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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3643


Senator SHEIL(10.14) — Privacy is not a luxury or some indulgence; it is basic to our liberty. Not even the Government can invade our privacy without some lawful or reasonable excuse. In a free society such as we have in Australia it is the people who scrutinise the Government, not the other way around. This is why we have elections with secret ballots, maximum terms for governments, an independent judiciary, the reserve powers of the Crown, freedom of the Press, and the Constitution. All those instruments are there to limit the powers of government. It has taken us 2,000 years to get to the stage where we can guarantee those rights and freedoms. On the other hand, governments work in the opposite direction, always trying to expand their powers and influence. Successive Federal governments have been doing this for some years and the machinery by which they have tried to do that has been various referenda to decrease the power of the Senate and increase the power of the Prime Minister and the Executive. They have tried using various constitutional commissions to attack the rules by which we live. They have tried what I call abuse of the treaty power whereby they sign some international treaty and then think that that gives them the power to bypass the people of Australia and the Australian Constitution in working their will on the people. This numbering card is just another part of the package of concerted attack on the privacy and rights of the people of Australia.


Senator Aulich —But this Government does not steal people's letters from the Tax Office.


Senator SHEIL —That just shows us that we cannot guarantee privacy within the Public Service. That is what I am pointing out. A number for all of us would give the bureaucracy and the snoopers and bovver boys enormous power over us. A number for all of us would destroy our privacy, as the power of information over people is the power of blackmail. Socialists deny the right of privacy. Of course, that is a comment by the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, which has been quoted tonight many times. He is the man who will be put in charge of running this system. Incidentally, he has been running the Medicare card; I believe 20,000 of them are running wild in the country at the moment and heaven knows how many have been lost overseas. He particularly denies the right of privacy to us. He says that, if the right does exist, it is some sort of bourgeois right that is akin to the right of private property and therefore to be decried and denied. This is the exact opposite to what should exist in a free country like Australia. As I said before, privacy is essential to our freedom. If one looks at socialist governments, and this is one--


Senator Aulich —Does it happen in South Africa?


Senator SHEIL —Honourable senators opposite insisted that South Africa give up the identity card for the blacks to give the blacks more freedom. Now they are bringing in an identity card for Australia. Is that to give us more freedom? No, it is to take it off us. So their argument falls to the ground. All socialist governments, including this one, operate in secrecy. They want to have maximum exposure, delving into the affairs of the people while they, in a close knit, iron circle fashion, operate in secrecy. On the other hand, the coalition takes exactly the opposite view. We want open government. We have freedom of information legislation, ombudsmen and administrative appeals tribunals so that we can get at government, so we can open government up. It is free societies that strive for open government and the rule of law. The numbering system eventually-even from its inception-will break into the innermost secrets of people. It will get at our hopes, our fears, our dreams and even those things we do not want to share. All of us live behind some sort of screen, and this screen can be torn from us by a numbered identity card, by selective exposure and by forced exposure, which is what the Government will be able to institute. Only the gravest social need could ever justify the exposure of personal privacy.

There are two parts to this Australia Card issue. People have concentrated on only one. They have been concentrating on the card side of it all. When this issue started it involved a numbering system called NINS-the national identity numbering system. It was realised that people would wake up to the danger of having a number attached to them. In the debate tonight members of the Government have brought up the fact that we have lots of plastic cards available to us at the moment. We have credit cards, club cards and driving licences, and they are all numbered and they do not upset us. But the important thing about those cards is that the number belongs to the card. One can have any number of credit cards but it is the cards that have the numbers, not the person. But with the national identity card the number belongs to the person. That person can be traced anywhere through his affairs. They are an open book to the Government, but not to anyone else, apparently. Honourable senators opposite seem to think that because the Government is the holder of all the information things are safe, but governments are the greatest robbers on earth of human rights. Why should we trust government to have all that information and to keep it private to government? So I see the number as the important thing, not so much the card itself.

Of course, to make the card attractive to us the Government has dressed it up and coloured it green and gold to appeal to our patriotism. It has taken the number out of the heading for it. It has taken the photograph off it to make it more appealing. But, of course, the Government does not need a photograph if it has a number, because the number can be used to trace any part of one's activities at any time. To make it even more palatable the Government has put a supposedly non-threatening organisation, the Health Insurance Commission, in charge of it. The Health Insurance Commission is a threatening organisation and, of course, the gentleman running it at the moment is a most threatening man.

The Government wants the number introduced because, although it has an awful lot of information about us at the moment scattered about in various data bases in the different departments, these data bases cannot talk to each other. If we are given a number the data bases can talk to each other, and with computer linkage of these data bases the Government will not need a big central register. In fact, I think the Minister for Health has mentioned that there will be no need for a big central data base. That is quite true because, once we are all numbered, at the flick of a switch any one of those remote data bases in any department can be accessed for the information that is wanted about us. We have heard that a number of departments are recommended to have initial access to this card. I do not know whether they will have immediate access. They are the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Department of Social Security, the Australian Taxation Office, and the list goes on and on. There will be nothing but danger in giving all the information to the Government. The key to unlocking it is the number on our identification cards.

As I see it, this identity card will make mincemeat of us to feed to the fat cats in the bureaucracy, and I can just see them slavering in their lairs waiting for this Bill to go through. Fortunately, with the good sense of honourable senators, we will knock it out because, as has been mentioned here, it is one of the really great threats to our privacy and to our freedom. To mention the experience of countries overseas, about four or five have identity systems. Sweden has one-that Valhalla of the socialists that has been cited to us in the Senate time and again as the utopia we should follow. France has such a system; the United States of America has been mentioned; and Italy also has such a system. All those countries have the most exuberant underground economies one could imagine. Up to 30 per cent of their gross national product is in underground economies. So there is no reason to think that the identity card will stop tax avoidance here in Australia. In fact, I think it could start a whole spate of legal tax avoidance. The easiest way to avoid paying tax, of course, is not to earn money.


Senator Brownhill —Or don't put your return in, like the Treasurer.


Senator SHEIL —Yes, but one can be had up for that unless one is the Treasurer. He gets nice letters; other people do not. People now do extra work to earn extra money to live. If they have a card and cannot earn more money they simply will not work. That has happened in the United Kingdom. Also in the United Kingdom people have started providing their own goods and services; they grow their own vegetables. A recent estimate is that 51 per cent of the productive work time in Great Britain is spent--


Senator Aulich —Growing vegetables.


Senator SHEIL —Growing vegetables and providing their own goods and services. It is an awful waste. The argument that it will bring out the underground economy falls to the ground, too. I do not wish to waste much time talking about welfare fraud. I think it has been demonstrated quite clearly tonight in the debate that identity problems represent about one per cent of welfare fraud in Australia. To think that we should enslave ourselves to a national numbering system because of that when it could quite easily be rectified by tightening the services in the welfare area is a misuse of the terminology `welfare fraud'. Identification is not the big problem that Government senators have been saying it is.

With regard to the immigration problem, the United States of America has identity cards, such as social security cards. It also has work permits. At the moment there is an enormous industry in forging these cards. They are freely on sale. Over the border, in Tijuana, one can get social security cards or work permits. If we were to introduce the Australia Card many factories would gear up and start producing forgeries.


Senator Michael Baume —You can get them only if you have the brass.


Senator SHEIL —That is right.


Senator Short —Create a new industry.


Senator SHEIL —Yes, a whole new industry. We would open up new vistas for criminals and bureaucratic crimes with the introduction of the Australia Card numbering system. The immigration argument also falls to the ground without really adding anything to the evidence to support the introduction of the card. It is supposed to stop a fair amount of criminal activity but, even if it did stop any criminal activity, it certainly would generate much more. With regard to transactions and the like, the higher the integrity of the card the greater the risk of forgery and impersonation. The more people accept that the card is a sure-fire way of identifying people, the more value it will be to the criminal element. One has only to realise that if a number appears on bank accounts or cheques it will be very easy for somebody to correlate a name with a number and then impersonate the holder of a card. No one would feel safe with the number any more.

We are asked to trust the bureaucracy. We have had examples in Australia already of the dangers of that. One of them has been cited in the debate tonight, and that was the misuse of information from the Taxation Office in the Greek conspiracy case, when information was used to target directly certain doctors. Another case, of which no one seems to have taken much notice but which horrified me, is the fact that the entire microfiche records for Victoria in the Department of Social Security were stolen from the Department. They were later recovered, but they were gone for a week or more. Things like that must be inside jobs. That is why I say we cannot trust the bureaucracy; corruption will occur with the use of the card. From experience gained in countries such as the United States, Sweden, France and Italy which have exuberant economies, in the tax evasion area, it is clear that the people revolt when the taxes are too high or, as would be the case here, when the surveillance is so high that they cannot earn enough money to support their families.

Debate interrupted.