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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1403

Mr HOLLIS(5.36) —In this contribution on the Australia Card Bill I was tempted to repeat the speech I made when the Bill was first introduced last November. The legislation is the same and my support for it is as strong as, indeed stronger than, it was then. I listened with interest to the speech by the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt), who I notice is now leaving the chamber having delivered his speech. My colleagues who were on the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card tell me that the honourable member did not attend many of the meetings, and at those that he did attend he arrived late, left early or went to sleep during the hearing. So much for his comments on what that Committee decided.

No doubt the Opposition will again bring out all the scare stories. We have already heard a few from the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) and the honourable member for Richmond. They raised the threat to civil liberties-`Big Brother is watching you'-but, as I have said time and time again, countries with civil liberties that we in Australia can only envy have a system of national identification. The unfortunate fact, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that there are tax cheats in the community, and I need not tell you how most of them vote.

Mr Fitzgibbon —All on that side.

Mr HOLLIS —I said that I need not say how they vote. Unfortunately, there is also welfare fraud. But to listen to some honourable members opposite one would think that the day the Hawke Labor Government came to power the fraud in the welfare system started. Let us face it: We inherited the system. What a system it was. We have now been in government for four years. We have been working to eliminate this fraud. What did those who sit opposite and who now preach to us about welfare fraud do about welfare fraud when they sat on the treasury bench? Why did they leave the whole system in such a mess for us? Since the Hawke Labor Government was elected the Opposition has been running around the country accusing the Government of being soft on social security fraud. Members of the Opposition have never been able to produce any figures. Their examples are usually very suspect, but this does not stop them. They still run around the country with all these scare stories. If one wants an indication of some of the scare stories, I refer to the background information circulated to Opposition members by the honourable member for Richmond. I know that most honourable members on my side have it, so I will not go through it. It contains three pages of scare tactics to use in this debate to frighten pensioners and others. The honourable member for Richmond used four of them and I think the honourable member for Barker used two. I will take a tally this evening and I know that by the end of the night all of them to the end of page 3 will have been used. I will seek leave to make a personal explanation to give the score later this evening.

In the four years I have been in this place I have never seen more disgraceful misrepresentation of the facts. What does the honourable member for Richmond do about welfare fraud? How often do we hear him asking a question in this chamber about it? We do not hear him. What does he do? He drives the editors of country newspapers mad by writing letters to them all the time. That is the only contribution he can make to these debates.

Let us look at some of the things that both he and the honourable member for Barker have said this afternoon. One of the things they both commented on was field officers and the powers of field officers. One simple thing which they both omitted to mention-it is not mentioned in the document, either-is that the number of field officers has been increased by nearly 200 since this Government came to power. Now that this Government has attempted to control fraud and to bring integrity into the social security system, we have the unbelievable hypocrisy of this Opposition running around the country opposing the Australia Card. It did the very same thing with the assets test and the Human Rights Commission legislation. It is simply descending into the politics of fear. It is the same in regard to the information which it says will have to be contained on the Australia Card. More information is contained on one's drivers licence and credit cards. Unlike the Australia Card, it is compulsory for every person in Australia who drives a car to carry a drivers licence.

It is the same when the Opposition talks about when one will have to produce the ID card. The times when one will have to produce the ID card under this legislation are the same times as one now has to produce proof of one's identity. Today sometimes one has to prove one's identity. We are not introducing a whole new category, as some Opposition members would have people believe. The Australian people-I always give credit for the good sense of the average Australian-will see through the activities of this Opposition. Day by day the Australian people are seeing through the activities of this discredited Opposition. When the Opposition was in government it let fraud become the growth industry of the social security system. But the Hawke Government has said that enough is enough and has attempted to eliminate this fraud. Who can disagree with editorial writer after editorial writer and commentator after commentator who have accused the Opposition of opportunism of the worst possible kind on this issue? The Opposition knows in its heart that it wants to stop fraud. If it wants to stop fraud, it should support the Australia Card Bill and the Australia Card program.

Opposition members know that the Australia Card program is the strongest possible weapon against tax evasion and welfare fraud. I have here no fewer than 10 pages of quotations from senior Opposition members, including the honourable member for Richmond, supporting the Australia Card. In a media release of 8 June 1985 the honourable member for Richmond said: `The introduction of a national identification system using ID cards offers benefits to the Australian people which outweigh any civil liberty considerations'. What has made the honourable member change his mind? I suggest that it might be political opportunism. I also ask: Whatever has the Opposition's tactics committee been up to? I suppose that it has been embroiled in yet another factional fight. This is a faction-ridden Opposition. The overwhelming majority of Australians support the introduction of the Australia Card. Survey after survey shows that the overwhelming majority of Australians support the introduction of the card with a photograph.

We heard the honourable member for Richmond tell us about his Damascus road-type conversion. Quite a few Opposition members must have been on that road-with or without a car phone. We know that the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), was on that road, and so was the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite). My good friend the honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp) was also on that road to Damascus. Two years ago the honourable member for Gilmore was on every road in my electorate of Throsby-as well as all the roads of Gilmore. He kept challenging me to state where I stood on the Australia Card because he thought there might have been a bit of dispute on this side. I stated where I stood. I said that I supported the card with a photograph. Interestingly, so did the honourable member for Gilmore. We were in agreement. In the Southern Highland News, the Highlands Post and all the other newspapers there we were both saying the same thing. But the honourable member for Gilmore got on that crowded road to Damascus, along with the honourable member for Richmond and the honourable member for Dawson. A whole lot of National Party members were there. Now they come in here and oppose the introduction of the Australia Card, but they know in their heart of hearts that if they were really serious about doing something about welfare fraud they would support this legislation.

To give an indication of the hypocrisy of the other side, I point out that members who, like me, were in this chamber last Friday afternoon during the adjournment debate would have heard the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) make a disgraceful speech about welfare. He said that he wanted everyone to ring up and dob in a dole bludger.

Mr Robert Brown —He did indeed.

Mr HOLLIS —I believe that the honourable member for Charlton has the Hansard with him. What is the page?

Mr Robert Brown —Page 1265.

Mr HOLLIS —On page 1265 of last Friday's Hansard report one can find what the honourable member for Fisher said about dobbing in a dole bludger. If the honourable member for Fisher were serious about stopping welfare fraud, he would come into the chamber this evening and speak in support of this legislation and, when the vote is taken, he would cross from his seat to this side of the chamber and vote with honourable members on this side.

Dr Charlesworth —He would slip across.

Mr HOLLIS —He would slip across, as they say. The Australia Card will be used as a mechanism to cut down on social security fraud. We on this side of the chamber are serious about cutting the crooks out of the social security system. The Australia Card will be the key component in our scrutinisation strategy. The Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) and the honourable member for Richmond are really scraping the bottom of the barrel to find reasons to oppose the introduction of the Australia Card. They have been very busy-we will hear more of it this evening-misrepresenting the facts. The Leader of the Opposition recently made a meaningless statement when he said:

The Government has admitted that there would be no net gain from the introduction of the card in the welfare area.

The fact is that we cannot estimate fully the benefit of the Australia Card because we cannot estimate the extent of social security fraud. It would be like trying to estimate the number of speeding motorists who are not caught. Editorial writers in the newspapers have seen through this Opposition. They have exposed the Opposition's position as crude opportunism and have asked the question which we are all asking: What will the Opposition do about tax cheats? We want to know what the Opposition will do. I will tell honourable members what it will do. It will do exactly what it did for the seven years it occupied the treasury bench; it will do absolutely nothing. The honourable member for Fisher, who is now in the chamber, wants us all to dob in a dole cheat. But in terms of attacking welfare fraud the Opposition will do absolutely nothing, as it did during the seven years it was in office. If the Opposition does intend to do something, why is it so determined to block measures designed to crack down on social security fraud? The Opposition is wasting everyone's time on this issue because it has failed to come up with any sensible policies.

The Opposition has this marvellous eight-point plan to attack social security fraud and tax evasion. Every point it has put out in the eight-point plan is wrong, shear lunacy or action already taken by this Government. For instance, the plan states that we have eliminated the work test. That is simply not true. It states that we have not enforced Commonwealth Employment Service registration. Wrong again! The plan also states that we have done away with the personsal lodgment of 19B forms, when it applies only in approved circumstances for the over 55-age group, and that that group will have to lodge its forms personally every 12 weeks. The plan promises to enforce stringent identity procedures.

We are introducing the Australia Card. The Opposition states that it will make unemployed people work for the dole-or be dobbed in by the honourable member for Fisher. On that point the Opposition has two choices: It can come up with an extra $700m to pay for its scheme-this would be another blow-out for the Opposition's deficit-or it can pull 550,000 jobs out of the hat. The plan is no more than empty rhetoric, a clear sign that the Opposition is devoid of policies.

Honourable members opposite who continue to oppose the Australia Card-a measure which demonstrably will reduce the incidence of tax fraud and social security fraud in this country-might care to explain their actions to their constituents. Opposition members come into this chamber day after day and talk about reducing the deficit. At the same time, they do not have the backbone to support any major reform of our taxation system. The electors of Throsby have had enough of taxation cheats and social security frauds.

Mr Brumby —Hear, hear!

Mr Robert Brown —Hear, hear!

Mr HOLLIS —So have the electors of Bendigo and the electors of Charlton.

Mr Staples —And Jagajaga.

Mr HOLLIS —So have the electors of Jagajaga. They support the Government measures. The Opposition has a huge credibility gap. I suggest that those Opposition members who oppose the Australia Card do so at their electoral peril. The Opposition is cynically distorting the language of general civil libertarians. It is claiming that it is a citizen's basic right to be able to defraud the community either through not paying his or her fair share of tax or through cheating the social security system. The Australian people have had enough of this sham, humbug and hypocrisy by the Opposition and will tell the Opposition so at the next election, whenever that might be. Without wishing to fuel any speculation, I would be delighted to fight an election on this issue. I wonder how many Opposition members could say the same thing. For instance, I wonder whether the honourable member for Gilmore can. The indications I have received from the southern highlands area of my electorate are that he is out of step with his branches on this issue. They remember his comments two years ago in the Highlands Post and Southern Highland News supporting the Bill-but now he opposes it. But I suppose that the honourable member for Gilmore, like other National Party members, will have to see what Joh thinks of the Bill-or is it Sir Robert Sparkes who they all have to ring? According to the media, it is Sir Robert Sparkes who now dictates how the Nationals will vote.

The Australian people will see through the sham of this faction-ridden Opposition-the wets and dries of the Liberal Party of Australia, the Howard supporters, the Andrew supporters, the Joh Nationals and the Sinclair Nationals. The Australian people regard them as an irrelevance.

Mr Robert Brown —A rabble.

Mr HOLLIS —They are a rabble, as the honourable member for Charlton says. Their opposition to this legislation, their scare tactics, are irrelevant. The Australian people have their measure. The Australian people know that, just as the Opposition has no leadership, nor does it have any policy to combat welfare fraud. The Australian people will show the Opposition what they think of it at the next election.

The Australia Card program will play a significant role in this Government's fight against tax avoidance and evasion and social welfare fraud. It will help to ensure that every Australian pays his fair share of tax while ensuring that benefits from the welfare system go properly to those in need-to the needy, not to the greedy whom that crowd opposite supports. By helping to restore fairness and equity to the Australian taxation system and to the social welfare system, we will help to restore public confidence in the integrity of these systems. The Australia Card is essential to the achievement of that integrity. I commend the Bill to the House.