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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1450

Mr SLIPPER(10.17) —The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Martin), who has just addressed the House on the Australia Card Bill 1986 [No. 2], asked Opposition members to re-think their position on the Bill. It is now many months since the Australian Labor Party sought to inflict the Australia Card on the people of Australia. It was introduced into this chamber in October 1986. Many days have passed since that time. Has the Government learnt a lesson? Has the Government taken into account the wishes of the Australian people? Has it responded to the community outcry, the absolute outrage and fear by Australians right throughout the country? Has the Government taken on board the very real concerns of ordinary, decent citizens? Has it reversed its sinister intentions? Of course not. The Government insists on proceeding with its ID card proposal which will result in the dog-tagging of every man, woman and child in the whole of Australia.

Let us consider why the Government has reintroduced the Bill into the chamber this week. Does it think that it will be able to persuade Opposition and Australian Democrat senators in the Senate to push the ID card legislation through, that legislation which was rejected, and rightly so, in December 1986? No; we have another exercise in cynicism. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has paraded before the people of Australia on many occasions saying that there will not be an early election; the Government will run its full term.

What do we see in the legislation? We find a sham. We find that the Government has introduced this legislation-the same legislation that was rejected last year-back into the Parliament for the purpose of obtaining a double dissolution trigger, for the purpose of being able to hold a gun at the head of the Opposition, and indeed the people of Australia, and for the purpose of giving the Government the chance to take us to an early election. We would certainly welcome the opportunity of defeating the Hawke Government. If the Government does go to the people early, it would be yet another broken promise on the part of the Prime Minister to add to the litany of broken promises which has marked his prime ministership since that day in 1983 when he crawled into the Lodge.

The inspiration for this legislation comes from the Eastern bloc. While there are 55 countries throughout the world where people have ID cards, only in two of those countries do people not have to carry the card at all times. While the Government speakers say: `Oh yes, this legislation will ensure that the ID card is being used only for a limited number of purposes', we ought to take into account what certain people in the Health Insurance Commission are saying. They are saying that once the ID card has been accepted by the people there should be extra, more controversial data and uses introduced. So the Government stands exposed as a fraud. The Government has said that the ID card will only be used for certain purposes and yet the Government's own Health Insurance Commission is saying: `Look, let us just bring it in the way it is now. Let us fool the Australian people and then we will bring in the more sinister uses for the ID card in the future'.

The Government continues to ignore com- munity views. Respected bodies such as the Law Society of New South Wales are totally opposed to Labor's ID card proposal as it presently stands. I will quote from a letter I received from the President of that Society. It states:

The Law Society of New South Wales wishes to reiterate its opposition to the Australia Card system as set out in the Australia Card Bill 1986, which was re-introduced to the House last Wednesday.

The Australian Bankers Association has also pointed out that the ID card proposal will be unworkable. It will obviously set back the Australian banking system many years and the Government refuses to take this into account despite the fact that on 7 February this year, the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) said that the Government would take on board necessary changes and would be prepared to make reasonable alterations to the ID card legislation. Yet this has not happened. The Government has reintroduced the Bill to the House in its unamended form. A very important group in Australian society-that is farmers and rural people-also oppose the ID card. An eminent Australian, Mr Michael Tooth, President of the New South Wales Farmers Association wrote to the Minister on 10 February just three days after the Minister offered to accept reasonable improvements to the legislation. I would like to quote from Mr Tooth's letter. He said:

The Association's members, like many in the community, would support initiatives which bring to an end fraudulent practices in the Taxation and Social Welfare areas. However, the Association believes that such practices could be effectively eliminated by tightening up the existing provisions of current legislation and, if necessary, the introduction of a Card to social welfare recipients would assist to crack down on social security fraud. Unfortunately, the Government's current proposed legislation does not appear to fulfil this objective. In its proposed form, the legislation will add considerably to the cost of primary production at an excessive and unacceptable cost to the innocent majority.

Mr Tooth's letter to the Minister concluded with a plea. This plea should be taken into account when one looks at the rural crisis confronting Australia at present. He said:

In view of the difficult trading position Australian primary producers now face, it is imperative that farmers do not have additional costs placed upon them.

As usual, this plea from the rural sector has fallen on deaf and unsympathetic ears. Even the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties, in a brochure on the cover of which are the words `Oppose Canberra's UNAustralian Australia Card', opposes this legislation. It states:

The ID card will take away your basic rights as an Australian citizen.

The government will decide if you can have a card, you have no right to have a card. Without a card-

you cannot get a job-no card-no job;

you cannot lease or buy a home or flat;

you cannot open a bank account;

you cannot use hospital services;

you cannot spend money or travel overseas.

The Council goes on to say:

If a computer blows a microchip or makes an error you will not be able to function in Australia. You will be under the bureaucratic control of Canberra.

Labor's claims that the ID card will stop social security fraud and tax cheats are patently false. The Government has failed to take the firm and decisive steps which are necessary to stop social security fraud. The Opposition has suggested many positive means of stopping theft from the Australian social security system. In January this year I called for an Operation Noah style phone-in where people would be able to telephone officers of the Department of Social Security to report instances of welfare fraud. The Government has ignored this idea. We could certainly go a long way towards stopping social security fraud by requiring strict and positive identification of all claimants. The Government could enforce the existing eligibility tests with regular checks. We could increase field officer checks giving power to investigate all accusations of fraud. Most importantly all offenders should be prosecuted.

It is interesting to note that while this ID card will be used by the Government for the purposes of identification for welfare benefits, less than 0.6 per cent of welfare fraud and overpayment is related to false identity. This is a very serious matter confronting the people of Australia. The Government's proposed aims with this legislation will not succeed. The Government will not answer the allegation that it will cost up to $1,000m to implement the ID card. That, incidentally, is approximately the cost of the new Parliament House on current figures. The burden of business complying with the Card has not been addressed by the Government. It has been estimated that $2 billion will be paid out by business in meeting the cost of this legislation. This legislation, if implemented, will ensure that every Australian must carry an internal passport, an Eastern bloc practice.

The Government stands condemned in the eyes of all Australians. This is the Government which has masqueraded before the people on so many occasions. This is the Government which claims to be the supporter of the underprivileged. This is the Government which claims to represent ordinary Australians. Through this legislation the Government is condemning 16 million Australians to carry this identification card. We in Opposition, we in the National Party of Australia, are totally opposed to the Government's aims in this area.

Labor is once again guilty of misleading the people of Australia. Its deception in this Bill is transparently obvious. Australians will be shackled-man, woman and child-to a system which extinguishes individual liberties. The Australia Card Bill would be, without doubt, one of the most insidious pieces of legislation ever introduced to a Western parliament. It is reminiscent of the practices of nazi Germany. The ID card is an expensive and bureaucratic waste of taxpayers' money, and this waste comes at a time when Australia's national debt is going up by $1,300 every second. It is going up at an enormous rate. In the time it takes to deliver a five-minute speech in the Parliament Australia's national debt goes up by $390,000. It goes up by over $4m per hour. Australia is virtually bankrupt. Notwithstanding that, we find that the Government introduces nazi like legislation which will not achieve what it is claimed it seeks to achieve, which will shackle Australians and which will cost Australia dollars which it can ill-afford. If this Bill becomes law the nation should stop still for a minute's silence, for democracy will be well and truly dead.