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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3590

Senator PETER BAUME(3.12) —The Liberal and National parties will oppose this national identification card legislation with all possible commitment, with all possible vigor and with a total determination to see the legislation defeated. The Australia Card Bill 1986 is one of the most dangerous and deceptive Bills ever to have been introduced into this Parliament. This proposal has managed to unite in common cause shades of political opinion in Australia from the extreme left, through the middle of the political spectrum, the moderate middle ground, to the extreme right of Australian politics. These people have been united in common, determined and carefully considered opposition to this dreadful Bill. It is extraordinary to find Peter Garrett, Hugh Morgan and Joan Coxsedge in common cause and with common purpose. The Australian Labor Party's proposal for a compulsory, universal identification card is so bad that these people from different political perspectives are all against it and have all said so.

Let us look at those who do oppose it. On the extreme left of politics in Australia, Dr Bob Brown from Tasmania, of Franklin River fame, is against it. Joan Coxsedge in Victoria, from the Socialist Left faction, and rock singer Peter Garrett, certainly not from the Labor Party but a nuclear disarmament candidate at the last election, also oppose Labor's ID card proposal. From the Labor centre, Royal Commissioner Frank Costigan, QC, opposes it, and Labor lawyers Damien Murphy and John Howie also oppose the ID card proposal. It is not good enough for the Labor Party to assert, as it does, that opponents of this card and this proposal are friends of tax and welfare cheats; nor is it logical or fair to assert that their opposition is either self-serving or opportunistic. It is emphatically not so. Each time a Labor senator suggests in this debate that those who are opposing this Bill are doing so because they are friends of tax or welfare cheats, let us remind them of the Frank Costigans, the Joan Coxsedges, the Peter Garretts and the Bob Browns-all from their side of politics, even if not from their Party-who, like us, all strongly oppose tax cheats and welfare fraud and all of whom oppose the ID card. I will remind them as well that the national legal and administrative policy committee of the Australian Labor Party has opposed the card; that the Victorian branch of the ALP has opposed the card; that the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission has opposed the card; and that the Federated Clerks Union of Australia has opposed the card. The Victorian Teachers Union has opposed the card; so have the law societies around Australia. The Law Society of New South Wales, just yesterday, came out with its opposition; so have the councils of civil liberties; so have responsible church groups; and so have privacy committees throughout Australia-and many more.

The Liberal Party of Australia has strong and reasoned opposition to the ID card. As long ago as July 1985-about a year and a half ago-the Liberal Party's Federal Council opposed what we knew then of Labor's ID card proposal. We opposed it from the beginning, and we opposed it for very good reasons. At this stage it might be appropriate for me, on behalf of the Opposition, to move an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time. I move:

Leave out all words after `That', insert: `this Bill be withdrawn because:

(a) it does not address serious administrative failings and operational deficiencies in the Australian Taxation Office which remain a main cause of failure to collect revenue due to Government;

(b) the Card would not solve the problems of tax and welfare fraud, both of which generally involve people whose identity is not in question;

(c) the costs have been grossly understated and the benefits grossly exaggerated; and

(d) it will constitute an unprecedented and unjustifiable intrusion into the individual privacy of all Australians and will greatly damage our civil liberties'.

The Government seeks this ID card, this compulsory internal passport, in a democracy, in peacetime, to allow the Australian Taxation Office to collect tax that is not now collected, to detect welfare fraud that is not now detected and to identify illegal entrants to Australia not presently identified. In a nutshell, the Opposition parties believe that there is no need for the card to collect more tax. The issue is to have the Tax Office do the job with which it is now charged, and which it is failing lamentably to do. There is no need for the card to fix the problem of welfare fraud. The Department of Social Security gave evidence that welfare fraud is not generally a question of wrong identity but is, rather, a question of wrongly stated circumstances with people whose identity is known. That is what the Department of Social Security said. There is, also, no need for the card to fix illegal immigration. The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, in giving evidence to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, which looked into the ID card, could point to no benefit at all from having or using the card.

Mr Deputy President, the arguments against the ID card are under four headings: First, it is not necessary; secondly, it will not work well enough; thirdly, it will cost more than it will provide in benefits; and, fourthly, it will be the biggest ever invasion of your and my privacy and civil liberties. Not only this, but I come into this debate as one of a large number of philosophical liberals in this Parliament from a tradition which has fought continuously for personal freedoms and against restrictions by the state of the liberty and rights of individuals, a tradition which has fought to extend the opportunities for individuals to participate through the ballot box, in employment, in education, in the life of society-even if disadvantaged by events-and a tradition which sets in very careful balance any proposal to limit individual liberty, particularly if it is an unnecessary proposal. This Bill is offensive to liberals and conservatives. It is offensive to all members of the Opposition parties, and we intend to demonstrate why during this debate.

First, this Bill is not necessary. A recent report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure-a committee of this Parliament-entitled `A Taxing Problem-Review of 5 Auditor-General's Efficiency Audit Reports into the Australian Taxation Office'-

Senator Messner —Five?

Senator PETER BAUME —Five. This report on inefficiencies in the Tax Office has revealed that the Tax Office cannot today, in 1986, use the information it presently has available to it. This report followed repeated criticisms of the Tax Office by the Auditor-General. The report contained some damning statements on the Australian Taxation Office. I will quote just a few of them. This is the first:

. . . the ATO currently lacks the necessary processing capacity to effectively collate and process all information available to it.

That is the first comment by the House of Representatives Expenditure Committee-in a unanimous report, from both sides of the Parliament. The second quotation is:

Put simply, the ATO could not process all data it received.

The third quotation is that this was because:

The ATO had failed to take full advantage of technological advances that should permit computerised processing . . .

The final quotation is in relation to the old fashioned computer system. The report said:

Their ability to extract the required data and to be able to interface that data between different systems, is inadequate.

This recent report concluded:

This situation arises not simply because of highly organised evasion schemes. In large measure, it can simply be attributed to the ATO's internal inadequacies.

So the bottom line from this report is that the Australian Taxation Office cannot today use that information which is flowing into it day by day, the amount of information currently available to it, even though it should be able to use that information, even though it is charged with using the information. We have a Taxation Office which is inherently unable and inefficient. This is part of the reason why there is a problem in collecting the revenue. Yet the Government claims that the additional information to be obtained from the ID card is necessary and essential to assist the Tax Office to raise more money from evaders and avoiders.

Senator Messner —What rubbish!

Senator PETER BAUME —As my colleague says, what rubbish, what nonsense. The first task is to make the Australian Taxation Office do its job, make it do its duty, and make it respond to the criticisms which have been laid upon it. To say that we have to give the Taxation Office more information for it to be able to do its job--

Government senators interjecting-

Senator PETER BAUME —Senator Robertson seems to be interjecting. To say that we have to give the Taxation Office more information to allow it to do its job is nonsense, too. This is ridiculous, because the Taxation Office cannot now use the information it is receiving today, and surely the beginning point of any program to overcome tax cheating is to get ourselves a Tax Office that can do its job and about which a committee of the Parliament does not have to make the trenchant criticisms that were made even a few days ago. The Taxation Office has demonstrated no capacity to use the information it presently has and, until it has demonstrated such a capacity, the suggestion for an ID card is quite unnecessary.

The second main argument against the ID card is that it will not work well enough. Unless this identification card, this internal passport, gives unique identification, unless it is resistant to forgery and unless the administrative arrangements which support it are impeccable-unless it has those three qualities-the card falls as a viable policy option, and this Bill should be opposed. This card does not satisfy those requirements. It does not pass those tests. It will not work well enough. Firstly, the ID card is supposed to provide a unique identification system. But consider this for one moment: Australian passports are supposed to require unique identification. A lot of time is invested in trying to ensure just that-that the passport identifies an individual uniquely. Birth certificates, photographs, certificates of identity on the back of photographs, and certificates from specified referees-they are all required to establish that the person seeking an Australian passport is indeed the person he or she claims to be. In spite of this, every major royal commission into illegal drug trade and crime in Australia-for example, the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking, and the Williams Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs-has demonstrated the ease with which Australian passports can be and are forged. That is a matter of record. Each of these royal commissioners has said so, specifically and angrily, in the reports he has produced.

Yet the Government assures us that the ID card will not be forged. How can it do so? The Government wants us to believe that while passports, which require more documentary information and identification, can be and are being forged regularly, its ID card of which it is so proud, which requires less unique identification, will somehow be forgery free and forgery proof. Does the Government not realise that the possession of a forged ID card of the kind it is proposing in the hands of a criminal will be like an open pass to engage in illegal activity, protected by a forged ID card and the false identity which the card will legitimise? I assure the Government that if it goes ahead and introduces this ID card, forged ID cards will be produced in Australia by organised criminal elements and this Government will not prevent them from getting into circulation. The consequences of the circulation of forged or false ID cards will be just as serious as passport forgeries.

Senator Messner —Devastating.

Senator PETER BAUME —It will be devastating, as Senator Messner says. It will be a fillip for organised crime and it may lead to worse tax and welfare fraud than we have today. The Government cannot seem to grasp this fact-there have been no adequate answers from the Government on this matter. The Government either does not understand or does not know or want to know of the dangers and shortcomings of what is really a shabby, flawed and inadequate proposal. That is why Frank Costigan is against the ID card. Nobody has spent more time hunting down tax cheats and organised crime than has Frank Costigan. He knows that the ID card will not stop organised crime or tax cheats. He has told the Government-why will this Government not listen to him? He has got it right and the Government has got it wrong.

Secondly, the additional capacity which the Australian Taxation Office will gain from the ID card will provide information which cannot adequately be used, because we know that the Tax Office cannot adequately use the information it is getting now. How else are we to interpret the abject failure of the Tax Office to do the task entrusted to it with the information it now has? If the ATO cannot do its job now, with all the identifying information it receives-it gets plenty-and if it cannot even process information on the payment of interest, information it currently receives from financial institutions, why should we believe that giving it more identifiers will lead to a better performance?

Thirdly, the ID card will not touch the cash economy. It will not touch those casual arrangements that people make to employ a cleaner or a gardner. The cash economy involves many home repairers, where no formal, written agreement exists. The ID card will not control those arrangements where there is collusion between an employer, often a householder, who is called on to pay less, and an employee who takes less but takes it in cash to avoid paying tax. The ID card will not touch that part of the cash economy. Even the threat of draconian penalties, in the best Walsh tradition, will do little to stem the tax loss from this source. Certainly the ID card will not do so.

The fourth reason why the ID card will not work is that it will prevent very little social welfare fraud. The Department of Social Security gave evidence that less than one per cent-0.6 per cent-of welfare fraud is caused by mistaken identity, while 61 per cent is caused by overpayments due to misstatement of circumstances by people whose identity is never in question. If their identity is never in question, how do we expect that having an ID card will improve the situation? If the Government now says that the Department of Social Security has got it wrong and does not know the facts, let the Government produce some evidence. I am summarising evidence which the Department gave to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, which was that less than one per cent of fraud is due to errors of identity. Given the choice between backing this Government and backing the Department of Social Security, on this agreement I favour the Department every time. I have to conclude that this ID card will not save much money; it will not work well enough. The Government is not coming clean with the public when it suggests that the ID card could provide funds for a 15 per cent cut in taxes. Even for this Government that is a bit rich and a bit extravagant.

The next objection we have to the card is that it will produce a new and costly bureaucracy. I turn to the cost of the ID card. The introduction of the card will require the employment of more than 2,000 new public servants; it will require all existing Medicare branch offices to be upgraded or relocated; it will require a cost to the Government over 10 years, by its own admission, of more than $1,000m; it will require a compliance cost to business in the non-government sector, estimated by a formula which has been given by the Government's own Business Regulation Review Unit to be in excess of $2,000m; it will require compliance costs for State and local governments; and it will require costs for the replacement of expensive capital equipment, especially computers. I could go on and on about the costs. I remind honourable senators that whenever this Government or any government sets up a new bureaucracy it always understates and underestimates the costs and it always overestimates the benefits. It has certainly done so again with this crazy ID card proposal. The ID card bureaucracy will entrench itself and, as time passes, it will seek and acquire more resources, more power and more influence.

Finally, I deal with the most offensive feature, the most intrusive side effect of the ID card-our loss of privacy and the threat to our civil liberties from this card. Large parts of our lives are private, personal and no business of government. Provided we obey the laws of the land, what we do, where we go, how we spend or invest, where we save and how we make our medical arrangements are no one else's business and should remain that way. The ID card will undermine our right to privacy. The capacity of computers to locate, link, collect, collate and produce information from many sources on the activities of any citizen will be expanded significantly.

At the beginning the Government said that the following organisations could have access to information on each of us-the Tax Office, the Health Insurance Commission, the Department of Defence, the Department of Social Security, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Department of Education, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs-for any purpose related to their functions. But this is just the thin edge of the wedge. The Government wanted many more organisations to have access to ID card information and it scaled down the number to try to get the proposal adopted. What about later on when the card is in and operating? How secure will this confidential information be? Madam Acting Deputy President, you and I remember that during the doctors' dispute in New South Wales a year ago, confidential Medicare information on the incomes of New South Wales doctors was leaked publicly and illegally.

Senator Puplick —And deliberately.

Senator PETER BAUME —And deliberately, as my colleague says. The Hawke Labor Government not only did not prevent this but also it did the least possible to find the leak and it did nothing at all to repair the damage to those about whom information in the possession of an agency of this Government and under the care of the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, who is seeking to introduce this ID card, had been leaked. That leak came from Dr Blewett's portfolio area. It might be instructive to hear Dr Blewett's views about our right to privacy. I quote from Dr Blewett's address to the 1986 conference of the South Australian branch of the Labor Party. Dr Neal Blewett, the Minister seeking to introduce this ID card, had the following to say:

Let me say as a socialist that it is the interests of the community that should come before the individual right . . . we shouldn't get too hung up as socialists on privacy because privacy, in many ways, is a bourgeois right that is very much associated with the right to private property.

That is the view of Dr Blewett, the man who is seeking to introduce this internal passport. He says we should not worry too much about privacy; it is a bourgeois concept, anyhow. We take an entirely opposite view.

The centralisation and data linking under this proposal provides enormous capacities for personal and confidential information to be accessed, and the potential for abuse is tremendous. Because we do not trust this Government and because we saw how confidential information was leaked when it was to the advantage of the Government that it be leaked, we have no doubt that to give a central government, especially this central government, linked information on each Australian is not warranted, is not safe and cannot be justified.

But our liberties are attacked not only by the collection of data on us; we will also be forbidden to undertake many every day transactions without using an ID card-buying land, selling stock, opening a bank account, getting a Medicare rebate and buying shares. A fine of $20,000 will be levied on organisations such as financial institutions, cash management funds, stock agents, real estate agents, stockbrokers, lawyers accepting trust funds and statutory marketing authorities if they dare to initiate business without requiring the production of an ID card. As well, if we lose our ID card and do not report it within 21 days we will be fined $500. Gone is our right to live unfettered. We are told we must live subject to the ID card.

Most of us are honest. We are honest in our lives and we are honest in our businesses. Think of the inconvenience for us, for honest Australians, if this card comes in. No longer can we purchase shares, land or stock by telephone. Instead, we must travel at least once to our real estate agent, our broker or our stock and station agent, and we must at least once present our ID card in person. All other common law countries have considered and rejected the ID card. It reverses the onus. No longer will people be assumed to have an entitlement to invest, to bank money, to move money or to take a job. If this card is introduced all Australians will first have to prove that they have such an entitlement.

Now let me bring all these arguments together. The Government wants an ID card to prevent tax and social security fraud but the overwhelming evidence from the Department of Social Security, given to a committee of this Parliament, shows that the ID card will have little effect upon welfare fraud. It is now abundantly clear that the problem with tax lies to a significant degree within the Australian Taxation Office itself. The findings of a committee of this Parliament are that the Australian Taxation Office is in disarray, through incompetence and inefficiency and through failure to modernise its operation as other arms of government have done and as it should have done. The Tax Office is failing now to use information coming into it from financial institutions and from taxpayers. The first task surely for a national government is to clean up the Tax Office and to talk to us about an ID card only if, having cleaned up the Tax Office, an overwhelming need continues to exist.

Right across the spectrum of politics there is opposition to this proposal-from figures on the Left, from significant groups in the centre and from the Right, including every Australian organisation concerned with the protection of liberty and privacy of the individual. The opponents of this card are not friends of tax and welfare cheats; they are just good Australians. The ID card represents the thin end of a very nasty and un-Australian wedge. It is characterised by a large and costly ID card bureaucracy, by the increasing intrusion into the private lives of average, honest Australians and by increasing numbers of our ordinary, everyday activities becoming subject to the ID card.

Not only is this ID card proposal a very dangerous instrument but also it is unnecessary. It is an enormous threat to the freedom that each of us now enjoys. The expedient thing for the Opposition to have done, if it was merely trying to ride away public opinion, would have been to say that it supported the card, because that was what the public opinion polls showed. But we, on a matter of principle, believe the card is bad and we are opposing it for good and principled reasons. We intend to vote against the Bill. We intend to oppose it at every step with all our vigour. For this reason, and because the privacy Bills are so much a part of the same proposal, we will vote against them. We recognise that under different circumstances we could find some good features in them but they are inextricably linked with the Australia Card proposal. I urge the Government to reconsider its direction, to withdraw the legislation, to proceed to implement the reform of the Australian Taxation Office called for by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure and to understand that this unnecessary, illiberal and un-Australian proposition is quite unacceptable in Australia.