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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3600

Senator HAINES (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(4.07) —Before I move into any consideration of the Australia Card Bill I suggest that Senator Aulich go to the nearest dictionary to check on the difference between `consider' and `accept'.

Senator Elstob —That is what you said, though.

Senator HAINES —Yes, I am not denying that at all. I said quite definitely in the National Taxation Summit speech that it ought to be considered along with a whole range of other things. I remind Senator Aulich that we consider all sorts of legislation in this place on a regular basis. We do not always, on either side of the Senate, necessarily accept those pieces of legislation. To look at the options, to consider all the options, and then to make a decision in the light of all the information available is, I would have thought, one of the major roles of members of parliament. That was certainly behind the establishment of the Joint Committee on an Australia Card. Until that Committee was established this Parliament and the community generally had no information. We had no access to the inter-departmental committee report. We had no access to the Health Insurance Commission report. It was not until the joint parliamentary committee of inquiry was set up that we realised exactly to what extent this Government and some of its bureaucrats were planning on having the concept of an Australia Card extended. It was not until those things were looked at, until we had called on several hundred submissions, and until we had seen large numbers of witnesses from a variety of organisations that we realised that there were some very real problems with the proposal as it was being brought forward by the Government.

It is important that we make it quite clear from the beginning that this is not a debate, nor should it be turned into a debate, about whether people are opposed to or are supporters of tax and social security fraud. The debate on the legislation before us today and the alternative proposals ought to be about how best we combat the tax and social security fraud that is costing this country billions of dollars annually and how we do it without excessive imposts on the rest of the community. Quite clearly, most people in this country are opposed to tax and social security fraud, to tax avoidance measures that come perilously close to evasion, and to people who use and misuse the social security system in a way that was never intended. It seems to me, however, that from time to time there are some double standards in that some of the most frequent calls for attacks on social security cheats seem to come from those people who have turned tax minimisation into an art form and that more people in the community seem to be concerned about the $30m or whatever it is we lose each year to social security defrauders than they are about the $3 billion that we lose annually to tax defrauders. But I guess that that is a matter of their perspective and a question of double standards.

We are confronted with an Australia Card proposal which, by the Government's own admission from time to time, will cost something like $600m to establish; it will take two years to put into effect, that is, before all people in Australia have been processed; it will take something like five years before it reaches a break even point; it will cost something like $110m annually to run; and it will be applicable to every person in Australia no matter what the age of that person is, no matter what the activities, financial or otherwise, undertaken by that person are, and no matter essentially whether there is a need for that person to be numbered and labelled at all. The Government is arguing, of course, that the average Australian favours this card. Certainly, at the time the debate originated some 18 months ago something like 76 per cent of the population who were polled indicated that they favoured the card. If recent opinion polls are any indication that figure has shrunk to something considerably less than 60 per cent as people have found out exactly what the card is all about and what impositions it will mean to them, to their lifestyle, to their behaviour, and so on. There is still, however, a large number of people, as there was 18 months ago, who have some odd misconceptions about what this card will achieve. They think, for example, that it will be able to be used by hoteliers to stop under-age drinking, that it will be able to be used--

Senator Elstob —They can't do that, and you know it.

Senator HAINES —I am talking about what people believe. They believe that it will be able to be used to stop under-age drinking; they believe that it will make life easier for the proprietor of a corner shop who can demand that it be produced before somebody cashes a cheque; they believe it will help school students travelling on buses or trams or attending movies who want to get concessional rates; they believe it will help the State police forces check on people's identities from time to time. The people who believe these things seem to be unaware that there is a very precise list of people who will be entitled, without penalty, to demand this card, and that people who are not entitled under the Australia Card legislation to demand it but who do demand it will be subject to a penalty of $5,000 or two years imprisonment. But that does not stop people who have not seen this legislation and who have not had their misconceptions laid at rest by the Government or any of its Ministers believing that the Australia Card will be the answer to everybody's problems and that it will be able to be used for a much wider range of things than in fact it will be able to.

People in the community also say things such as `there is nothing the matter with the Australia Card unless you are a crook', and `if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear'. Federal government departments and State government departments have information of one sort or another on many people in this country. Most of us do not have the faintest idea what information is stored on us in what departments, how accurate it is, how up to date it is and how relevant it is; nor do we know how that information can be used if it is taken out of context or misused in any way. Even if there is nothing that one particularly wants to hide in the plethora of information on one that is stored in government departments, one has to consider in what ways governments can misuse even that innocent information. I remind honourable senators of information that was put to the Committee in Adelaide earlier this year relating to an instruction by the Premier of South Australia, or somebody acting on his behalf, to all State Public Service heads of departments that checks be run on people's pay slips to find out who was not having union dues deducted. The names of those people were put into appropriate lists and sent off, one presumes, to the relevant union officials. Most of us, particularly those in the Public Service, do not have much to hide as far as information on our pay slips is concerned, but I am quite sure that, whether or not one is in favour of compulsory unionism, one would be opposed to the misuse of data in that way. Certainly it contravenes the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines on data use which indicate that data should not be used other than for the purpose for which they were collected.

People say: `We all carry credit cards of one sort or another and we all have a driver's licence, or a lot of us do. There is a lot of information required for them, which we all produce'. Senator Aulich was busy waving around the application form American Express sends to people who wish to be provided with an American Express card. The point needs to be made that we all voluntarily apply for those cards because we believe that they will provide us with some sort of a benefit. We are prepared to offer certain limited information to American Express, to Bankcard, to the department of motor vehicle registrations or whatever because we want to derive a benefit and also because the information we offer is within our control and is very limited indeed. The important point is that the information is voluntarily supplied.

That is not going to be the case with the Australia Card. The information will have to be compulsorily supplied by everybody in this country-man, woman and child-of any age. It is important that one of the first things that are understood about the Australia Card is that it is not the same as other pieces of plastic we use for credit purposes or anything else. Those cards are, most importantly, unique to their own organisations. They cannot be used to access information in other organisations, nor should they be. They are unique to a particular organisation and to a particular form of behaviour on the part of the owner of the card. They are not as wide-sweeping or as broadly effective as the Australia Card.

The card the Government is proposing would enable access to information held by government agencies and private organisations, such as banks and employers. That is, the card will be backed by a centralised databank and will enable linkage of data. Apart from the fact that the information held may be inaccurate or incomplete, as I suggested earlier, the ability to place everyone under some sort of surveillance poses a very real threat to privacy, which was raised most recently in a document put out by the Law Society in its statement on the Australia Card. It raised the question of invasion of privacy in the context of the American investigations into the system. In 1973 the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems in its report to the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare considered a proposal to expand the social security number from its unique purpose use to that of a standard universal identifier; that is, a general, all-purpose identification system. It rejected that proposal for a number of very good reasons: That the standard universal identifier, a mandatory personal identity card, would have to be presented whenever called for; that loss or theft of a card would cause serious inconvenience; and that the mere threat of an official confiscation would be a powerful weapon of intimidation. The report went on to argue against the changeover from the uniqueness of the social security card to the general nature of it by saying that the national population register which the SUI implies could serve as the skeleton for a national dossier system to maintain information on every citizen from cradle to grave. It went on:

An unchangeable SUI used everywhere would make it much easier for an individual to be traced, and his behaviour monitored and controlled, through the records maintained about him by a wide range of different institutions. A permanent SUI issued at birth could create an incentive for institutions to pool or link their records, thereby making it possible to bring a lifetime of information to bear on any decision about a given individual. American culture is rich in the belief that an individual can pull up stakes and make a fresh start, but a universally identified man might become a prisoner of his recorded past. This Committee believes that fear of a standard universal identifier is justified.

That United States report was not the only report that came down in opposition to moving towards a standard universal identifier. The Swedes, who have had one for some time, are concerned about the invasion of privacy it has caused and have contemplated abandoning the system. The Government proposes in this legislation to establish a data protection agency but it cannot offer any guarantees for future governments. Once the system is established, the potential for abuse is quite clear, which is not to say that we do not need a data protection agency in any event, whether we have an Australia Card or not. The fact is that we do, given the amount of information that is held already on any individual by both government and private organisations in this country. We need a DPA, if only to remedy existing abuse. I issue a warning to people who think that a data protection agency will be the answer to all problems facing people with concerns about civil liberties and the protection of privacy. The situation in Sweden indicates that this is not necessarily the case.

The head of the Swedish Data Protection Agency resigned earlier this year, apparently on the grounds that the Data Protection Act and Board in his country were unable to stop what he called `our shrinking privacy and the extremely new vulnerability' of the computerised society. So a data protection agency is not an answer to the problem, although certainly, introduced in its own right, it would help put the brakes on existing abuse. Obviously, there is the potential civil liberties problem of people demanding the card for non-prescribed uses. There is a penalty for that, but it is a penalty that comes after the event. I suggest that large numbers of people in this country do not know the rights they already have, much less the rights they are implied to have under this legislation, and simply would not know when the card was being illegally demanded.

The Australian Federal Police have warned that legislative prohibitions on this matter are virtually unenforceable. They are not the only ones who have indicated that it is likely that before long the card will be used in a wide range of proscribed activities. There are other problems concerning the efficiency of the card, even for its proposed uses. The Government has not told us, for example, how it will stop fraud and forgery of cards. If that cannot be stopped we might as well not have the card. It has not said how the cash economy will be stopped. Even those European countries which have a national identification system have not been able to stop the cash economy. How can they? Many people in the community, like many of us in this chamber, have some work done around the home for cash because it is convenient. They have their lawns mowed for cash, or pay cash to the person who cleans the house or washes the windows or whatever. What will be on or in or about this card that will ensure that the people to whom we pay cash in those circumstances will declare their earnings, either to the Australian Taxation Office or to the Department of Social Security, assuming that they are trying to defraud either or both of those systems? The only way we are going to get that sort of thing stopped is for every one of us, here or in the community, who pays that sort of money out in cash to be subject to a prescribed payment system or something of that nature. I suggest the administration of that system, not only for the Government but also for the average householder in Australia, would bring down any party which tried to introduce it.

We are facing a problem of the unreliability of records on which the card would be based in the initial stages. A lot of people in this country have birth certificates, but there are a lot of people who do not, for quite legitimate reasons, such as that they were born overseas or were born at a time when births did not have to be registered. We all know the problems that currently apply to our passport system with people who are able to get more than one birth certificate and, hence, get more than one passport. I suggest that even an Australia Card with a photograph on it will not be immune to people changing their appearance and acquiring duplicate sets of documents that will enable them, in the two years it will take to get this thing off the ground, to have more than one card.

The Department of Social Security certainly seems to have some concerns about the integrity of the card. It admitted to the Committee that it did not see the card as likely to be useful because of social security fraud usually arises from failure to notify change of circumstances, not from false identity. Then there is the question of organised crime, which is quite clearly and readily acknowledged in this country as being heavily into tax fraud of one sort or another. As Frank Costigan and others pointed out, there is no more likelihood of an Australia Card system stopping organised crime than there is of using a system such as a tax file number. So there appears to be very little point in going to all the additional expense and administrative hassles of an Australia Card when the tax file number system would be just as useful in this case. What we are looking at is really a system whereby the money trail can be traced by people who need to be able to trace it. The use of a tax file number for the sorts of financial dealings that the Government is talking about using an Australia Card for would suffice.

We are looking at a system which is largely unworkable in the areas in which it ought to be working best. It is expensive, it is potentially quite dangerous and, worse, it has the potential of distracting everybody's attention from finding real solutions to the problems of tax avoidance and evasion. It was for those reasons that a majority of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, that was established late last year to examine the Australia Card proposal, came down against the card and instead recommended extensive constructive alternative measures which we in the Democrats believe ought to be adopted. I say `we in the Democrats' because I understand that members of the Opposition who were in fact signatories to that majority report have moved away from a number of the proposals in that majority report, primarily, apparently, having moved away from the recommendation relating to the tax file number.

We intend to move an amendment to the motion for the second reading: `Leave out all words after ``That'', insert: ``this Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to reflect the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, as follows;'' '. This amendment, which I intend to move on behalf of the Australian Democrats, then lists the recommendations from the Joint Parliamentary Committee majority report. They include things such as a recommendation that the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs upgrade the quality of its records; that the computerisation of all State and Territory registries of births, deaths and marriages proceed; that a data protection agency be set up to control the collection and use of personal data; and that the Commonwealth Government introduce privacy legislation based on the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission report on privacy as soon as possible. Indeed, we will be supporting-although we will be suggesting amendments to it-the privacy legislation that the Government has introduced cognately with this legislation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Giles) —Senator Haines, it is inappropriate for you to move that amendment at this stage. There is already one amendment before the Senate. You may foreshadow that amendment and it will be dealt with at the appropriate time.

Senator HAINES —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I therefore foreshadow that amendment. Following the debate on the Opposition's amendment, we will move our amendment. It is in order, is it not, for me to canvass the contents of the foreshadowed amendment?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Yes, that is quite in order.

Senator HAINES —I will continue with the recommendations that were made in the majority report. It is recommended that the outstanding recommendations of the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure on the control of prohibited immigration be implemented as soon as possible and that legislation be passed allowing Commonwealth departments and authorities to report suspected cases of fraud. It went on to say that, irrespective of whether a tax file number or an Australia Card number was introduced, a withholding tax on interest payments be imposed on interest bearing accounts which are not associated with a number and that the use, in fact, of the tax file number rather than another number associated with an Australia Card be extended to cover all the financial transactions proposed in the Government's submission for use of the Australia Card number by the Australian Taxation Office as well as for social security purposes.

It recommended that the integrity of the tax file number be upgraded to that of the proposed Australia Card number and listed a number of premises on which that could be done. Finally, it suggested that, within three years of the introduction of the upgraded tax file number system, a parliamentary committee be established with the express task of reviewing the implementation of those recommendations. Certainly the Joint Parliamentary Committee majority report was concerned about approaching the question of tax and social security fraud in a positive way, but doing it in such a way that those people who were innocent of such behaviour did not unduly have impositions placed on them, did not unduly have their privacy invaded and did not unduly have infringements of their civil liberties.

Since I am anticipating, perhaps out of order, that this legislation will be defeated on the second reading-the numbers certainly seem to indicate that that is the way it is going to go-I hope it is in order for me just to move on quickly to some of the concerns that are contained in some specific parts of the legislation. They include things such as the requirements for carrying the card, which are listed in clause 8. It states that there will, in fact, be no obligation to carry a card at any time except where the Bill requires it to be produced. Since there is quite an extensive list-such as claiming Medicare and social security benefits, buying or selling a home, receiving rental income and an assortment of other things-what is likely to happen, given that range of uses for which the card is mandatory, is that, for all practical purposes, the card will have to be carried by an individual. In addition, there is a threat of a penalty for not carrying the card in certain circumstances and a fine for failure to notify the loss of a card which would, no doubt, add to an individual person feeling that he or she is obliged to carry the card at all times.

The outline of a prescribed representative in clause 11 has been of some concern to some people. The Bill allows persons to act as prescribed representatives on behalf of another person, including minors, people who are mentally or physically incapacitated and others who freely request that another person act on their behalf. Apparently representatives for classes of persons may also be prescribed by regulation. This raises a number of concerns, among them the fact that it would be possible for a regulation to declare that public servants may make applications for those who have not or will not make an application. Although the card would not be issued to someone who was unwilling to provide a photograph or signature, the application would generate a register entry which would not be accessible to the person because that person was not a card holder. Furthermore, since the ability to operate in a range of situations is contingent on possession of a card, circumstances, I suggest, could arise where people would be unable to achieve independence because they could not repossess their card from the prescribed representative who may be unwilling to give up that sort of control.

Obviously, other concerns regarding access to the card register itself and, in particular, the role of the Data Protection Agency need to be raised. Although I am rapidly running out of time, I should point out that my major problem as far as the Data Protection Agency is concerned is that, of course, a vote against the Australia Card Bill could well be seen as a vote against the Data Protection Agency. This, of course, is not the case as far as the Australian Democrats are concerned. We believe that if the Privacy Bill is to be proceeded with and the Australia Card Bill defeated, all the details relating to a data protection agency, other than those relating to it specifically with regard to the Australia Card, should be inserted in the privacy legislation.

I think it is important to repeat that the central register will be created from information that is demanded from individuals-information which is not provided by them voluntarily as is the case, say, with an American Express card-and extracted from some of the largest government data bases such as the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Social Security. The links with these sources may be maintained not just for the purposes of initial identification but, according to the Bill, `for any other purpose related to the performance of the Authority's functions under this Act'. So, in fact, the legislation has the potential for very wide sweeping powers and for a very wide sweeping intrusion into people's lives and for those reasons, if not for any others, it is to be deplored.