Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1397


Mr SIMMONS(5.02) —I am very pleased to be associated, once again, with the Bill concerned with the Australia Card. I am happy to talk about some of the myths surrounding the Australia Card which are often fabricated by the Opposition for political ends. I believe that it is time that some of those myths were put to rest. Mr Deputy Speaker, to give you some idea of the unscrupulous manner in which the Opposition has sought to slurry this debate, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) has been quoted on numerous occasions as saying that the Opposition would try to make the general debate on the Australia Card like the bitter and emotional fight over the fringe benefits tax and the Bill of Rights `all rolled into one'.


Mr Hollis —All scare tactics.


Mr SIMMONS —Absolutely. That type of attitude is not in the best interests of the people of this country. Those who live out that sentiment are thinking of themselves first and their fellow Australians a very poor second. In my electorate I have done my best to promote discussion of the Australia Card and have willingly given information about the Card to anyone who has sought it. Having done that, I am very happy to say that the vast majority of people, with all the information before them-and that is important-have made up their own minds to support the idea in overwhelming numbers. What people have been saying to me, and saying nationally in opinion polls, is that they want the Card and the benefits that it will so obviously provide. A news poll survey conducted for the Australian newspaper in November 1986 in all States-country and city areas-found that 67 per cent of people were in favour of some form of national identification system, and 61 per cent were in favour of the Government's proposal.

What to me is so incomprehensible about the Opposition's attitude to the Australia Card is that it is knowingly fighting against the wishes of the people of this country-its own electors included. It begs one to ask: Why is it doing so? The answer comes fairly easily: It seeks only to discredit the honest efforts of this Government to improve the tax and welfare systems of this country in the vain hope of scoring a few cheap political points. By the Opposition's actions, it is clear that it would be happy for the situation to remain as it is, with taxpayers footing the bill for some $3 billion a year lost through tax evasion and between $150m and $450m lost in welfare fraud. The point that must be made is that, without a high integrity form of identification, the situation will get worse and obviously there will be more abuses.

I am serious when I say that the future effectiveness of our social security and taxation systems is under threat because of the type of haemorrhaging I have mentioned. Our whole welfare system is under question from those who rightly feel that it is unfair to be paying people benefits to which they are not entitled. It is equally unfair for ordinary, honest taxpayers-usually pay as you earn taxpayers-to be asked to bear the continuing burden of tax avoidance. As a community of Australians living at this time and in this place we have made an implicit pact with one another through our current laws and government. We silently recognise that we all pay into a collective fund from which services are provided for all of us. Also from this fund those in real need-the old, the jobless and the destitute-are aided by the rest of us.

However, there are people who have placed themselves outside the community and, through the use of false identities, are not paying their fair share of tax or are gaining payments from the Department of Social Security that they certainly do not deserve. I am tired of it; you are tired of it, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that the whole community is very tired of it. It is time that we did something about it.

Some of the things that the Opposition has been saying have been thinly disguised attempts to distress people for no reason whatsoever. These distortions include statements that the Card will become some sort of internal passport; that it will be used to form dossiers on people; and that a type of police state will develop. They paint a picture of some Orwellian nightmare which simply has no basis whatsoever in the Australia Card legislation. I have been trying to point out that the Australia Card and the Australia Card Register, which stores the information on the Card, will be used for identification purposes only. The Register has only the most basic identification facts on it-that is, name, address, date of birth, digitised photograph and signature-as well as a record of the verifying documents used in establishing one's identity. Only authorised staff from the Department of Social Security, the Tax Office and the Health Insurance Commission will have access to the information, which is used only to identify a person.

Let me explain how it will work. At present the Department of Social Security has hundreds of thousands of people on record as receiving a benefit. When applying for a benefit, the recipient produces such things as a birth certificate, bills, accounts or insurance policies. We know that at present all those documents are relatively easy to gain under a false identity. What will happen after the introduction of the Card is that a person applying for a benefit will produce his card; the card number will be used to link the applicant to an identity on the Register, and that is all. Let me emphasise that the Australia Card will not be used to store information on people; it is purely a checking advice by which one person's number is linked to an identity. The same principle will apply when people open bank accounts, conduct real estate transactions, send money overseas, open an account with a produce agent or stockbroker, or any other of a limited number of times when people have avoided tax by the use of a fraudulent identity.

The uses of the Card are specifically outlined in the legislation. The limited number of times that the Card is needed means that people need not carry it with them. Certainly, it is not compulsory to carry it, as is specified in the legislation. It must be clear from this that the arguments claiming that the Card will be easy to defraud are quite ridiculous. In the unlikely event that someone produced a false card, the subterfuge would be detected as soon as the card number was called up on the Australia Card Register and no corresponding identity, or the wrong identity, was found. Furthermore, the legislation has been left open to allow the Government to use the most up-to-date security techniques in the manufacture of the Card itself, including a digitised photo and signature that are physically part of the Card and not just stuck on.

Two areas of the Card that the Opposition has been very quiet on are the Data Protection Agency and the companion legislation to the Australia Card Bill, the Privacy Bill. It is interesting to note that during the debate across the length and breadth of this country there was very little discussion on these aspects of the Bills that were introduced by the Government. The reason that the Opposition has been so silent on these matters, I suggest, is that it makes absolutely ludicrous its claims that the Card will be used to form dossiers and to give the Government closer control over the population. The Data Protection Agency is formed in Part VII of the Australia Card Bill and gives individuals comprehensive protection of their privacy in regard to the information held about them on the Australia Card Register. The role of the Data Protection Agency includes the issuing of guidelines to ensure that information kept on the Register is both accurate and confidential, inquiring into complaints that the guidelines governing privacy have allegedly been breached, researching and monitoring developments in computer technology and its affects on privacy, and supervising the way in which the Authority keeps the Register created from the Births, Deaths and Marriages Register.

The Data Protection Agency is formed as part of the Australia Card Bill to ensure the preservation of individual rights after the establishment of the card. However, the Data Protection Agency is also the basic regulatory body of the Privacy Bill. Under this Bill the functions of the Data Protection Agency are extended to apply to the records held on individuals by all other Commonwealth departments. In addition, this Bill establishes 11 information protection principles which will apply to all information held in all Commonwealth departments. These principles protect individuals so that Government departments cannot collect information about them except for a specific purpose such as to provide a service nominated by the individual.

Mr Deputy Speaker, if you think about some of those aspects you will see that this particular legislation will go down in Australian history as a landmark piece of legislation as far as privacy is concerned. The information protection principles protect privacy so that information is up to date and accurate, so that information collected is stored securely, so that people have access to information held on them, so that information can be altered by the subject if necessary, and so that people are made aware of the purpose for which information is being collected. A number of other measures prohibit the gathering and maintenance of records for reasons other than the performance of the legitimate functions of the department.

Does this sound like the Government setting itself up to be a big brother? This is proof of the effect of our Government, I suggest, to limit its power over individuals and to increase privacy in this community. As I have already pointed out, the Card will be needed for only a limited range of functions. Not only this, it will be an offence for anyone to ask to see it, including the police, other than those authorised by the legislation. There is no danger now or in the future of any of the States extending the use of the Australia Card. This is one of the furphies that seems to be aboard at present. The Commonwealth is empowered to establish a national identification system under its constitutional powers for census and statistics, social security and taxation. Similarly, the Constitution bars the States from extending the uses of the card as the Australia Card legislation specifically limits the uses of the card. The States do not have the power to contradict legitimate Federal legislation. Section 109 of the Constitution states:

When a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.

The Opposition says that the legislation inconveniences rural people because of distance. Of course there are sections of the Bill that provide for certificates of identity so that a rural producer need not present his Card in person to the produce agent or to any other group that needs evidence of one's identity. The Opposition will also try to tell us that the card will affect the little people. This is simply not true. There is no way that this legislation could possibly hurt the person next door who goes out on the weekend to collect a load of wood for his neighbour for $20. The little people usually do not have large amounts of cash in bank accounts in false names and the little people do not usually buy and sell real estate with cash. The Opposition may even try to tell people that the card will somehow lead to massive costs for small business. But small business will have only to see their employees' cards once and record the numbers, and they will have to identify their clients in a few, strictly defined circumstances.

In framing this legislation the Government has taken into account every consideration possible of individual rights and the convenience of the public. At the same time, we feel that we have preserved another very important right of the individual, the right not to be ripped off by tax cheats and social security fraud, the people who have shown absolute contempt for their fellow Australians and our own rights.