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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3637

Senator PARER(9.36) —Much has already been said about the Australia Card. When the Australia Card was first mooted I was somewhat relaxed about it and my superficial thinking was similar to that of many other Australians. Like the great majority of Australians, neither I nor my family had anything to hide. If the Australia Card was to be a foolproof method for catching the real crooks out there, whether they be criminals in organised crime, social security cheats, tax cheats or dole cheats, on the face of it what was the problem? Major questions, however, had to be answered. Firstly, would an ID card be effective in combating welfare fraud? Secondly, would an ID card facilitate the collection of taxes? Thirdly, would an ID card control illegal immigration? Fourthly, would the system be cost effective, and fifthly, would personal privacy be safeguarded? These were the critical questions which had to be answered.

On the initiative of the Liberal-National Party Opposition a detailed examination of the Government's proposal was carried out by a joint select committee. The majority of that bipartisan committee concluded that the ID card proposal failed on all tests. Honest Australians asked two questions about welfare fraud. The first concern is the so-called dole bludgers. Stories are legion. Any farmer or small-businessman will tell us that they can get only short term labour provided they pay cash so that the recipient continues to collect the dole. For instance, recently an approach was made to the Commonwealth Employment Service office at Southport on the Queensland Gold Coast for six people to work for eight weeks. The CES office was embarrassed in that it had 1,000 people registered as looking for employment and those unemployed were prepared to work only one day a week. They did not wish to put their unemployment benefit in jeopardy. This problem is endemic throughout Australia and will not be overcome by an ID card. The only way to overcome this problem, this disease, is to ensure that every able bodied person who receives a benefit must do some work to receive that benefit. It is grossly unfair that those who do work are paying for those who can work but who will not work.

We must have a system which is quite unequivocally no work no pay. Clearly, claims by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) that work for the dole would cost an extra $800m or so, because of supervision, are arrant nonsense. What the Minister neglects to recognise is that in many instances the people supervising the work would otherwise be receiving the unemployment benefit themselves. The other concern of honest Australians in the welfare area is social security fraud. I understand that the greatest fraud in this area, in fact 99.4 per cent-this comes from the Department of Social Security-is the deliberate provision of false information and failure to report changed circumstances rather than through false identities and names. The example most cited is the single parent not living in a single situation.

Senator Messner —How is the card going to pick that up?

Senator PARER —To correct this fraud does not require an ID card. In fact, an ID card will have no effect whatsoever, Senator Messner, on that problem. It requires, rather, vigilance by the Department of Social Security and a crackdown on those who avoid their responsibilities by not supporting their deserted families.

What about tax evasion? By far the greatest area of tax evasion is the cash economy, or the black economy as it is called. The only solution to that is a broad-based consumption tax, which was part of option C and which was rejected by this Government because of the influence of the unelected de facto government of this country-the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The ID card cannot identify cash transactions and will only serve to encourage the cash economy. Dividend imputation was another factor put up by the Government as an area in which it would achieve savings or benefits. That is nonsense. In fact, it will be eliminated because any problems associated with the non-declaration of dividends will disappear under dividend imputation as the companies will be paying. The Taxation Office as pointed out in the Auditor-General's reports, needs to lift its game. It is already able to make use of returns from banks and other financial institutions as to interest payments but apparently does not make effective use of them. It does not need an ID card to do that.

What about cost effectiveness? At a time when Australia is in one of its worst financial crises in history, if not the worst, when government spending is totally out of control, when our inflation rate is four times that of our Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development partners, when interest rates that affect every Australian, whether they be small businessmen or home buyers with mortgages, are more than double those in comparable overseas countries, when tax rates, particularly on families, have increased since the Hawke Labor Government came into power and when what we need is a reduction in government expenditure, this Hawke Labor Government wants to increase government expenditure to the tune of another 2,000 public servants at a cost of over a billion dollars. The shadow Minister for Health, Mr James Porter, has quite conclusively spelled out that the Liberal-National coalition, with its policies, can achieve the same results with a saving of $2,735m and, more importantly, without the unwanted intrusion on the privacy of individuals which the Australia Card will inevitably bring about.

Senator Messner —Did you say that the Liberals would do it better and save $2 billion?

Senator PARER —Yes, and that has been proved quite conclusively. I will not go into those details as they have been covered by other senators, including Senator Messner. Honourable senators should be reminded-this is something that is forgotten-that during World War II people were issued with ID cards. Australians could be and were stopped in the street by police and asked to produce their cards. If they did not have them with them they were given 48 hours to produce them to a nominated police station. The wartime ID card was hated by Australians in 1945 and was repealed a few months after the end of the war. This ID card, if introduced, will be hated by Australians in 1986 or 1987 and be feared by those who have come from socialist countries. Recently I had the opportunity to speak to some people from the Australian-Hungarian Association and their concerns were real. They said: `We do not understand why Australians who have lived here all their lives, do not appreciate that the things that have happened to us in Eastern bloc countries can happen here. The very thought of an ID card flashes red lights in front of our eyes'.

The ID card will be open to forgery, irrespective of what other comments to the contrary have been made. Organised crime-the Mr Bigs-will have no trouble whatsoever obtaining false ID cards just as they can buy false passports from forgers. I heard a previous speaker from the Government benches talk about the ID card being used to control drug trafficking. It is worth remembering that Donald Tate, currently serving a sentence in gaol in Thailand for drug running, was found to have international ID cards, complete with photographs, for every international airport and airline of every country in the world in which he was involved. He had had no trouble whatsoever in obtaining those cards.

While the ID card will fail in its objective of preventing tax evasion and welfare fraud, it will be eminently successful in its attack on and destruction of the liberty of every individual Australian. In a soft sell, Dr Blewett's Health Department brochure tells us that all Australians will be `invited' to apply for an Australia Card. What it does not say is that without one a person cannot live. It is an invitation that Australians cannot refuse. In simple terms, the card is compulsory. That is what the Labor Government has avoided saying in all the brochures it has put out. The card is compulsory. If an Australian loses his card and does not tell the Government within 21 days, he is liable to a fine of $500. A person who employs a gardener, a handyman or a baby sitter or buys a bag of chaff will be liable for a fine of $20,000 if he or she does not identify that person and report the details of the ID card to the Australian Taxation Office.

It is appropriate at this stage to refer to an answer to a question given by the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) to Mr Howard on 17 November in the House of Representatives. In that answer Dr Blewett, in order to support his flimsy case, quoted the Council of the Small Business Organisations of Australia-COSBOA. He said that COSBOA had stated earlier that it saw the need for a colour photograph to maximise the effect of the Australia Card. He said that COSBOA had indicated its support for the concept of a national identity card, complete with a colour photograph, at the National Taxation Summit last year. COSBOA felt so strongly about Dr Blewett's answer that it was forced two days later to issue a Press release. Of particular concern to the members of COSBOA were real estate transactions. The real estate industry was concerned because the Australia Card would require 5.5 million transactions each year to be collated and presented to the Australian Taxation Office. This would mean a huge administrative burden. Discussions were held with Dr Blewett and a representative from the Australian Taxation Office. Representatives of the real estate industry asked why it was that they could be subject to a fine of $20,000 if they did not supply that information. Dr Blewett commented-I think in good faith, although I am not sure-that this was not really meant to be; that the Government had meant the fine of $20,000 to cover wilful fraud. The representatives then pointed out that when they had looked through the legislation they did not find any reference to wilful fraud. Dr Blewett said it was unintended. Is this another unintended consequence, like the unintended consequences we have with the fringe benefits tax? I think it it worth quoting from the Press release put out by COSBOA on 19 November. It said:

The Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia gave earlier support to the concept of a national identity card with a colour photograph.

This was the sort of reaction that many of us had until we really looked into the proposition to see what its effect would be on every person. The Press release continued:

Our main concerns which were expressed to Dr Blewett in Parliament House on Wednesday, 7 May 1986 are-

COSBOA is now unconvinced that usage of the card will achieve the ends the Government hoped for. The Press release continued:

Public sector implementation costs appear absurd; No estimate of private sector costs has been provided by the Minister for public debate; Over 95 per cent of private sector administrative costs will be wasted as data demanded by the Tax Office will be stored to threaten Australians, not used to assess their proper returns.

The media release continued:

The threat to fine a small business proprietor $20,000 for an error in paperwork he is preparing free for the government compared to a $2,000 fine for wilful fraud by an individual is stupid and contradicts assurances given to COSBOA . . . The card will not be demanded to verify each welfare payment as originally expected-postal fraud will continue. Other legislation in the welfare area does not appear to support the taxpayer's right to demand proof of welfare recipients' identities. Existing tax collection legislation is not being enforced immediately to avoid the developing `Australian Card fix all' mentality.

What were regarded as basic rights inherent in being a free person will now be a privilege to be exercised by permission of government. What is being trampled on is the recognition that governments are the servants of the people. People are not the servants of government. That is what the Magna Carta was all about, diminishing the power of the king. What are the Labor Government's long term initiatives?

Senator Walsh —Hand it over to the barons, not the people.

Senator PARER —It is interesting, I point out to Senator Walsh, that the Government, in its submission to the Joint Select Committee, suggested that the following departments and instrumentalities have access to the Australia Card Register: The Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Department of Housing and Construction, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Institute of Health, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. The submission said:

At present access has been limited to the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security.

The submission went on further to say:

While the Government cannot rule out categorically the possibility that at some future date additional uses may suggest themselves as being desirable or essential to meet emerging problems in the taxation and welfare or other areas, such uses would require amendment to the legislation to give effect to them.

No matter what this Labor Government says, this proposal will be perceived by the people as a foot in the door. Finally, it is worth quoting two people as the two quotes clearly differentiate between the Liberal Party view and that of the Labor Government. I realise that these quotes have been used by my colleagues Senator Peter Baume and Senator Puplick. However, firstly, Dr Neal Blewett, the Labor Minister responsible for the ID card, 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 is a chilling statement which could be an extract from the communist manifesto. The second quote is an extract from Sir Robert Menzies in his 1949 policy speech and is in stark contrast to Labor's unchanged socialism. Sir Robert said:

Socialism must mean the reduction of human freedom. You cannot have a controlled economy without controlling human beings, who are still the greatest of all economic factors. You cannot socialise the means of production without socialising men and women. There may be some people who think that the only freedom that counts is to have a roof to sleep under, clothes to wear, food to eat.

Those are very necessary; governments must be pledged to do all in their power to assist people to secure them; but they are not freedoms at all. Each can be obtained in a state of utter slavery.

The real freedoms are to worship, to think, to speak, to choose, to be ambitious, to be independent, to be industrious, to acquire skill, to seek reward. These are the real freedoms, for these are of the essence of the nature of man. Socialism will have none of them; for unless people do what they are told, work where they are told to work, learn what they are drafted to learn; in a sentence, fit obediently into their appointed place, the Socialist ``planned State'' falls to pieces like the false and shoddy thing it is . . .

What a contrast there is between the attitude of Dr Blewett and that of Sir Robert Menzies. We of the Liberal Party reject this proposal for an ID card. There has rarely been such a presumptuous and unwise proposal as the Australian identity card.