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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3666


Senator MacGIBBON(10.17) —Finally, after years of speculation, debate and expensive investigation, this legislation is upon us. In the dying hours of a dying session of a dying government we have now got the Australia Card Bill 1986 and cognate Bills before us. This legislation is not about an identity card. If it were there would not be any problems. What we are talking about is a unique system of identification, not of an individual but of all that that individual has done, all that he has achieved and all that he has owned, and it is without parallel in any other democracy. The Government tells us that this Australia Card Bill will stop the cash economy and tax rorts, social security fraud, passport fraud, illegal migration and organised crime. Yesterday in here Senator Robert Ray, with all the aplomb of someone who had been selling gold-plated watches around Circular Quay in Sydney for years, was just plucking billions out of the air that he said we are going to save with this legislation. His opening bid was $2 billion; it went up to $3 billion, then it went to $4 billion and then to $4.7 billion, which he said we were going to save with this card. He finished up in the heights of hallucination saying that there would be no deficits when we got this legislation through. Every ill that Australian society suffers from will be cured by the Australia Card because we have the word of someone or other in the Government at some time on this point! Regrettably this card will not do any of those things.

This legislation is a characteristic response of a Labor government which has the belief that the ends justify the means. There is no concern at all here for the rights of an individual; there is every concern for the mythical efficiency of the corporate state. This legislation is the incorporation of the socialist ethos. As the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, the Minister handling this matter, said to the critics of this scheme:

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 of private property.

There we have it; the lack of trust of the Australian people, which characterises every piece of legislation that comes from the Labor Party. Not for the Australian Labor Party the Churchillian dictum of `trust the people'. No, it starts from a position of mistrust of everyone; it thinks that everyone is a criminal. It does not recognise that the great majority of human beings are honest, law-abiding and want to work with their fellow citizens. But under this legislation the individual will suffer for the good of the state and, regrettably, in this legislation there is very little good. We are on the track to becoming a corporate state-a state of big government, big unions and big business. Under Hawke we are setting path down a new track towards a feudal society, where a bunch of super rich people will act in concert with an all-powerful government and the rest of us will be mendicants on their charity, if it exists.

The Opposition is opposed to this legislation and we will oppose it at all levels. From a personal point of view, I have no problem at all at being able to identify myself. For nearly 30 years now I have carried a passport, which is a document which recognises internationally who I am. I am all in favour of stopping fraud and tax evasion and jumping on social security rackets. The Fraser Government did more than any government in recent history to stamp out those rackets-certainly far more than the Keating-Hawke regime has done. But what is before us this morning simply will not work. With the best intention in the world it will not work. There are some good reasons why it will not work. First of all, the accuracy on which the card will be issued can be beaten. Cards can be forged after they are issued.

Nothing in this legislation goes to the heart of the problem, which is the inefficient administration in government departments, principally the Australian Taxation Office and, secondly, the Department of Social Security. The card is being sold to the public on emotion and not on reason. Senator McKiernan, despite his white bow tie at 9.30 in the morning, epitomised the argument of emotion over reason, the argument of fairness and equity, stopping crooks and racketeers but not coming up with any concrete way as to how it will be done. If it were true and if it were possible, it would be an attractive and irresistible argument.

What is the truth about tax evasion, the cash economy, the social security and welfare departments, criminal activities and illegal migrants? In respect of tax evasion, what the Australian Taxation Office needs to do is, first of all, to apply the laws that are on the statute book. Under this Government and under the previous Government the Taxation Commissioner showed a marked reluctance to use to the full the legislative powers that he had. The second thing that the Tax Office needs to do is to work efficiently. It is not doing that. The Australian Taxation Office, despite what we all think as taxpayers, is a very inefficient body. The most damning indictment of the Tax Office's incompetence ever brought down in this country is in a slim volume published in September this year by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure entitled `A taxing problem'. It is written in simple language, it is a slim volume and anyone who has any interest in taxation at all ought to read this volume. If anyone writes to me requesting a copy, I will be happy to send him one because it is a most damning indictment of the incompetence of the Australian Tax Office.

That report makes the claim that $2,000m a year is being lost through the maladministration of the Australian Tax Office. Chapter 3 on computers deals with the problems of the Australian Tax Office and says that it is underspending very heavily on its modernisation through computers. Chapter 4 on dividends and interest payments makes the point that $300m to $500m a year of interest payments is being lost and that only 18 per cent to 20 per cent of all interest is being declared for taxation purposes. The correction of that problem is not to bring in an Australia Card Bill, which by its very nature cannot cope with that, but to get the Tax Office working efficiently. The Government should have the institutions-the biggest one of all is the Reserve Bank of Australia-submit to the Tax Office every year the interest payments they make or should institute a withholding tax on the payment of dividends, as the previous Government did on other matters. There are simple solutions to this problem and the benefits would yield billions of dollars a year.

I turn now to the cash economy. The Australian Labor Party says that somehow or other the cash economy will disappear because of the Australia Card. That must be because members of the Labor Party are living in cloud-cuckoo-land. They are a bunch of ex-school teachers and ex-union organisers who do not mix in the real world. The cash economy will go on stronger than ever under this legislation. People will do deals out of their hip pocket on a personal basis, one to one. How many people today employing gardeners and paying them cash in hand will stop doing it because this legislation has come in? Not one of them. I exclude myself from those remarks; I mow my own lawns. I know many people who employ gardeners-students, casual labour-and every bit of this employment is on a cash basis.

I turn to social services. We have had the wonderful spectacle of members of the Labor Party talking about dole cheats and dole bludgers during the debate on this legislation! After years and years of beating the Liberal Party for talking about such things, they are now picking up the cry and using it as a bludgeon against us. They are justifying the introduction of the Australia Card on the grounds that it will stop cheating on claims for benefits from the social welfare departments. But all the studies we have show that 0.6 per cent of recipients are cheating through identification means. In other words, only one in 200 recipients of welfare payments is cheating on the basis of identity. So the Australia Card will have no influence on such people.

I come to the criminal community, which the Labor Party should be expected to know a little about. One must realise that the criminal community is a professional community; it is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is not at the level of people stealing cars and stealing fruit from fruit stalls. The industry involves $4 billion to $6 billion a year. People in that industry are real professionals and they have the means of beating the system. The people who know about the criminal community, such as Commissioner Costigan, say that the introduction of this legislation will put another barrier of immunity between the criminal world and the detection agencies.

Again the Government does not understand what is going on in the community if it thinks that the Australia Card will prevent illegal migration. I have never accepted the figures of there being 50,000 to 60,000 illegal immigrants in Australia. My view is that the figure is probably between 200,000 and 300,000 at least. Those people are largely protected within communities of migrants of their own nationality. There is an impenetrable barrier to the police and immigration officials when they try to find out what is going on. Illegal immigrants live, work and die in those communities and we will not penetrate them with an Australia Card.

The fix to these problems is to improve the administration of the departments, not to introduce such horrendous legislation with its many disadvantages. Only the honest will suffer. As Senator Peter Baume said in leading for the Opposition in this debate, most of us are honest so most of us will suffer. We will suffer a loss of privacy with the huge databank. Our legal position will be completely inverted. There will be a huge cost to the taxpayer and to industry. There is a very important ethical or cultural point I want to come to later: The denial of the ability to turn over a fresh leaf and start again in life. These disadvantages far outweigh any possible advantages of this Bill.

The loss of privacy is the obvious disadvantage, and it is enormous. We will have a huge interlocking data bank, all on computer with a common file number or index number so that somebody can get into it. Senator Sheil made the point that unlike credit cards where the number on the card is applied to the card and not the individual, the number on the Australia Card will apply to the individual. We will all have a number of 10 to 20 alphanumerical characters and we will be known by that number for the whole of our life. I do not mind so much being attributed a number. I still remember my Army number-1/705497. That goes back over 30 years. I do not find that a disability to carry at all. What I do find a disability is having all my information with a common user index so that some clerk, someone just out of school, in a Public Service department can immediately get a print-out, by the data interlocking between these computers, of all my personal affairs. We have nothing like that at present.

Senator McKiernan said that medical records, social security records and tax records are held. That is true, but they are not linked together, and the task of linking among them is quite impossible at present. Identify them all with the same character and link the computers together, as must be done to make this work, and somebody will have access to them. They will have access to tax records, and information on bank loans, mortgages, all financial dealings, medical history, education, employment, social security, military service, veterans' affairs, passport history-you name it, it will all be there on file. And the legislation to control access is absolutely meaningless. Senator Robert Ray and Senator Maguire said: `But we are going to have responsible, authorised people. They are going to have their own ID card or ID number to access this information in the computer file and every time they access it will be recorded so that the individual can go along at the end of the year and find out who looked at his information'. One really would have to be a mental defective to think that that was of any value at all.

It is over 15 years since I wrote and debugged my first computer program. I could not write a program today, but I have been mixed up in some way with computers for quite a while. No one understands how computers work if he believes that pap that Senator Ray and Senator Maguire told us. People can get access, and get access quite easily, to data. Another thing that they do not look at is how the information is presented. It does not come up on a visual display unit only. One gets a print-out. Anyone going to a file gets a print-out. Within 100 feet of where I am talking now there must be half a dozen photocopiers. There is no security for the data we have. If we look at the history of the Australian Government and the Australian Public Service we would have nightmares if we thought that everyone's affairs were going to be safe on a computer file. In the recent past we have had two major scandals-the Social Security Department and the Health Department-well publicised in the Press where the most intimate of information was sold or made available to people who should not have had it. There is no security possible in these circumstances.

My great concern really is not so much with the financial history of people and their tax returns. Having been involved as a dentist in the health professions for most of my life I know that the sensitivity of the average person as to his medical history is absolutely important to him. To have the confidentiality of case histories, especially psychiatric treatment-and a large number in the community do have treatment at some time in their lives-distributed around the community by irresponsible people is absolutely intolerable in the sort of society we live in. There is nothing in this legislation that gives us any control from those secrets, and that is without getting into the criminal field of hackers and other people like that gaining access to information and, importantly, putting in incorrect information, without our having any control over it. It is inevitable that this is going to go on and that there is going to be an expansion of data put in. There is also going to be an expansion in the number of those people who want to use it. It will not be only the departments we have talked about-the Taxation Office and the Health Department. We will find that the very first cab off the rank wanting this information, and all of it, will be the State police forces. They will want access in the way they want access to phone taps. After that, it will be everyone.

The third point I mentioned was the legal position. We are now facing the situation of the traditional system being supplanted by the Napoleonic system: One is going to be presumed guilty until one can prove that one is innocent. The Government has been very dishonest because it has pretended that we really do not have to join the Australia Card, but at the end of the day we will have to. We are going to be invited to apply, but we cannot do any business if we do not have a card. That leads me to the next point-the huge cost to the taxpayers. In June 1985 the Health Insurance Commission's opening bid on the cost of this was $38m a year and $48m a year thereafter to run, for a gain of about $150m in tax, building up to $800m at the end of the program. But the final bid which Dr Blewett took to Cabinet was a cost of $1,059m for the first 10 years to set it up for a possible return of $4 1/2 billion in tax. These are only suppositions that Dr Blewett has made. The certainty is that we will need another 2,000 public servants, plus, to make the scheme work and this from a government which has seen the biggest blow-out of the Public Service in modern history.

But it is not only a cost to the taxpayer, it is also a huge cost to industry. We will need a card to do everything and the extra bookwork will cost Australian industry at least $600m a year. We will need a card for everything: To open a bank account, to get a safety deposit box, to sell, to buy or to borrow. This legislation will bring the whole of the commercial world under the eye and the regulation of government and that is an infringement of our freedom that no one on the other side of the Senate talks about but it is absolutely revolutionary.

What we will need next is approval for what we buy and sell. This is the ultimate of regulated, socialist markets and it is an inevitable consequence of this system and it is all backed up by the most draconian penalties. People will be in for $20,000 for every breach of it. We are setting up an internal passport. It is one thing when we are overseas and we have to put in our passport at the hotel when we sign in at night so that people know who we are but now Senator Walsh is bringing in an internal passport. It will not be very long before we find that there will be travel requirements as well. When we have to move more than 50 kilometres beyond our State registered domicile we will have to go along to our local branch of the Australian Taxation Office, or to the local police station probably, to get a travel permit to go from Sydney to Melbourne to see our brothers and sisters and things like that because that is the sort of path we are going down.

But to me one of the most important points is the very great ethical loss that we will suffer through this legislation. There will be no possibility at all for someone to start a new life. All of us know people who have had wild times in their youth who have sown a few wild oats but who have settled down and become responsible and constructive members of the community. Beyond that, a number of people who, for various reasons, have been involved in criminal activities, have reformed, changed their names, changed their addresses and have gone to live somewhere else and they are living meaningful and responsible lives in the community. That opportunity will be denied them because a high speed printer will now follow them all the days of their lives and any sort of clerk will have a complete print-out of their life history. The basic principle of the Judaeo-Christian society, the possibility of redemption, is now denied the Australian community by these socialists and that is a very great loss.

I turn now to the administration of the Australia Card by the Health Insurance Commission. It is really hard to imagine a body less suited to Australia to handle such a vast program. Over 20,000 more Medicare cards are issued than there are people entitled to receive them. We have hundreds or thousands of forgeries around the place. The Department of Health simply has no chance of co-ordinating and issuing the massive identity card system that is proposed and I say that even though one of my very great friends has joined the Health Insurance Commission. I am sure that he will be of enormous benefit to it with his intelligence, his ability and his hard work. But we cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and the Health Insurance Commission cannot do this job.

What is the view of the critics on all this? The polls have accepted the Government's position because it has been presented in an emotional and simplistic way. But no group in Australia which has looked at this legislation carefully and in any detail supports it. That view ranges right across the whole of the social and political spectrum of Australia. Above all, the special Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card came down unhesitatingly against it. The Government is not being honest. This is not a simple, plastic ID card; this is a massive intrusion into everyone's private affairs. A huge data bank will be set up which will inevitably be abused as an instrument of oppression of Australian people. It will take away our basic liberties and our basic rights. It will take away our privacy. It will take away the right to independent financial activities. It is unnecessary and it cannot work. The Australian Labor Party does not trust the people it governs. The Labor Party starts with a feeling of inadequacy socially. It does not recognise the rights of people to make and determine their own lives. I come back to the statement of Dr Blewett at the Australian Labor Party conference in South Australia as justification for this action. He 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 and that is very much associated with the right to private property.