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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1447

Mr MARTIN(10.00) —I am getting signals from the Whip that I have only 10 minutes to speak on the Australia Card Bill 1986.

Mr McGauran —Too long.

Mr MARTIN —I sat here for three-quarters of an hour last night waiting for my turn and having to put up with nonsense from the other side such as the nonsense we have just heard from the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran). It is important to remind the House of the objectives of the Bill that is before us today. They are two-fold. The first objective is to enable the combating of tax evasion and avoidance and welfare fraud and the second is to assist in the identification of illegal immigrants. I find it necessary to redefine the purposes of this Bill because honourable members opposite have indulged so much in scaremongering and flights of fantasy during the debate so far and during the debate on this Bill in November last year that the straightforward and laudable objectives of the Bill certainly need to be restated.

It is also important to remind the House of something of the history of the Australia Card legislation and the Australia Card as a concept. We all remember that this proposition first came to light in the draft White Paper on tax reform introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) in mid-1985. When the draft White Paper was published, the suggestion that an Australia Card, a national identification system, come in to play was welcomed by the majority of the Australian people and, indeed, by any person who had the capacity to think clearly about the advantages that would flow to the Australian people from the introduction of such a card. When the proposal was subsequently presented by the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) at the National Taxation Summit, again it met with overwhelming support. So the history of the Australia Card began back in mid-1985 when the laudable objectives of clamping down on taxation fraud and welfare fraud and being able to identify illegal immigrants were first considered. The proposal was adopted by the majority of commentators and people in Australia who had a clear and obviously well thought out position on the Australia Card issue.

We found broad support then for the Australia Card on both sides of this Parliament. One has to conjecture whether that broad support for the Australia Card has been dissipated simply because of tensions on the other side between the National Party and the Liberal Party and internal divisions in the Liberal Party and the National Party. One wonders whether, if all the different groupings within the conservative forces in Australia today were left to go their own way, there would be a difference of opinion. Perhaps I will come back to that a little later. As I have said, it is important to look at some of the history of the Australia Card legislation and the views of honourable members opposite. As I mentioned in November last year during debate on this issue, a number of those opposite took a principled stand on the Australia Card when it was first introduced.

Mr Carlton —I did.

Mr MARTIN —Of course, none more principled than the honourable member for MacKellar who is at the table now. I want very quickly to refer to some of those principled positions that were taken by honourable members previously. For example, in 1982 the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) said in the Parliament:

What we need in Australia to effectively fight all forms of abuse is a proper identification of each Australian with a number, a photograph and . . . a fingerprint.

That was the view taken by the honourable member for Dawson back in 1982. He went on to say:

This will identify each of those who are on the employment register or the taxation records, or those who are social security recipients and receiving health and education subsidies or any form of government assistance. We need a policeman to safeguard the public purse.

He was spot on.

Mr Robert Brown —Who was that?

Mr MARTIN —The honourable member for Charlton asks me who said that. It was the honourable member for Dawson, who at the time I understand was spokesman for social security and therefore obviously had a great deal of interest in it. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), Deputy Leader of the National Party, on 5 June 1985 was reported as follows:

The proposed national identification system offered dual benefits to the Australian people. . . The use of plastic cards for an effective means of identification would streamline the collection of tax revenue, imposing a greater accountability on that small minority of taxpayers who sought to evade their responsibilities to the community. . .

The second major benefit would be to cut down on fraud affecting Government outlays, especially social welfare payments. . .

I will be making representations to the government strongly supporting this aspect of the `White Paper' proposal.

That was from the Deputy Leader of the National Party. I indicated earlier in my speech this morning that I believe that the divisions in the various ranks of the conservatives in Australia at the moment may see some changing attitudes. We have seen some Press reports about certain dissident Liberals who may cross the floor in the Senate to support this legislation when it gets there.

But one has to speculate as to what will happen after this week. I am pleased to see that the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) and the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) are here. I ask those gentlemen what will happen after this weekend. What happens if those gentlemen leave the coalition and start their own little Joh group or ginger group? Will they have a rethink on this? Let us be frank: Some of their colleagues-in fairness I will not name them here-have indicated privately that they support the Australia Card legislation. Yet, because they have been bound into this coalition policy for political expediency and for no other reason, they have decided: `Well, we will have to take this line that we do not support it because it really will not achieve all the things that the Government says it will'. That is nonsense and unprincipled. I just ask the two gentlemen from Queensland particularly who are here this morning to have a rethink about that and maybe they will be able to get to their National Party colleagues in the Senate and, dare I say, instruct them, or at least talk to them and implore them to support the legislation when it gets into the Senate.

As we have seen, and as many of my colleagues on this side of the House have said in the last day during debate, the overwhelming majority of Australian people support a national identification system and the Australia Card. They see the benefit in it. It comes down to a very simple philosophy, which is probably one of the reasons that the Opposition has difficulties grasping this whole thing-the fact that it is such a simple philosophy. It was put to me by one of the car drivers as late as this morning as I was coming into the Parliament. He said: `If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about'. That is a fairly simple--

Mr Robert Brown —Very perceptive.

Mr MARTIN —It was very perceptive of the car driver, and I think it is the general feeling out there in the Australian public. I am getting a little away from what I was doing, which was pointing out the principled position that was taken by people on the other side in days gone by. I take, for example, the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt). As we all know, because he puts out Press releases that show it at the top, he is the shadow spokesman on social security. On 8 June 1985 he said:

The introduction of a national identification system using ID cards offers benefits to the Australian people which outweigh any civil liberties consideration.

That is what the honourable member for Richmond said at that time. But what does he say now? There just happens to be floating around the Parliament a memorandum entitled `Background Information from Charles Blunt MP, National Party Federal Member for Richmond-ID cards'. This purports to suggest points for argument that perhaps can be used here in the debate. I remind the House that back in 1985 the honourable member for Richmond stated that he believed that the ID card system was very important and that the introduction of an ID system using identification cards offered benefits to the Australian people which outweighed any civil liberties consideration. But he has now put out this background information paper in which he says:

Labor's sloppy and inefficient administration of Social Security and Tax allows fraud. The real solution is better administration, not an ID card, the ID card is a cover up for bad management.

That is what he is now saying. How does he justify the position he is taking now in this paper compared to what he said in 1985? We talk about the principled positions of people in this Parliament. We like to see principled positions because, after all, we are elected to represent the views of our wider constituency and we are supposedly here to take those principled positions, yet we see that this is not the case.

In this little background information paper the honourable member for Richmond has indicated that what he would rather see is the theft of social security stopped by requiring strict and positive identification of all claimants requiring prime documents-birth certificates and these sorts of things. I heard him argue in this place yesterday that things such as the production of driver's licences and other forms of what I consider prime documents can easily be forged and that the same thing will happen with an identification card. We saw the ridiculous situation last year where the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Reith), in the greatest publicity stunt of all time which backfired and which did not get any coverage at all, offered $100 to the first person to produce a fake ID card. We find that this is the attitude that honourable members over there are taking. They are suggesting that we need to produce all of this other documentation.

Let us get realistic. How many times, even when the people opposite and their constituents go to a variety of places, whether it be a bank, a financial institution or when applying for a variety of other services in the community, is it necessary to produce some form of identification and to pull a driver's licence out? How many people do those opposite seriously think will walk around with their birth certificates in their pockets and will pull it out and say: `This is me, you can definitely see it is me, I was born 24, 36 or 76 years ago' or whatever it happens to be? I just find that quite incredible. This document that was released provided some interesting points which have been taken up by those on this side of the House very nicely.

In the time that is left to me by the Whip I want to mention a number of other points that were made in debate on this Bill last year. The honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) referred in debate to the coalition's `consistent and principled opposition' to the Australia Card. I have demonstrated that there has not been anything consistent about the position which has been adopted by those opposite. When I look back through Hansard I find that all the Opposition speakers in the debate last year so muddied the issues and clouded and distorted the debate that one would be hard pressed to say that the Opposition was either consistent or principled. I think I have drawn that out today.

I come back to the other point-that people in the Joh Party group, the ginger group that is going to be a separate group after this weekend, represent constituencies in Queensland that support the ID card. Those constituencies have told me that they support it, but those opposite are going to vote against it in the House yet again. Now might be an appropriate time to suggest that we should delay this Bill for debate in this House until next week. We should come back and debate it on Monday because we might see a bit of a change in attitude of those opposite. I think that is something that the Leader of the House (Mr Young) could give some thought to and we will see what happens.

I turn to a couple of other comments that were made. Privacy is an issue that has been raised time and again. The honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) talked about the Government's Big Brother computer. The honourable member for Flinders talked about the Government's control over citizens ensuing from a centralised data system. The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr McArthur) expressed fears of the Opposition that Big Brother Australia will be watching every man, woman and child through a major computerised surveillance network. Honourable members opposite should not be worried about that; they should be worried about the scanners which we have talked about over the past few days. Never mind the ID system; it is the electronic surveillance from scanners that will blow honourable members opposite out of the water-not the Australia Card. Let us get back to the basics.

I will conclude on this note: The Australia Card is there for a simple reason, and that is to enable the Government to ensure that there is equitable and fair collection of taxation receipts; that welfare fraud can be stamped out; and that illegal immigrants in this country can be detected. Each of those goals are laudable objectives for this Government to pursue. I believe that they should be pursued. I come back to what the car driver said this morning: `If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear'. I cannot understand, in simple plain logic, why honourable members opposite are consistent-it is the only thing they are consistent about-in their weak opposition to this proposal.

I hope that honourable members opposite re-think their position before the vote is taken. Perhaps the Leader of the House will consider delaying the vote until next Monday so that the Joh party people can do some clear thinking and perhaps support the ID card legislation in the House. Failing that, perhaps they will talk to their senatorial colleagues and get support for the legislation in the Senate. Perhaps they will get a number of their colleagues to cross the floor and vote with the Government, along with those dissident Liberals in the Senate who are prepared to do so. Hopefully some sanity will prevail among the Joh party people.