear. I am not going to support this piece of legislation. When it comes back to the Senate, as it will come back, I will oppose it. But in the meantime, to clear the decks, I will resign.

Senator Walsh —Why don't you resign from the Senate too, then?

Senator GEORGES —Senator Walsh put that to me when I appeared before the National Executive. I will have that in mind. But let us wait, shall we? I have that in mind as well because I am not prepared to limit the position of my Party in this place. I know what Senator Walsh has in mind-that the last 18 years of working in this place count for nothing. So what he would demand is that I resign not only from the Party but also from the Senate. I will make that decision in my own time to suit myself and those people who have supported me. But what Senator Walsh and a number of others have succeeded in doing is destroying my constituency, whom I do not represent in this place any more. They have reduced me to the point of being embarrassed and sometimes humiliated when I move amongst those people who support me. Well, I have had enough of it.