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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3628

Senator BROWNHILL(8.36) —When we were debating the Australia Card Bill before the dinner break, anybody listening to Senator Elstob's speech would have wondered whether we were debating the Australia Card or whether we were debating how the Labor Party raised its funds by screwing the trade union movement or whatever. The speech went on for quite a while, and quite rightly people were asking whether it was about the Australia Card or not. We are debating a most significant piece of legislation. If it is allowed to pass, it will have a far more pervasive and detrimental effect on the Australian community than any other law this Parliament has debated. It is appalling that the Government has attempted to blackmail the Opposition and prevent the Australian public from hearing criticisms of the legislation. The Government left the debate on this Bill until the very last minute last week, and suggested that the Senate would rise early if honourable senators did not speak on the Bill. Senator Button said the same thing just a while ago. We were told that if we had been good boys and not debated the legislation, so that it could be foisted on the Australian community without decent debate, we could all have gone home early. He spoke of head prefects and behaviour at school, but I think he himself was trying to be a bit of a schoolmaster.

Through this Bill the Government hopes to curb the natural democracy that exists in Australia. It wants to curb our civil rights by forcing an identity card on a community that does not want it. The Government seeks to curb the democratic rights of free speech, a process which it began last week. This Bill is about democracy as we know it in Australia, about the rights and basic freedoms that each and every one of us currently enjoys. Those rights and freedoms are under threat. The Australia Card represents the greatest intrusion into individual privacy ever seen in this country. It will rank us equal to any communist country and put us in the same category as South Africa, with its pass law system.

There are a number of speakers on this Bill and a great many aspects need to be covered. I shall therefore contain my remarks to two areas of concern. The first area on which I shall comment is the extraordinary number of ways by which the proposed card will interfere in the daily lives of average Australians. I doubt whether those who support the concept have honestly thought through the matter. The circumstances under which a card will need to be produced are wide and far-reaching. For example, a card must be produced for business with a financial institution; to invest with a prescribed borrower; to deposit money with a legal practitioner; to do business with a cash management or property trust; to transact business with a marketing authority, produce agent, or real estate agent; to buy or sell land; to gain access to a safe deposit box; to buy shares in public companies; to deal in futures contracts. In other words, any transaction that involves money, whether large or small, will require a sighting of one's Australia Card. That might not sound too much of an inconvenience but let me detail a few instances. For example, a farmer might find it not just a nuisance but a positive disincentive to business and a severe invasion of privacy. Clause 43 (2) of the Bill concerns marketing authorities. It reads:

A marketing authority or a produce agent shall not, on or after the first relevant day, make to a person a payment representing the proceeds, or part of the proceeds, of sale of primary produce unless-

(a) the marketing authority or produce agent requires, or has at some previous time required pursuant to this sub-section, the production of a current Card of the person as at the time of production;

(b) the requirement is or was, as the case may be, complied with; and

(c) the marketing authority or produce agent records, or has at some previous time recorded pursuant to this sub-section, the person's Australia Card number.

The penalty for not doing that is $20,000. I suppose the Australian Labor Party does not think that is much, but that is just another impost on our society. Further, a farmer, after a good season, may decide to invest in some shares with a stockbroker in Sydney. At present he can get on the phone and undertake the transaction with the account being forwarded to him at a later date. Under the Australia Card regime he will have to take himself and his card to Sydney. A grazier selling cattle, sheep or whatever will have to produce his card when doing business. What of the grazier who decides to use modern technology and to buy or sell cattle through the computer aided livestock marketing network from a seller or to a buyer in another State? Does the seller have to go all the way to the buyer or does the buyer have to go all the way to the seller so that the card may be produced? Any transaction that a farmer or, for that matter, any businessman makes over the telephone will require production of an Australia Card. Why have a telephone at all if we will all be required to appear in person every time we want to buy, sell or lease anything? As the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), said in the other place, the most likely outcome of the proposal is that when farmers realise that they have to do those things they will go off their heads. The agents are more than likely to introduce an extra fee or a commission charge for the additional administrative problems they will have with the card requirements.

People who own rental properties will be unable to collect rent or do any other financial transactions with the estate agent unless the person concerned has produced his card for the agent. Failure to do so, again, is punishable by a $20,000 fine. I ask people listening to this debate at home to think of every transaction that they make in their everyday lives. If they pay the milk account, hire a baby sitter, cash a cheque at a bank or elsewhere, accept a mail order offer advertised on television or do their invalid neighbour's banking they will have to produce their Australia Card. All these everyday occurrences will require production of this pernicious Australia Card. Yet the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) claims that we will not need to carry it at all times. But as in the case of the advertisement for a well-known credit card, one will not want to leave home without it.

Look at what has happened in the last few years with our drivers licence. We did not always have to carry our drivers licence and nobody thought that would change. We thought in the past-and we were quite right in thinking so-that if we had an accident or were pulled up by the police we could produce our licence within 24 hours or, sometimes, seven days. Not now; we have to carry our drivers licence with us all the time. Will that not happen with the Australia Card? What of invalids, whether they be the chronically ill or those who are incapacitated for a short time? How will they get on? How will they organise their daily affairs-their banking, their rent or mortgage payments and their rates and electricity payments? The list could go on and on. As with the fringe benefits tax the unintended consequences could be discovered for years to come because we have only just started to see the implications, both trivial and serious, of the Australia Card. However, unlike the fringe benefits tax it will not have the opportunity to have its weaknesses exposed because this chamber will have the sense to throw it out. If many Labor senators were completely frank they, too, would agree that the legislation has no place on the Government's agenda. They would realise, as we in the Opposition do, that two wrongs do not make a right and bad legislation is bad legislation whatever its intended consequences.

I have just listed a few of the instances where the Australia Card will be required. But what of the penalties for not producing it, which I have alluded to already? For a start this legislation provides no range of penalties; there is just a straight-out big, on top of the pile, $20,000 penalty. The legislation states very clearly that certain fines will apply. There is no range of fines as in other legislation, just outright amounts. Let me give a few examples. If an agent does not show a card or, for whatever reason, does not comply with the legislation there is a $20,000 penalty-not an amount up to $20,000 but a straight $20,000 on the nose. This may be what the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was talking about in Hobart the other night when he was having a little flutter on the blackjack. Other fines for offences under the legislation are: A penalty of $5,000 or two years imprisonment for defacing a card; a penalty of $10,000 or five years imprisonment or both for processing a false card; a penalty of $1,000 or six months imprisonment or both for the dishonest use of the card with intent to deceive; and a penalty of $10,000 or five years imprisonment or both for being in possession of a card without a reasonable excuse-a man might inadvertently have his wife's card in his pocket. There is a penalty of $5,000 or two years imprisonment or both for making a false statement; a penalty of $5,000 or two years imprisonment or both for an unauthorised requirement that the card be produced; a penalty of $5,000 or two years imprisonment or both for a breach of security provisions; and a penalty of $500 for a failure to notify the authorities of loss, theft or destruction of a card within 21 days. I do not know what happens if one is in hospital or somewhere like that but there is a $500 fine most probably just for being away from home.

This legislation makes the pass law situation in South Africa look tame by comparison. Members of the Labor Party go off their brains about the pass laws in South Africa yet they are trying to impose exactly the same thing on people in Australia. The whole thing seems absurdly out of hand. We have legislation in the Parliament that will fine agents $20,000 if they do not hassle a client into showing a card, irrespective of whether they have done business with that client for 20 years or have never seen him before, while the Treasurer (Mr Keating) fails to put in a tax return for two years. I do not know what will happen in that case but I suppose the Australian people will work out whether he will be fined for not obeying the laws of the land when he has been so strict on everyone else in the community. This Government neglects to mention the way in which the Treasurer made a profit on the sale of a shop, on which tax is leviable, yet he got off scot free. Maybe the people of Australia will decide who is to judge that too. Where is the justice and balance in that?

What does this Government put up as a justification for introducing the Bill? It has tried very hard to sell the public on the idea that we need the card to stop the tax cheats, the social security fraud and the tax-free cash economy. But no one has yet been able to explain just how this legislation will catch those who do business strictly for cash.

Senator Teague —It won't.

Senator BROWNHILL —I know it will not, Senator. We know it will not, but we have to convince honourable senators opposite. They are the ones who need convincing. For example, how will it stop the market fruit grower who sells his produce on a cash only, no receipt basis? How will it stop the odd job man who does the handyman jobs around the district, again strictly for cash? How does one force two people entering into a verbal contract to insist on the production of a card? Even if they do, how will that reduce tax evasion? Even Labor senators admit that the card is useless. Senator Nick Bolkus, who is away at the moment, having taken a trip to the other side of the world, said:

As people start to see the holes in it-

that is, the Australia Card-

as people start to see the benefits aren't there, this card will be seen as a boomerang which will hit us all in the face electorally . . .

Senator Bolkus said that the card was a `Mickey Mouse scheme' justified with `shonky figures' and would invariably infringe on civil liberties. He is somebody from the Government side of the House speaking about his own Bill, in another place at another time. Even more significant are the comments from the Health Minister, Dr Blewett. He was quoted earlier tonight and I would like to quote him again, because I think it is good stuff. He has not had a puncture; he has had a blow-out on this one. He said:

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 quoted earlier today by Senator Peter Baume; it has been repeated by Senator Puplick; and it will be quoted around the country for years to come. So here we have it in black and white. It does not matter to the Australian Labor Party that this card is an invasion of privacy and will undermine basic freedoms found in all democracies. After all, those freedoms are, in the Minister's own words, merely a bourgeois right. Is that really what people on the other side of this chamber want? I do not believe it is. I think that there are many Government senators who are opposed to this card as much as we are. But they are bound by their Caucus rules, so I feel sorry for them, in their anguish, when they must support legislation that they know in their hearts is morally wrong.

I am sure those same honourable senators would also not approve of the ridiculous Big Brother penalties that are attached to this Bill-the $20,000 here, the $500 there. They appear to be figures picked out of the Minister's imagination, because they bear no relation to other penalties attached to breaches of other laws. I will give an example of two penalties attached to other laws. For example, the Social Security Act provides for fines of up to $2,000 or 12 months imprisonment for false and misleading statements-$2,000, not $20,000. Under the Bankruptcy Act making a false statement can attract a fine of $200 or six months. Even forgery attracts only three years imprisonment, while failure of a bankrupt to declare property can attract a maximum of only 12 months. How does that compare with the $20,000 fine or the two years imprisonment or both?

We have in the Australia Card Bill ridiculous conditions and draconian penalties. But of course a closer look at the Bill shows that, in true socialist style, all people are equal. Senator McKiernan would know all about that. He has tried to make them equal all the time by pulling the ones who are having a go down to join the ones who do not want to have a go. Some are more equal than others. I will give an example. One advertises for a casual worker, and a fellow applies who appears to be suitable.

Senator Vanstone —A casual worker? That's McKiernan.

Senator BROWNHILL —Very casual. The fellow says: `I'm actually on holidays here in this district and I didn't think I would be working, so I haven't got my card with me; but I will write home and have it sent to me'. The employer is desperate for the fellow to get started. It could be cherry picking or hay carting. It could be anything. The employer cannot afford to wait to have him start, so he says: `Okay, start today'. By doing that the employer has just made himself liable to a fine of $20,000. So when Senator McKiernan asks for such a job without his ID card-if the legislation ever passed this place-I would have to say that he would not get the job. But somebody lying to the Department of Social Security to get the dole when he or she is not entitled to it would be fined only $2,000. Where is the justice in that? Yet this legislation is supposed to reduce the number of people cheating the social security system. To do that, it will attack the innocent employer who simply wants to get some work done-get the hay in or get the cherries picked-and it allows the dole cheats to escape the system. The basic flaw of this legislation is that it simply does not do what the Government says it will. The all party Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, of which Senator Puplick was a member, said so and the Department of Social Security said so. Virtually no one says that the card will do anything to curb social security fraud, except the Government, but even its own departments are not in total agreement on this. The Department of Social Security admitted that only 0.6 per cent of social security fraud was caused by false identity, while Senator Walsh claimed in the Senate last Friday that the identity card would solve the Department's problems. I do not think that he has looked at the Bill or at what it would do if it passes this place. How can one understand that reasoning? The opportunities for abuse of the card are numerous. The assurance from the Minister for Health that this card will be the safest and most closely protected card in Australia is worthless. He cannot guarantee that the central records will be inaccessible, nor can he guarantee that professional frauds will not be able to duplicate the card. I am told that forged passports are quite easy to come by if one has the money.

The Opposition has outlined what needs to be done. One of the Opposition's proposals is to tighten existing legislation. The Government has started clamping down on and has started to do a little bit about the work test. That has resulted already in some 15,000 people losing their dole payments. I commend the Government for that, but why does it not go on with that, rather than foisting on the community the Australia Card, which would take away so many of the basic freedoms on which we rely at the moment? Tighter interpretation of existing taxation and social security laws would bring an effective and significant reduction in public capital outlays. The savings that have already been shown to be possible could be continued without any expansion of the bureaucracy, without the enormous expenditure needed to set up the Australia Card framework and without the appalling abuse of civil liberties that this legislation embraces. I believe that a clear recommendation is given in the booklet `A Taxing Problem' as to where the collection of taxes can be much improved and the Australian Taxation Office can be much improved by implementing some of the suggestions in that booklet.

The issue of the Australia Card is of vital significance to every Australian citizen and is one that I do not believe the Government has satisfactorily justified to the electorate. The support in the community is for less abuse of the taxation system and less abuse of the social security system. It is a total fallacy for this Government to tell the electorate that its Australia Card will solve both of these problems. It will not and cannot solve these problems. It is about time that the Government stopped dodging the real issues, stopped misleading Australia about the state of the economy and stopped passing the blame for its ineptitude to other people.

If the Government really wants to crack down on social security fraud and tax evasion, it can start today without this card. This card has nothing to do with those problem which I have outlined; it is just another attempt by a socialist government to keep unnecessary records and to intrude unfairly into the personal lives of Australians. The Government cannot get away with it and we, the coalition Opposition, will not let it.