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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3633

Senator MAGUIRE(9.06) —I rise to speak tonight on the Australia Card Bill which has been introduced by the Hawke Labor Government. The Australia Card is an integral part of the Government's tax reform package and, as I have indicated before in this place, the package introduces very far-reaching reforms of the Australian taxation system. Our key objective in reforming the Australian tax system is to bring more fairness into the community. That is the operative concept behind the tax package-to introduce more fairness into Australian taxation, to reduce the burden of taxation on the ordinary Australian taxpayer and to reduce the unfairness of the current Australian tax system. Our tax package will go a long way towards restoring the very important ability to pay principle in taxation. To give effect to that, the Government has introduced the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax, abolished negative gearing-that is, the situation where people involve themselves in property purchases to offset interest payments against their incomes-and brought about the end of the free lunch. All of those things have been designed to stamp out the tax avoidance practices that flourished under the Fraser-Howard Government. All of those reforms have been introduced with one objective in mind; that is, to introduce more fairness into the Australian taxation system.

I am very pleased to say that, as a result of our reforms, those people who have the greater ability to pay will be paying more taxation in Australia, and I commend the Government for introducing those measures to ensure that those with more pay more. All of those practices to which I have referred-the provision of tax-free benefits, the free lunch and, in the past, the exemption from taxation of capital gains-cost the ordinary taxpayer more and more taxation. The burden of taxation was shifted on to ordinary Australians as a result of the non-taxation of those particular practices. Mr Howard's solution, when he was Treasurer, was really to make up the shortfall in revenue by shifting more and more of the tax burden on to the ordinary taxpayer. In fact, Mr Howard and the coalition Government licensed the great Australian tax rip-off by pushing ordinary Australian pay as you earn taxpayers into higher and higher tax brackets. That was the fact of life under Mr Howard as Treasurer.

Unlike the Labor Government with the Australia Card, the Fraser Government, with Mr Howard as Treasurer, was not prepared to tackle tax avoidance and evasion head on. In fact, it chose the easy option. It chose the politically expedient option, the option which forced the ordinary pay as you earn taxpayer to pay more tax to cover the tax evasion and tax avoidance practices of a wealthy minority in this country. They were the facts of life of taxation under the Fraser-Howard Government. I regret to say that, when Mr Howard was Treasurer of this country from 1978 to 1982, income tax became voluntary for the wealthy people of this country. They did not pay what tax the Government required them to pay; they worked out what tax they thought it fair to pay. That is the way the system operated when Mr Howard was Treasurer. There was no fairness and no equity in income taxation in Australia when Mr Howard was Treasurer.

No responsible government in this country could tolerate a taxation system which forced low and average income earners to subsidise the lurks and perks of the rich. That was what was going on. By closing the loopholes and by eliminating the rorts, the Hawke Government's tax reform package will redistribute revenue in the form of tax cuts. The Government is showing great leadership and great decisiveness in hitting the tax rorts, the tax lurks, head on. It is leadership that was lacking in the Fraser-Howard Government, a government which was not willing to attack tax avoidance and tax evasion on a comprehensive basis. The record speaks for itself.

With the Government's tax package, we are paying back into the community some $4,500m in tax reductions and collecting some $1,500m in extra taxes. The Opposition always tries to obscure the point that we are talking about a tax package, an integrated set of reforms. Revenues are being paid back into the community, just as revenues are being raised. The revenue from the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax, for example, will help finance the tax cuts which have now come into effect. The Government is easing the burden on ordinary taxpayers by taxing the evaders, the avoiders and the cheats. Whereas the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax are part of the Government's crackdown on tax avoidance, the Australia Card, which is what we are debating this evening, is directed at tax evasion and welfare fraud. The Australia Card is in effect one of the final elements of the Government's tax reform package, aimed at creating a more equitable and fairer tax system. That is what this Government stands for-more fairness and equity in the Australian taxation system.

The use of false identities is a major contributor to tax evasion. False identities and misstatement of financial circumstances are also major factors behind welfare fraud-that is, cheating of the social security system. The Australia Card will provide to each person a unique identifier of the highest integrity, coupled with a photographic card of the highest security. I believe that a unique personal identifier is vital in this country. We have only to look at the activities of certain criminal elements, and I refer to the well documented cases of criminals from Melbourne catching the morning flight to Sydney, checking out the death notices in the Sydney Morning Herald, looking for people of their age group who had died in Sydney, going to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Sydney and getting birth certificates for those persons, then saying that those birth certificates belong to them, and flying back to Melbourne that evening with new identities. That is what was going on under the Liberal Government and that is the sort of thing on which the Government will crack down by its reforms in this area. We will have a unique identifier, and those criminal activities will be hit very severely by the introduction of this measure.

The Australia Card is designed to combat tax evasion and welfare fraud by determining eligibility for social security benefits and a wide range of financial transactions. It will enable the Australian Taxation Office to draw together financial information about an individual to ensure that that person is subject to a proper taxation assessment. There is the case of a person working in two different jobs under different names and obtaining two tax-free thresholds of $4,500. That is one of the very common things that have been going on in Australia. By having a unique identifier the two different employment activities will be drawn together and the proper tax will be assessed. That is the sort of thing that will be checked. The Australia Card will also help prevent persons double dipping in social security and obtaining benefits by using false identities where their financial circumstances should preclude them.

We have heard a lot of nonsense already today from Opposition members about the Australia Card. It is very important to ask: Exactly what is the Australia Card? What are we talking about? It is certainly something that is very popular in the community at the moment. It is overwhelmingly popular, in my experience. The members of the community among whom it is most popular are the Liberal Party's supporters, who are making it very clear in conversations with me that not only do they want an Australia Card but also they want--

Senator Walsh —Are they going to change their votes?

Senator MAGUIRE —That is a moot point. They are, certainly in my experience, the persons in the community who are the strongest supporters of the Australia Card. The card will contain a name, signature, special identification number, the period of the card's validity and a photograph. Basically, that is what the Australia Card will involve.

It is interesting to look at the history of the Australia Card. The first public indication of interest in the Australia Card, to my knowledge, was at the Labor Party Convention in South Australia in June 1984 when a motion was put on the agenda by the Kilburn Sub-Branch, which includes the northern suburbs of Adelaide, a working class district. The people there moved a motion that `an identity card be issued to all residents of Australia 16 years and over'. To my knowledge that is the first occasion on which there were public proposals for such a card. Those working class people saw the logic of such a card; they saw the sense and the fairness in hitting the tax cheats in Australia. They understood what was going on in the community and they saw the need for some sort of identifier to hit the tax cheats. The Australia Card was later examined and taken up at the National Taxation Summit in July 1985. Registration for the Australia Card will begin in late 1987. I stress that it will not be compulsory to carry the card, nor will it be used as a means of general identification, nor will it be an internal passport.

I was rather concerned to hear the opening address in this debate this afternoon from Senator Peter Baume-he is a senator for whom I have had some regard in the past-who claimed unequivocally that the card would be used as an internal passport. I do not know who wrote that for him and I am not sure whether he was saying what he actually meant, but he did say, claim, allege that this particular card could be used as an internal passport. It is clearly proscribed; it is not compulsory to carry the card. That is made abundantly clear in every statement that the Government, the Minister and members of the Labor Party have made regarding the Australia Card. It will not be compulsory to carry the card, and police authorities will not be able to ask for it. That is made quite clear in the provisions for the card. My esteem for Senator Peter Baume went down a lot when he made that ridiculous statement this afternoon. He has damaged his credibility enormously in this place by coming out with such a nonsensical claim about what the Australia Card will be used for.

The information on the Australia Card will be contained in the Australia Card Register, which will be a centralised register. It will contain only personal identifying information such as a person's name, residential and postal address, date of birth, sex and a digitised photo and signature. It is very basic information simply to enable verification to occur. Contrary to the claims of the Australia Card opponents, the Register will not be a comprehensive central data base. It certainly will not contain information about marital status, family composition, religion, employment, or political affiliation. Some claims of this nature have been made by irresponsible sections of the community. The information contained on the card and on the Register will be confined to existing basic identification data-not new data-for the legitimate business of government departments. Much of the existing data contains duplications and inaccuracies which will be resolved by the Australia Card. That is a very important thing to bear in mind-inaccurate current data will go out. In fact, it will be scrubbed. There is a lot of inaccurate data in the system. The centralisation of information will enable the system to rid itself of a number of inaccuracies.

There will be strictly limited access to information on the Australia Card Register. Only officials from the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Social Security and Medicare will have access to the Register. They are the only Government departments and authorities which will have access to the Register. That access will be only for tax linkage purposes and for establishing identification for welfare payment purposes-for example, to check the person who may be working under different names in two different jobs. Access to information on the Register will need to be specifically authorised and the authorisation will be approved by the Government's new Data Protection Agency, a new watchdog body which is to be established specifically to protect the rights and privacy of individuals by controlling the collection and use of personal data for the Australia Card.

The Government believes that by making the Australia Card mandatory for a number of specific uses, and only for those uses, it will be possible, for example, to achieve substantial revenue gains through a reduction in tax evasion. It will be possible to achieve greater fairness between members of the community in contributing towards the cost of providing government services and in the distribution of government welfare payments, a very important objective. It will be possible to provide a convenient, high level of integrity means of identification without affecting honest individuals. As was indicated earlier today, the card will have some effect in regulating future illegal immigration.

The specific uses of the Australia Card are set out in the legislation. Uses beyond those specific ones are proscribed. The card will be mandatory for opening an account with a bank or a building society, for the purchase of stocks or shares, for the receipt of interest on investment funds and for employment purposes. The employer must sight the card. It will be mandatory to produce the card to obtain Commonwealth benefits, allowances and pensions and so forth. The Australia Card will be mandatory for those purposes only. It will not be compulsory for any other purpose. It will be an offence for the card to be requested by private sector bodies, State governments and law enforcement agencies. So much for the nonsense, hoaxes and myths the Opposition has been putting about the country on this subject.

The major benefit to be obtained from the Australia Card will be increased taxation revenue arising from the reduced incidence of tax evasion. The Government estimates that the Australia Card will cost $55m a year to operate but will provide total savings to the Government of $932m a year. So the savings far outweigh the costs of establishing the system. On a cost-benefit ratio, the card will recoup $5 of revenue for every $1 outlaid in establishing the system. By 1995-96, that is, in 10 years time, it is estimated that the Australia Card will have saved some $4,700m which would otherwise have been lost in tax evasion and social welfare fraud. So overall, as I indicated earlier, the objective of the Government's tax reform package and the objective of introducing the Australia Card is to help bring about a fairer taxation system. That is what this country has severely lacked. Under the Fraser-Howard Government we did not have a fair tax system. The introduction of the Government's tax reform package, including the Australia Card, will help make our taxation system fairer and more soundly based on a person's ability to pay, a very important principle.

The Australia Card legislation includes measures to give effect to very important safeguards to protect the rights and privacy of the individual and to prevent abuses of the card. As I have indicated, there is absolutely no requirement for a person to carry the Australia Card. The legislation specifies all the permitted uses of the card with all other possible uses totally prohibited by the legislation. As I have also indicated, the Australia Card legislation establishes the independent Data Protection Agency which will ensure that data collected for the Australia Card and by all other government agencies is used for the purpose for which it was collected and that access to data is properly controlled. The Agency will issue guidelines and directions to ensure that data kept by the government agencies is both accurate and confidential. It will investigate breaches of those guidelines, if there are any breaches.

Individuals will have the right of access to all information held on them so that they can check it. That contrasts with the current situation in this country. From estimates that are available, much data is kept of a personal nature by credit reference agencies, financial institutions and other bodies but it is very difficult to get access to that data. It is very difficult for the individual to be able to verify the data that is kept and to ensure that it is accurate. No individual or organisation other than the prescribed user agencies-the Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Social Security and so forth-will be able to obtain personal information from the Australia Card register. That includes the Federal and State police forces. They will not be able to get the data and they will not have access. That is a very important factor to be borne in mind by those opposite who are trying to run scare stories in the community about the impact of the Australia Card.

Identification cards have been used for a number of years in a wide range of liberal and social democratic countries abroad. Identity cards with or without photographs operate in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and West Germany. A very long list of countries, which are essentially democratic countries, operate systems of identity cards. There are social security numbering systems in operation in Canada and the United States of America. They operate as national de facto identity systems.

Opponents of the Australia Card have used a combination of highly emotive and blatantly cynical arguments. The opponents of the card have used contradictory arguments to try to scare people about the possible effect of the Australia Card, but it is very evident that the arguments and allegations put forward by those in the Opposition have singularly failed to turn the community against the Australia Card. They have had little impact; they have been a total failure. Opinion polls taken on the Australia Card have consistently shown overwhelming support for the concept. People in this country want a fairer tax system and greater fairness in the Australian community. They have shown this through their support in opinion polls for the concept of the Australia Card. A recent Morgan gallup poll showed that 48 per cent of the population were in favour of an Australia Card and wanted the introduction of an identity card; others wanted some other form of identification. That is the indication coming from the community.

The opponents of the Australia Card and the Opposition are clearly out of step with community feeling. Honest and hardworking Australians, the great majority of our community, know they have nothing to fear from the Australia Card. The ordinary taxpayer in this country knows that he or she has absolutely nothing to fear from the introduction of the Australia Card. Honest and hardworking Australians are absolutely sick and tired of paying through the nose to subsidise the tax evaders and the welfare cheats. They know the system is stacked against them. The honest and hardworking Australian knows just how unfair the current tax system is in this country. They want action to stamp out tax evasion and welfare fraud. I know because they have told me. They have been into my office and told me that they are sick and tired of the tax bludgers out in the community who are not paying their fair contribution towards the operation of the Australian community. They want these sorts of reforms to bring about greater fairness and equity in the Australian tax system.

The news that Opposition and Democrat senators are voting against the Australia Card will bring a smile to the face of every tax evader and welfare cheat in the nation. That is the reality; that is the fact. By voting against the Australia Card, the Opposition and the Democrats are placing themselves on the side of a selfish and greedy minority in the Australian community. They are allying themselves with a selfish and greedy minority in the community.

As I indicated earlier, within the Opposition-that leaderless, indecisive, knocking and negative Opposition-a range of contradictory statements have been made about the introduction of the Australia Card. This afternoon Senator Robert Ray referred to previous statements by Mr Braithwaite, a National Party of Australia front bencher, in support of the Australia Card. He also referred to a statement by Mr Ralph Hunt, who is the Deputy Leader of the National Party, in support of the Australia Card. He referred to statements by Mr Charles Blunt, who is the Opposition spokesperson on social security matters, endorsing the concept of an Australia Card. These are the sorts of statements that have been made. We now have this negative and carping Opposition trying to destroy this legislation which would bring greater fairness into the Australian community.

In addition to those statements, I would like to refer to one made by Mr Trevor Griffin as reported in the Adelaide Advertiser on 13 November. Mr Trevor Griffin used to be the Attorney-General of South Australia in a Liberal government. He is a close confidant and ally of Senator Teague and Senator Messner who are in the chamber at the moment. Of course, Mr Porter, the Opposition spokesman on health-the one who has been going around the country trying to whip people into a frenzy against the Australia Card-is also a South Australian. Mr Griffin recently called in the Adelaide media for the introduction of ID cards with photographs as a means of preventing under-age drinking. That is what a Liberal front bencher in the South Australian Parliament wanted-an ID card with a photograph as a means of regulating under-age drinking. This is a tremendous contrast to the statements that have been made here today by other Liberals. Senator Messner from South Australia, who is a close colleague of Mr Griffin, and others have knocked the concept of an identification card whereas this gentleman from South Australia endorses the introduction of such a card. It seems that members of the Liberal Party will not endorse under any circumstance identification cards for the purpose of regulating tax evasion but they want them for the regulation of under-age drinking. That seems to illustrate the priorities of the Liberal Party in this matter and its priorities in the community.

It is disappointing that once again the Australian Democrats have chosen to join with the Opposition, this time in blocking the Australia Card. Once again the Australian Democrats are voting against legislation aimed at stamping out tax evasion in the Australian community. I recall that in 1983 some of the Australian Democrats-in fact, Senator Haines, Senator Mason and Senator Macklin-voted repeatedly with the Opposition to block legislation introduced by this Government to crack down on the so-called bottom of the harbour schemes. The Australian Democrats voted on every occasion to block the Government in cracking down on these criminal tax evasion schemes which were costing the Australian taxpayer dearly. One of the Bills they blocked would have recouped some $570m for revenue of the Commonwealth. The three Australian Democrats voted on every occasion to destroy that legislation, to deny the Government revenue and ever since that time they have been calling for the Government to spend more and more money in areas designated by them. But the Democrats on this particular occasion are shaming themselves; they are voting with the Opposition to try to destroy the Australia Card. They will help to keep about $1 billion a year in the pockets of tax evaders and welfare cheats if they vote that way on this legislation. They will continue to cost Commonwealth revenue a billion dollars every year until the Australia Card or some similar legislation is finally introduced.

Recently we had the spectacle of the present Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Haines, criticising this Government for deferring pension rises for six weeks. The honourable senator had the gall to do that and yet, for example, as a result of her vote in 1983, the Government was denied $570m of revenue. Senator Haines, Senator Macklin and Senator Mason now want to vote as they did in 1983. They want to ally themselves with this discredited, carping, negative and knocking Opposition. Now they want to ally themselves with that Opposition and to vote against this legislation which will inject an enormous amount of respect into the Australian tax system by bringing more fairness into it and making it more strongly based on the principle of ability to pay.

This Government wants to bring the tax cheats in Australia to book. The Government is introducing this card to help bring the tax cheats to book. It wants to stop taxation being voluntary for anti-social elements in the community. As a result of this measure the Government is aiming to weed out welfare fraud, and that is exactly what the Australian community wants from this Parliament. It wants us to bring the tax cheats to book. It wants us to weed out the taxation rorts of that anti-social element and to weed out welfare fraud. It certainly does not want us carrying on the way the Opposition is at the moment-that is, opposing for the sake of opposing. That is the record of activity of a very negative Opposition in this country.