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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3613


Senator PUPLICK(5.30) —I had the honour to be one of the members of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card and to be one of those members who comprised the majority view that the Australia Card, so-called, should not be introduced. That majority, may I remind you, Mr Acting Deputy President, was composed of representatives of all the political parties represented in this Parliament-representatives of the Liberal Party of Australia, the National Party of Australia, the Australian Democrats and the Australian Labor Party. The work of that Committee and the conclusions of that Committee were based on the evidence that was put before it by the Government and by witnesses from throughout Australia. Evidence was put before it in numerous submissions and in public hearings held in every capital city of Australia.

The Liberal and National parties had always indicated that to attract our support such a proposal would have to fulfil a series of criteria: First, it would have to be effective in dealing with the problem of tax evasion and tax avoidance. Secondly, it would have to be effective in the process of getting to grips with the cheating that goes on in the welfare system. Thirdly, it would have to have some impact upon the level and nature of illegal immigration in Australia. Fourthly, it would have to have adequate safeguards for the privacy of Australian citizens. Finally, it would have to be cost effective in its operations. Against each of those criteria we have measured the Government's proposals and found them wanting. The Joint Select Committee used those criteria to measure the Government's proposals and equally it found them wanting. I propose to say something briefly about each of those areas. The first concerned whether the Australia Card, so-called, would be effective in dealing with taxation avoidance and evasion. Senator Peter Baume made it perfectly clear in what he had to say in introducing this debate about the operations of the black economy, the cash economy, that that will not be the case. Senator Peter Baume and Senator Messner referred to the review by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure. In a report entitled `A taxing problem' in chapter 5 appear the following conclusions:

As this inquiry progressed it became obvious to the Committee that the ATO's current tax assessment and collection operations left a great deal to be desired . . . It is highly doubtful whether ATO has in fact gathered all the tax revenue possible . . . The lack of computerisation intertwined with the continuation of labour intensive work practices has certainly retarded ATO's efficient operation.

And so the report goes on at some length. This was not the first report which was critical of the Taxation Office. I turn to the Auditor-General's report entitled `Report of the Auditor-General on an Efficiency Audit, Australian Taxation Office: unpresented group certificates, August 1986'. That report criticised the estimates of taxation lost or avoided according to figures put forward by the Tax Office itself. The Auditor-General stated:

The ATO has estimated that the amount of tax evaded as a result of non-disclosure of salary or wages is about $100m per annum. Since this estimate was based on previous ATO projects of dubious value, Audit considers that the amount of tax evaded could be sufficiently greater than the ATO estimate.

In other words, a careful analysis of the figures put forward by the Taxation Office has indicated to the Auditor-General that its data is not reliable. An article in the Bulletin was headed `$10 billion scandal caused by tax bungles'. `Computer-shy tax men accused of losing $2 billion' was a heading in the Sydney Morning Herald of only this month. The whole thrust of what we have said about the taxation system is that until the Australian Taxation Office can demonstrate to the Parliament, to the Expenditure Committee and to this chamber, something that it could not demonstrate to the Joint Select Committee, namely, that it was competent to do the job with which it has been charged, it should not be provided with a great addition to its bureaucratic powers, to its authority or indeed to its work load such as would be put forward by the proposal of the Australia Card.

The last point I make about tax, tax avoidance and tax evasion is this: I am prepared to enter into a debate in this chamber or elsewhere at any time with any Labor senator to assert the proposition that no Treasurer in the history of this country did more than John Howard as Treasurer to come to grips with taxation fraud and taxation avoidance. There is no doubt in the world that the 17 specific pieces of legislation introduced by John Howard in his period as Treasurer made more of an assault upon the tax rorts in this country than legislation introduced by any Labor Treasurer, past or present. We are perfectly prepared to defend our taxation record, John Howard's taxation record and the Liberal and National parties' record in dealing with tax matters in any debate and under any circumstances.


Senator Peter Baume —He put in his tax returns.


Senator PUPLICK —As my colleague Senator Peter Baume said, one additional thing that we can say about John Howard as Treasurer is that he bothered to put in his personal tax returns. People ought to remember that.


Senator Elstob —Big deal!


Senator PUPLICK —Senator Elstob says `Big deal!'. John Howard obeyed the law and that is a big deal. As far as the Australian Labor Party is concerned it is a big deal for somebody to obey the law. I turn now to our second proposition; that is, welfare fraud and welfare evasion. Let me quote from what the Joint Select Committee said at paragraph 1.46 of its report:

The Government submission reveals that DSS-

that is, the Department of Social Security-

would have no net gain from the introduction of a national identification system.

According to the Government's own figures, there will be no net gain. We see this year in the report of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Temby, QC, a clear indication that he is distressed at the extent to which this Government is not prepared to follow up evidence of cheating in the welfare system when it is brought to its attention. An article in the Australian Financial Review dated 18 November headed `Serious welfare fraud not being pursued-Temby' makes his views quite clear. When we look at pages 18 and 19 of the annual report of the Director of Public Prosecutions we see that this Government, according to its own Director of Public Prosecutions, has done nothing to take the necessary steps to deal with fraud, evasion and cheating in the welfare system. The card is supposed to be something which will overcome all these problems when, once again, as with the Australian Taxation Office, the tools are in the hands of a government if a government is prepared to use them. This Government is not prepared to use those tools. We are not prepared to impose additional costs and place additional burdens upon the people of Australia to pick up where the Government has been negligent in discharging its proper, legal responsibilities and its duty.

I turn next to the question of immigration. The Joint Select Committee reproduced at paragraph 1.53 of its report some of the evidence given to us by Mr McKinnon, the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, in which he talked to us about the 50,000 prohibited non-citizens in the country. When we pressed him for information he said:

We have presumed that our apprehensions reflect the population of illegal immigrants . . . that is a very rough estimate . . . I must say I would not dignify by describing as more than guess work . . . If we did the same study now we probably could not find the same crystal ball that was used then . . .

We are to take guess work, rough estimates and crystal balls from the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and produce a figure of 50,000 and say that the card will deal with that matter. It is interesting that not one Labor speaker, not only in this debate but also in the House of Representatives debate, or anywhere else, has been prepared to give us an estimate, which he or she is prepared to back, of the number of illegal immigrants in the country and the effect that it would have, in a quantitative sense, if an Australia Card were around and in use.

I come now to the question of the protection of privacy. Let us see the background against which the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, seeks to protect the privacy of all Australians. I quote from Dr Blewett's address to the 1986 South Australian Australian Labor Party conference, which is the same quotation as that which Senator Peter Baume used. Dr Blewett said:

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 was said by the Minister who is allegedly responsible for protecting our privacy and our civil liberties with this Australia Card. That is the background of the man who was responsible for leaking information from the Health Insurance Commission about the incomes of individual doctors in New South Wales at the point at which those doctors were in dispute with the Government. The Government has no shame. It has not attempted to find out how it occurred and who was responsible. Nobody was prosecuted, nobody was brought to book and nobody was brought to account. But the Minister responsible for this outrage is now the Minister allegedly to be charged with access to everybody's records-financial records, health records and all the rest of them.

As I have said, the Minister finds himself up against all the people in Australia whose real concern is with the protection of privacy. Let us look, for instance, to the Department of Social Security. We find an article in the National Times dated 21 September 1986, which is headed: `Personal information offered to debt collectors. For sale: Social security files'. One can see the way in which this Government has handled its record keeping. That sort of thing is frequent and occurs with regularity under this Government. Mr Ron Castan, QC, the President of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties, indicated that the threat to privacy would be as a result of, to use his words:

. . . de facto compulsory obligation to carry the card even though the legislation implied the card would be voluntary.

Senator Robert Ray was anxious to quote from the Melbourne Age. Let me quote from an article in the Melbourne Age of 2 December 1986 written by Michael Barnard, which is headed: `Danger of ID card is the anonymity of its abusers'. That seems to me to be exactly the point. Michael Barnard writes:

Underlying the wide and politically diverse opposition to the Hawke Government's proposed national identity card is the fundamental question of whether modern government of any political persuasion could reasonably be entrusted with a massive centralised dossier system of sensitive information on its citizens.

The answer, I believe, is an emphatic no.

That is correct. That is exactly the issue that gives us some cause for concern. Barnard goes on:

How can one take seriously assurances from a Government which, as its own Left rump repeatedly reminds us, has broken one undertaking after another, and whose Treasurer cannot remember even to lodge his income tax return?

This is the Government whose word we are to take about our own privacy. The Law Society of Australia put out a publication entitled `The Law Society's statement on the Australia Card', which indicates clearly its concern about the privacy aspect. It calls upon us as parliamentarians not to allow the Government to introduce this ID card. Is this organisation to be dismissed to some ratbag organisation, a body without experience in the law and in the field of civil liberties and without experience in the way in which the police and the judicial system operate? Quite the contrary. Let us see what the Privacy Committee of New South Wales attacks the card in its report entitled `Privacy Issues on the Proposed National Identification Scheme-A Special Report', dated March 1986. This is a body which was established under New South Wales State law and which has on it representatives from the New South Wales Parliament. Yet those representatives, including appointees of the Australian Labor Party, came down unanimously with a report from that Privacy Committee calling upon the Parliament not to introduce the proposed national identification system.

Senator Peter Baume has dealt with the matter of costs, and I do not intend to go over that at any great length other than to indicate that these costs have varied over a prolonged period. The Joint Select Committee report, at paragraph 1.19, states:

It is estimated that the full cost of the program over a ten year period would be $733 million. The costs of the proposal at present values (using a cumulative discount of 10 per cent) is $539 million. These new costings, which are significantly lower than earlier estimates, were provided by the HIC in its final planning report . . .

Those costs have now been revised upwards again. We have had five different sets of costs given to us, each one of them by an authority of the Federal Government-five different sets of costs which, over the 10-year period, have varied from something like $540m to a figure in excess of $1,000m. What are we to believe? The only thing that we can safely believe out of all of that is that the Government has no idea. Despite all of the questioning by the Joint Select Committee and others, it has failed to give us any indication of the cost to State governments, any indication of the cost to local government, or any indication of the cost to the private sector, which has been estimated at anywhere from $377m-simply for the members of the Confederation of Australian Industry, according to their evidence-up to a figure of more than $2,000m.

I want to take up a point that Senator Robert Ray mentioned. Senator Robert Ray is usually a very careful and very thoughtful contributor in these debates, but on this occasion he said: `Let us look at some non-authoritarian countries where they have national identity cards and see how they deal with the matter'. He cited Canada and the United States of America.


Senator Elstob —And others.


Senator PUPLICK —Neither country, Senator Elstob, has a national identification card system.


Senator Elstob —Social security.


Senator PUPLICK —Ah! So Senator Elstob is quite prepared--


Senator Elstob —He said `identity'--


Senator PUPLICK —He said `national identification system'. I propose to talk about the American national identification proposals.


Senator Elstob —And then he said `social security'.


Senator PUPLICK —Senator Elstob should stop wriggling on the hook, because he has been caught. The Joint Select Committee looked at the United States, and on page 186 of our report we deal with the report of the United States Federal Advisory Committee on False Identification, one of those members was a witness before our Joint Select Committee. That United States Committee recommended in these terms:

The FACFI therefore strongly opposes any new type of state, or local government-issued ID intended to supersede existing documents. In short, FACFI opposes any so called ``National ID card''.

The following year, the report of the Privacy Protection Study Commission appointed by the President of the United States recommended against the introduction of a national identification system. In 1980, the report of the General Accounting Office of the United States Government recommended against the establishment of a national identification system. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has recommended against the introduction of a national identification system. In Great Britain they have considered these proposals and recommended against them. With all of those other countries that were cited-which Senator Elstob now refers to-there is one very substantial difference. Would Senator Elstob like to tell me, when he has had a look at the list, which of those countries are in fact common law countries, or whether he believes, as the Health Insurance Commission believes, that there is no difference between common law and civil law countries and the traditions which underpin our societies?

When the Health Insurance Commission witnesses came before us and we were told about the wonderful junket that they had to seven or eight countries to look at national identification systems, I asked them whether in fact they had looked at this question in any country which had a common law system rather than a civil law system. Madam Acting Deputy President, you will undoubtedly be as scandalised as I was to know that the representatives of the Health Insurance Commission did not even know what the difference between the two was. They did not even know what the difference between a common law country and a civil law country was-and they are Dr Blewett's principal advisers. I asked Mr Hazell:

I wish to direct a question to Mr Hazell, as the person who was responsible for the overseas visit. Which countries did you visit which have legal systems based on British common law principles?

Mr Hazell: Could you explain what you mean by that?

Senator Puplick: Which common law countries did you visit as distinct from civil law countries?

Mr Hazell: I am afraid I do not understand what you mean.

This is the Government's principal adviser on the matter. No wonder one gets such a ratty report when it comes from the depths of such ignorance of what this society is actually all about.

The last point I want to raise is the question which the Committee did not expect to find central to its deliberations but which was central, and that was the question of organised crime. In the Canberra Times of 19 November 1986 under the heading `Blewett says fake cards could pass', there is a reference to this answer given by the Minister in the House:

A forged Australia card might not immediately be identified, the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, admitted yesterday.

Yet we have had the attempt by the Australian Labor Party here today to say that we do not have to worry about forgery; that is nothing. Yet we know that the forgery and misuse of plastic cards and of identification cards around the world is an absolutely central and significant problem for anybody who is really concerned. Senator Chaney put out an excellent Press release the other day arising from a question which he had asked the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, in this chamber, and I quote:

Money laundering through claimed dealings with bookmakers will be untouched by the Government's identity card proposal.

One of the principal methods of laundering illegal money in this country, through the system of bookmakers, will not even be touched by this card-just as it will not touch the cash economy, the person on social security who does not declare his or her full income, or the illegal immigrant about whom the Government makes so much noise. Just as it will not touch the key elements which it is supposed to combat, it will not touch one of the key elements in the organised crime way of doing things. Let us go to the evidence of Mr Frank Costigan which was supported by evidence from the Australian Federal Police. He gave evidence to the Joint Select Committee on 6 February. He said:

I have some trouble in understanding, except at a low level of crime, how an Australia Card would help in the fight against organised crime.

He went on to say:

I think it really is a big change in the way in which we have lived in our society. If you introduce something like a national identity card-again, going down the track 10 or 20 years, seeing as it would be then-I think you really have changed the kind of society we have. You have got to be pretty satisified that the benefits that you are getting out of that justify that. I certainly am not satisfied.

Mr Costigan went on in his evidence to say:

There really is a problem here because there is no doubt that the introduction of an Australia Card of the kind contemplated by the submissions that I have read is a significant intrusion into individual privacy.

If one looks at the Press reports following what Mr Costigan said, one will see in the Sydney Morning Herald for 7 February, `Costigan says ID card not the answer'. The Telegraph said: `ID card plan a nonsense says Costigan'. The Canberra Times said: `Costigan attacks Australia Card'. The Australian said: `ID card plan faces strong opposition by Costigan'. The Melbourne Sun said: `Costigan hits at identity card plan'. The News in Adelaide said: `Costigan: No privacy with ID cards'. The Examiner said: `Inquiry told ID cards not needed'. The Mercury said: `Costigan criticises ID card ``intrusion''.' The West Australian said: `ID card an intrusion, says QC'. We could go back and look at the evidence of Mr Costigan and Mr Meagher to see that that is exactly the point they made.

I come finally to mention something about the social implications. Unfortunately, because of lack of time, I will not take honourable senators through what Mr Lewis Kent, MP, had to say about the whole exercise smacking of authoritarianism; I will not go through his very detailed speech in the House of Representatives against it. I will not go through Senator Bolkus's paper to the Committee opposing the ID card; I will not go through the attack of Mr George Petersen, the New South Wales member of Parliament, attacking the ID card; I will not go through the threats of Mr Cyril Kennedy, Victorian MLC, to chop up his card; and I will not go through the comments of Mr Kennedy under the heading `Nazis used ID cards too-MP'. I think this proposal can be defeated without having to bring all these significant Labor people to our assistance. I will conclude by mentioning what is said in an editorial and in one portion of our evidence. The Catholic Weekly editorial of 22 October 1986, under the heading `An Identity Crisis?' said that very, very quickly this card would become a great burden. It said:

The anti-ID card individual would quickly find life almost impossible.

It concluded:

Are there not practical alternatives to a National ID card in Australia? The Community generally does not seem to be aware of the implications of the proposed legislation and the consideration of alternatives must be examined. As things stand, the slogan, ``Don't leave home without it'' could have chilling consequences from a civil liberties point of view.

An editorial such as that in the Catholic Weekly deserves to be taken seriously. When it says that the alternatives need to be considered it is clearly reflecting what Opposition members have said and what is stated in the amendment moved by Senator Peter Baume. Finally, I refer to what Bishop Challen, the Anglican Bishop of Perth, had to say when we took evidence from him. He said:

A fundamental point we would want to make-you would not be surprised about that-is the impact of an identity card and information system on a fundamental reality about human relationships, namely the matter of trust. No family, no community and no nation can really work very happily except on the basis of trust, and trust is not a commodity which one gives to another. Trust is a quality and a response which you evoke out of another by, in fact, entrusting yourself to that person or group. If that sounds a bit theoretical I think it is far from theoretical. It is absolutely basic, whether you want to talk about family life, marital relationships or community life. At the moment our society, by and large, operates on the basis of trust. Now and then people are asked to identify themselves. It is the Commission's expectation that once a universal identity card system is established, that order will be reversed.

Bishop Challen went on to say that nothing he knew of would so change the nature of relationships in this country as the establishment of this card-what the Health Insurance Commission calls the ability of entities to operate. The HIC never talked to us about individuals; it talked to us on the Joint Select Committee about `entities entitled to operate'. That is not the road of dehumanising conformity that the Opposition parties are prepared to go down. For that reason, together with all of the others that I have outlined and Senator Messner and Senator Peter Baume have outlined, we will vote against this card. We will defeat this proposal and we will explain our position to the people of Australia in a way which I have no doubt they will overwhelmingly endorse.