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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1470

Mr TIM FISCHER(12.25) —Perhaps it is time that we got away from some of these set piece speeches and had some real debate on the Australia Card Bill 1986 [No. 2], although I understand I am to be the last speaker before the vote on the second reading motion. The honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) proceeded down the path of arguing that the coalition, the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia, should support this measure because it is popular and because millions of Australians allegedly support it. I point out that that did not prevent the honourable member for Charlton from supporting a very unpopular measure in the Caucus when he moved for a pay rise for Federal members of parliament and got raked over for his sins. He also did that a couple of weeks ago. He was proceeding down a very unpopular course on those occasions in these tough economic times, so let him be a little more consistent in his approach.

The honourable member for Charlton referred to the objective of the Australia Card Bill. Let me say that both sides of the Parliament share the same objective of cutting out welfare fraud, eliminating the black economy and the rorts that are reducing the taxation revenue in this country and allowing people to get away with receiving income and not paying their proper taxes on it. That objective is common to both sides of the Parliament. It is the method of achieving that objective that is the subject of debate on the Australia Card. It is the method about which we disagree, and disagree strongly.

Of course, the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) also launched down the path of saying that the majority of people want a card and therefore the Parliament should meekly go along with that. I contest, firstly, that the majority of Australians really want another unnecessary bureaucratic dog collar. But in any event I just remind the House of a quote from Edmund Burke, a former member of the House of Commons. I paraphrase the quote because it has some relevance. Edmund Burke, in a famous speech, told the House of Commons in effect that members of parliament have a licence to lead as well as to be led and members of parliament have a responsibility to examine legislation and to have the courage of their convictions if they find that legislation to be fraudulent or flawed or in any other way unacceptable. That is what the Liberal and National parties have done. We have examined this legislation responsibly. We have studied the report of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card and we have reached the conclusion, as in fact the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent) has said-I use his words-that this card is a Hitler card. This card is in fact a deficient card, a cynical manoeuvre that will do nothing to reduce effectively welfare fraud in this country.

I want to turn briefly to an aspect of what the honourable member for Hotham said in calling it a Hitler card. He is an esteemed member of the Australian Labor Party in the eyes of the honourable member for Charlton. He is an esteemed colleague of his who sits along the row from him. The honourable member for Hotham has said that this is a Hitler card. I know that there are thousands of veterans around Australia who are very concerned about this Australia Card. They are very concerned about its practical application and about its invasion of civil liberties. They fought for their country. They fought for the right of freedom, for their liberties and for the protection of those liberties. Yet they are being assaulted by the very provisions of this Australia Card Bill. Time does not permit me to detail all that is involved in this Bill but I just refer to clause 53 relating to hospital patients. It states:

A recognised hospital shall, as soon as practicable after the admission of a person to the recognised hospital as an in-patient, notify the Commission of the Australia Card number of the person.

Clearly, every veteran going to a repatriation hospital-indeed every patient going to a hospital-will be caught up under this clause 53 provision of the Australia Card Bill. It provides an additional burden on patients, particularly on veteran patients who tend to be elderly and who get very upset about provisions of this nature. A burden of additional administrative paper work will be associated with their hospitalisation and their receipt of benefits. This Australia Card Bill will impose an additional burden on veteran patients.

As a matter of responsible approach, I will not dwell on this as I am very conscious that veterans as a community and as a constituency tend to get upset about discussion on provisions, cut-backs and changes introduced by this Government. But it is my responsibility as a member of this Parliament to point out some of the deficiencies of this legislation, and not just simply to accept the so-called popular path that the Government would have us believe, on the basis of some opinion polls, is supported by the nation.

There are just two things that I want briefly to add. Firstly, quite often, through a lot of courage, benefit can accrue from following unpopular courses. Indeed, as the only country member on the Staysafe Committee, the Joint Standing Committee upon Road Safety in the New South Wales Parliament, I supported random breath testing before it was fashionable, against the opinion polls and against the perceived attitude in my electorate. I signed a unanimous report supporting random breath testing. The honourable member for Charlton testifies to this. I was also in company with the then member for Liverpool, George Paciullo. That report went to the Parliament and legislation was introduced. As a result of random breath testing 1,000 fewer coffins are required for road victims in New South Wales on a permanent basis, even though the road toll is creeping up again from that lower base.

I appeal to the Parliament and to the nation to think again about this Australia Card legislation and to look at the fundamental provisions of it. They will see that it is a flawed, cynical, sinister piece of legislation that simply will not work. I commend to the nation the alternative way ahead which would enforce strict identification requirements on the 2.8 million social security clients, would require work or community service in return for unemployment benefits, would tighten and strictly enforce the work test with more field officers and would provide a number of provisions to ensure that there is a complete crackdown on taxation fraud. It is for these reasons that the Liberal and National parties quite properly and responsibly oppose the Australia Card legislation.

Motion (by Mr Humphreys) put:

That the question be now put.