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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20460


Mr HATTON (10:59 AM) —For the edification of the member for Dickson, the comment `once a copper, always a copper' relates to the narrow way in which he perceives the ALP's approach to all legislation—the narrow, blinkered black-and-white way he perceives the divide between the government and the opposition. He has no capacity to imagine an opposition response based on our experience in government and our experience of what the Liberal Party has really been about in terms of border control over a period not just of weeks, months or years but of decades.

The question of identifying people properly has not just been around in 2003; it is not just prospective. The question of appropriately identifying people has been one that governments in the past have dealt with. For the edification of the member for Dickson, as he strides from the chamber, about 14,000 people in 1975-76 were introduced into Australia by the then Liberal government through the travel company run by Karim Kisrwani, and there were no police checks, no security checks and no identifiers. All you had to do to get a ticket was to stand in one of the hotels in Cyprus and pay the money that was required to get onto the list of the 14,000 who could come to Australia. Every hotel in Cyprus was, in fact, taken up by Karim Kisrwani's travel company.

Just a couple of weeks ago a constituent of mine—having the relevant qualifications and capacity, he came to Australia under his own steam—told me that an offer had been put to him as he had stood in one of the hotels in Cyprus. He was told that he could pay money in order to get onto the list that Karim Kisrwani was putting together; in fact, he saw other people paying money to get onto the list. Those people were told that it would not cost them anything for the ticket because the Australian government was paying the total cost. But there was also no cost for the checking of personal identifiers, because no checking was done—inclusion on the list depended simply on the ability to pay. Those people are currently in Australia. Their identities were not checked. They did not have a police check or a security check, and they have been here now for more than 30 years.

In dealing with this bill, which is about the use of a range of new possible identifiers, the question of what is right and proper and what should be done by a government must be put into context. The member for Gellibrand quite rightly said, in responding to the member for Dickson and the manner in which he attacked her as Labor spokesman, that the legislation was narrowly focused, unimaginative and did not go to the core of the rights of citizens and people who come to Australia as visitors to be treated in a way that is reasonable and sensible, and did not abrogate their rights as human beings. An opposition has to always be mindful of its obligations when it comes to government and of what the past can tell us about these very matters that need to be dealt with. The strongest case of the lack of use of identifiers at all is the fact that the Liberal Party sanctioned one individual to draw up the lists and to have the total coverage of bringing into Australia 14,000 people out of the civil war in Lebanon. They did that without any controls whatsoever, to the great detriment of our society.

When the member for Dickson, a former policeman, takes a policeman's attitude to this—black-and-white, without any scope or imagination—he should be dealt with in terms of identifying his lack of a clear understanding of what this bill is about. Every member of this House in dealing with this bill would have to know not only that the question of how we secure our borders is important but also that when the government introduces a bill of this significance it has the responsibility to get it right. It should not just slip this bill in as fast as it can without any real consultation with regard to the measures involved and without any real consultation with the community at large or with the senators who will have to vote on this legislation.

We have seen a very quick review of related matters. This bill was introduced before a Senate committee dealing with the technical aspects of this bill could report. We are debating it without the ability of knowing what the senators, in a very quick review, have said about the difficulties. The people who wrote the Bills Digestthose who had to lay out what the bill was about and had to draft the legislative papers and so on—would know and understand, particularly from past practice, that you may slip in a bill which is really about propagandising, you may slip in a bill that is about the next election and you may put in a bill that is to be used as a mechanism to argue that the government is stronger on national security than the opposition, you may put in a bill where most of the provisions cannot be brought to bear for some years and where it openly says, `We don't really know how we are going to put this together, because we do not really know how well the biometric sensing mechanisms that are at the foundation of trying to identify people by their irises or fingerprints will work in the broad.'

We know—and, as a past detective, I am sure the member for Dickson has had experience with this—that the taking of fingerprints can be an absolute identifier. But it is always the case that people approach with caution the taking of that particular identifier from people who are noncriminals—those who have not been convicted of a criminal act and who have not been suspected of performing criminal acts. Equally, it is a question of how well the systems can work. If it is just a quick slash past a biometric sensor, it will not work particularly well.

As the Deputy Speaker can attest, having tried out the Compaq iPAQ that we have just been issued with—and, progressively, people in the parliament will be issued with it—you can actually access the Compaq iPAQ with a password or by biometric sensing. So, if you train it and you put your fingerprint into it, entry can be controlled by using that biometric information. But, even after you have trained it, you cannot be sure that you can get it to quickly recognise you properly every time. You get a lot of false positives where it says that it is not you when it really is—the thing is there but you have not actually registered that correctly.

Part of the problem with biometric sensing is that it is not as precise as it might be. Technologically, it is still in its infancy. One of the things that the member for Dickson failed to understand—although he approached it in his concluding comments—is that it is the very technological advances over the last decade, particularly over the last five years, which are being used to create false identities far more readily than people could in the past, which are leading towards a response such as this; that is, a response such as that envisaged rather than effectively put into place in Britain, in France, in Europe generally, and in the United States. Because people now have more capacity—because of the proliferation of computers and the ability to turn material into digital form—they can more readily take digital material and manipulate and change it. That is why it is a lot easier to engage in identity fraud.

If you want to engage in identity fraud and steal a person's money and goods and get access to their bank accounts and so on, it can happen. It happened to my wife some years ago. She was at an ATM in Westfield Shopping Centre and somebody stole her purse. Within 30 minutes the person had been up to the bank in Westfield Shopping Centre and had falsely signed my wife's signature. That person was able to get money out of the bank with a false signature—when there had been only a bit of preparation—and then went off to a series of shops. That person was stopped only because the shopkeepers had a great deal of experience with people falsely presenting themselves and falsely using credit cards.

There is a great deal of identity fraud in Australia—the government's estimate is that it is in the order of $4 billion a year—and most of it is of that sort of nature. People can physically knock off credit cards, as in my wife's case. The reason the person was picked up so quickly and the fraud stopped so readily was that the person was a heroin addict and was known to work within that complex—but, seemingly, was not picked up by the police and not stopped from doing this. The people who wanted to make sure that this person did not do this any more were the people running the shop.

In the past, the ability to establish a person's identity has largely gone to the question of signatures and other identifiers with which we are familiar, including photographs. In terms of photographic evidence being an identifier, people thought that, if you had a photograph of a person, you could use it and that it would provide some safety in terms of fraud not being able to be committed. But there is a famous case of a photo of a dog being put on a card and a person producing that at a bank to identify themselves. The fact that the dog was not human, the person presenting the photograph was human and there was no actual physical resemblance between the dog and the human was not taken into account, and the bank passed the money over. So the question of fraudulent use can go to the question of whether the people in the banks, the people in other organisations and the people behind immigration counters are alive to the fact that they have to be switched on mentally and they have to be doing their job.

The capacity for immigration fraud is strong, as we know from past experience in a number of our embassies overseas. In one particular embassy, up to 80 per cent of the identity documentation and associated documentation that had been produced was fraudulent—it had been falsified in one way or another. This fraud went largely to the qualifications people had and the amount of money they had in their bank, in an attempt to gain entry into Australia by using false documentation—not in terms of a person's identity but whether or not they would actually have the points to get into Australia.

Establishing who a person is is critical in a number of areas. It is critical, as the bill indicates, for people who come to Australia by boat or for people who, in their thousands, come to Australia by plane and end up staying in Australia—who probably will not be caught by this—who refuse to properly identify themselves. We had experience of this in government. Prior to changes to the Migration Act in, I think, 1990, the lawyers could simply advise people not to say anything for three months and the government could not do anything about it. The government could not begin the process of trying to establish the person's identity because of the noncooperation of that person on the basis of the legal advice that they were given. We changed that by greatly foreshortening the amount of processing time that was required, because we compelled people to provide identifying data.

The core of what is being asked for here in respect of providing biometric identification rather than just the old forms of photographic identification which can now readily be manipulated and abused is not beyond the realms of imagination in terms of an extension of what is necessary as a result of technological advances. This is in fact not in front of the technological advances; it is a response to those technological advances. In that sense, the Labor Party has said, quite rightly, that it recognises that the series of things that are being proposed here have as a foundation the fact that effective border control and effective control of illegals may be enhanced by the use of these identifiers but—as an opposition mindful of what governments have the power to do and what governments have a responsibility to do—we have raised a whole series of questions.

We have said that there is no certainty whatsoever that these biometric sensors and abilities to use biometrics as analysts of whether people are who they say they are have not come to full maturity and fruition. The bill is in advance of most of the technological means by which a government, not someone who would perpetrate a fraud, would seek to stop a fraud. The fact that the bill is as open as it is in terms of the means that would be used really relates to the fact that the maturity is not there for most of the identifiers that have been sought.

I, and other members of the communications committee that I am involved with, have seen the work that the CSIRO has been doing in terms of the electronic gateway and the ability to try and pick up iris scans and to use facial recognition technology to pick people in a crowd. The ability to do that is critical. If the United States had had the capacity and ability to recognise people and do it 100 per cent effectively when people boarded the planes to make the attacks on Washington and New York, some of those attacks may have been avoided. The ability to pick people from the mass of a crowd is really significant. But we know that the work done by the CSIRO, as groundbreaking as it is, is not yet there. It is not fully ready. It is not in a position to be put totally into place.

I have nothing against using our technological capacities to build our defences against people who would attempt to defraud the Commonwealth in a range of ways and use identity fraud to break our capacity to control our borders. But there are significant things that are not included here. There are a minimum of 60,000 people who are working illegally in Australia. Not one of them will be touched by this legislation, because this legislation effectively grandfathers all those people who are currently here.

The bill basically provides for a series of regulations. The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs can determine, through regulation, to bring in a whole range of measures, and therefore there will not be effective parliamentary control, because it is delegated legislation beyond the effective control of the parliament. That is another key problem that Labor has identified, and it is a problem that needs to be discussed in detail in the committee and in the Senate. We need a full and deep view of what is involved in this bill before we come to a full determination of whether it should be entirely supported. The shadow minister indicated that introducing the bill prior to the Senate bringing down its report on the technical aspects of the bill was not a very smart thing to do, and that this has made it difficult for the opposition to agree with what the government has said, except in principle, because the details are not there.

As all members know, often it is a case of the devil being in the detail. That is why we have committee scrutiny of government action. That is why we have House of Representatives committee, Senate committee and joint committee scrutiny: to ensure that we get proper outcomes and, particularly, to ensure that the thing that we have been elected to do—to defend and guard the people of this Commonwealth—is not done in a way that abrogates their fundamental rights but done in a way that ensures the fundamental rights of everyone because of the kinds of measures that we take as a community. Cutting out identity fraud is important not only in a general sense of saving people from having their savings ripped off but also to protect our borders and our control of our immigration program totally. But you have to do it on the basis of a well-established set of understandings and principles, and you also have to establish that the delegated legislation will not rip away from that. (Time expired)