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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1454

Dr HARRY EDWARDS(10.43) —While it would not have been very evident from the last part of the speech of the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Mr Griffiths), we are debating the Australia Card Bill. Neither the honourable member for Maribyrnong nor any other Australian Labor Party speaker has recognised the point that we are debating today precisely the same Bill that we debated in this place last October. Why are we doing that? On 5 February last the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) indicated that there were a number of amendments that the Government believed desirable to make to the Bill. He also expressed the Government's willingness to accept `reasonable suggestions' proposed by others. Yet the Bill is back in the House with no changes made or to be allowed. So much for the word of this Government.

The Australian Bankers Association has put forward a lengthy submission that unless changes are made a substantial number of banking transactions will be unworkable, but the Government takes no notice. That exposes, I believe, the hypocrisy of what is afoot here. The Government's purpose is not to get a workable identification card-it uses the name Australia Card for this instrument of socialist dogma for a national identification system, a licence to live and work in free Australia-its purpose, as exposed, is deceitful. But that is not the biggest deception. The biggest deception is the claim that only with such a card can the Government meaningfully tackle social security fraud, tax evasion and illegal immigration. That is what the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) keeps saying over and over again. He follows the Goebbels principle, that if one says a thing often enough, over and over again, it becomes the truth. But it is not the true position, which I will come back to in a moment.

So why is this legislation, totally unchanged, trotted back in here? Obviously, as is now widely canvassed, the Hawke Government wants to open up the option of a double dissolution of the Parliament with the ID card as the central election issue. Why fight on the ID card? Because, firstly, the polls show that as of now the majority of people support the proposal. Of course they do-in the belief, due to the Goebbels onslaught, that the ID card is the only way to combat fraud and tax evasion. A second reason is that the Government is fearful of fighting on the real issues: The truly serious plight of Australian families, the high and rising prices of food and everything else, the crippling interest rates, the barely affordable any more mortgage payments which have risen by up to $50 per week for a typical housing loan under this Government-virtually cancelling out the effect of increases in wages over the past few years-the ever higher taxes and so on.

Underlying all that is an Australian economy brought low by this Hawke Government to a point where as a nation we confront a situation of real peril, a frightening and quite desperate situation-a crisis situation aptly described by the Prime Minister as `a situation akin to war'. He put it that way in his address to the nation last June, speaking truthfully in that respect. But now neither he nor his glib, complacent Treasurer (Mr Keating) or any other senior member of the Government will tell it as it really is-a situation the primary manifestation of which, as my colleague the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) pointed out, is the massive continuing deficit and the worsening balance of payments. Every day this nation goes $40m extra into the red, further into debt. This is not just a passing thing; it is a relentless, ever-mounting buildup of debt which will be passed on as a great burden to future generations. The other dimensions of the problem could be easily outlined but we are under a time constraint.

But what is the Government about? Perhaps a double dissolution election on the ID card. But the Prime Minister does not really need a double dissolution. He could have an election anyway on the basis of the hypocritical nonsense he was talking at the weekend about the problems of the Opposition destabilising the business climate. What rot! What a prospect-running around the country debating the Government's big lie on the ID card, with the Australian nation in a frightening situation of deep crisis which this Government will not tell us it is. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns. An early election would pre-empt the promised 14 May economic statement-maybe that is what the Government wants. That statement is crucial to coping with Australia's desperate economic situation and that is what this Government and this Parliament should be on about.

I referred a moment ago to the big deception in all this. The Government's line is totally and utterly misleading. That is the essence of this matter. Nothing which the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or the Hawke Government generally have said changes the following position, which one hopes the Australian people will be persuaded is the true position. First, the ID card proposal is the most intrusive, Big Brother government proposal ever to surface in this country. I quote the all-party, Liberal, Labor, Democrat, majority of the Joint Select Committee of this Parliament which inquired into the Australia Card proposal and reported in May of last year on the Australia Card:

It will provide the mechanism by which the very fabric of our Australian society will be irreversibly altered, opening the way for the greatest attack on the privacy of individuals as the `Identity Bureau'-

that is, the division within the Health Insurance Commission which is to administer the card and keep the register-

identifies, monitors and updates information on every person in Australia.

Second, in respect of each of the objectives the ID card is supposed to serve, namely to combat tax evasion, to reduce welfare fraud and to identify illegal immigrants, the Hawke Government's proposal fails to do anywhere near what is claimed for it. That is what the all-party Committee found after extensive inquiry. I repeat: The proposal fails to do anywhere near what it claims to do. Yet the cost of implementing and administering the proposal is enormous. There will be 2,150 new public servants, a total of $1 billion will be spent in the public sector and a massive additional cost to the private sector over 10 years. The ID card proposal is simply not cost-effective. Third, there are alternative approaches. This point is quite central. Perhaps the predictions of the financial yield that could be obtained from those alternatives are in some respects more modest-I would be inclined to say more realistic, more hard-nosed and more accurate-but equally they do not involve the enormous cost which I have just referred to or raise the fundamental civil liberties concerns the ID card raises. They are on every consideration more cost-effective and most certainly should be implemented and tried before there is any attempt to move down this dangerous, authoritarian and unacceptable ID card track.

These are the three points which the Opposition is putting to the Australian people. We have put them in our consistent, principled opposition to this proposal. We will go out and win on this issue, just as we did with the Bill of Rights, on which the Government backed off eventually-for the time being at least-when it recognised that the electorate at large had perceived just what a dangerous, undemocratic and potentially evil thing it was.

Mr Webster —And they will find out about this one.

Dr HARRY EDWARDS —Similarly, they will find out about this one. They will come to appreciate what an authoritarian, dangerous, intrusive and-I emphasise-fraudulent proposal, in terms of the results claimed for it, the Australia Card proposal is. I will briefly reiterate the three points: First, the ID card is the most intrusive, Big Brother government proposal ever to come forward in this country. Honourable members should make no mistake. The ID card, plus computerised data linking, opens the way to the computerised surveillance of the entire Australian population. Mr Justice Michael Kirby put it in this way:

What is at stake is not just catching a few tax avoiders . . . What is at stake is nothing less than the nature of our society and the power and authority of the State in relation to the individual.

Second, the government proposal will not achieve-this is the finding of the all-party Committee-anywhere near what is claimed for it in respect of each of the objectives stated, tax evasion, social security fraud and illegal immigration. Yet the cost of this proposal is enormous. Third, and very importantly, there are alternative approaches which are less costly, less intrusive and yet effective in relation to these objectives. Because of an arrangement with the Whip I will not go through the alternatives in detail. We will establish a centralised computer register of births, deaths and marriages. In the area of tax we will ensure that the Australian Taxation Office immediately upgrades its technological capability, especially in its computerisation. We will require the Office to enforce existing legislation which requires interest-paying agencies to provide to the Office information relating to all dividend and interest payments.

In the social security area, the truth is that it is Labor's sloppy and inefficient administration of social security that allows for the fraud that we have. The real solution is better administration-not an ID card. The ID card becomes a cover-up for bad management. Indeed, the only way to stop the social security rip-off is to fix the social security system-not to dogtag 16 million Australians, as my colleague the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) put it a moment ago, at very high cost under this ID card proposal.

I recognise that public opinion polls have until recently shown that a majority of the electorate supports the Government's proposal for the ID card. I say only this to my constituents in the electorate of Berowra and to the Australian people at large: I am certain that opinion will change. In the meantime, I recall the words of that great parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, who said:

Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinions.

I stress that the Opposition's attitude in this debate has nothing to do with covering up for tax cheats, rorters and the like-the crude absurd charge that the Treasurer started in this place. In conclusion, I am convinced that the Australia Card, so-called, proposal will indeed come to be seen for what it is, namely, a glib political promise to deliver a benefit, but of dubious validity, and yet a mea-sure that can result only in a serious erosion of the privacy, the self-respect and the personal freedom of Australians.