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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1864


Mr SIMMONS —Can the Treasurer inform the House of the benefits of the Australia Card in attacking tax avoidance and evasion at all levels?


Mr KEATING —The Australia Card Bill currently before the Senate will, if passed, enable the Commonwealth to recoup approximately $1 billion by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion and welfare fraud. The Australia Card, with a photograph, will provide a unique high integrity identification system which will prevent multiple claims upon the social security system as well as enable the Australian Taxation Office to cross-check and match by computer information which is given to it by a range of institutions. Despite these substantial benefits, the Liberal and National parties in the Senate are now arguing their opposition to the Australia Card against the overwhelming force of public opinion. A poll published in the Bulletin today shows that support for the Australia Card in the community generally is 69 per cent. It shows that the support level of Liberal and National Party voters is running at 57 per cent; so even a majority of the Opposition's supporters is in favour of the Australia Card. This is a strong public warning to the Opposition.

Today on the radio program AM the Leader of the Opposition fabricated some puny reasons for continuing to oppose the Bill in the Senate. In this program it was exposed that when he was Treasurer in 1979 he supported an investigation into the identity card system. AM sourced this view of the then Treasurer to a letter dated 30 August 1979 to the then Prime Minister attaching lists of outstanding submissions pertaining to Cabinet decisions on tax avoidance and evasion. The letter referred to Cabinet decision 8,862 of 31 May 1979 referring to the establishment of an interdepartmental committee chaired by the Public Service Board to report on an identity card system. On radio today the Leader of the Opposition said:

I think that along with everybody else I thought it was worth looking at.

He continued:

I am afraid I am a bit hazy as to the level of my passion in responding to the Cabinet's decision.

But in 1985 on the Sunday program the passion was somewhat higher. He then said:

I personally see some merit in having an ID card providing the civil liberties concerns that people have voiced can be looked after and provided the Government can satisfy the community that there is some cost benefit in it . . . I mean the United States has had a social security card for generations and yet the United States economy is the most deregulated economy in the world.

So in 1979 the Leader of the Opposition was in favour of an identity card. In 1985 he was in favour of it. But now, all of a sudden, it has disappeared from view. What is the reason? Why can he not stand up and support another of his personal views? As he was incapable of acting on the report of the Campbell Committee of Inquiry into the Australian Financial System, as he was incapable of floating the exchange rate, as he was incapable of deregulating the financial system, as he was incapable of establishing a consumption tax as Treasurer, as he was incapable of introducing an identification card, now he is still too weak as a leader to get through his Party a policy in which he personally believes. That is the reason why yesterday, apparently, in his own committees in the shadow Cabinet he was talking about trying to fabricate a tax system which does not have a consumption tax. The National Party is running him on that. The Leader of the Opposition has been run by every errant force in Federal coalition politics. He is sitting up there swaying with the breeze. He has stood for all these noble objectives but has never put any one of them into place-and never will.


Mr Carlton —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. The Treasurer's answer is hardly relevant to the question that was asked.


Mr KEATING —The honourable member will rip up another sheet of paper if we are not careful or stamp his foot and throw his handbag at us.


Mr Carlton —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. I find the Treasurer's remark offensive and ask that it be withdrawn.


Madam SPEAKER —The Treasurer will withdraw.


Mr KEATING —Of course, Madam Speaker, I withdraw. The new leadership of the Liberal Party consists of a sort of `giving Australia what it needs, the times are made for us' policy. But whenever the test has been put on John Howard's leadership, whether as Treasurer or Leader of the Opposition, he has failed. He is failing on the Australia Card.


Mr Porter —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The question clearly related to the supposed benefits of the identification card. The Treasurer has not given us one benefit of the ID card. Instead, he has dealt entirely with the stance of the Leader of the Opposition. Madam Speaker, I ask you to rule him out of order on the question of relevance.


Madam SPEAKER —The Treasurer will answer the question.


Mr KEATING —I will wind up on this point: On 2 March the Leader of the Opposition said:

Firstly, the integrity and independence of the Liberal Party come first. I will never surrender the role of the Liberal Party as the senior partner in the Coalition. I would forfeit any right to any respect.

How right he was then. He is now forfeiting his stance on the Australia Card in the light of pressure within his Party and from the National Party on all aspects of taxation policy, including the Australia Card.