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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3676


Senator ARCHER(11.11) —I invite Senator Crowley to recall the famous words: `There will be no capital gains tax'. She apparently forgot those words when she said that the people of Australia can trust this Government. We should not overlook the degree to which we rely on history to base our judgments. Today I came in ready to debate and discuss the points in Senator Crowley's speech but I regret that I found only one point that requires any discussion. That point was that I and my colleagues have not read the Australia Card Bill. I can assure her that we have read the Bill and that we are going to considerable lengths to ensure that as many people as possible read it. It is on the reading of the Bill that judgment will be made.

I recently noticed an article in a Tasmanian newspaper, attributed to a Government spokesman, under the heading `Australia Card-A bid for tax fairness'. I thought this was a silly headline because very clearly there is not now and there never has been any consideration of tax fairness in the proposal. The article has two intentions: Firstly, it raises no question of a fair tax, it just supports the move to get more tax from everyone with no case for fairness; and secondly, it smothers the hopelessly inefficient implementation of the Government's responsibility for the receipt of taxpayers' funds and the enforcement of existing tax laws. The Press item failed to explain that the majority of the members of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card rejected the proposition to implement an ID card, as has the vast majority-the numbers are growing-of the community together with a considerable list of business, professional, privacy and other organisations. The newspaper item laboured as justification for the ID card the present revenue loss, with emotive phrases such as `massive tax cheating', to the extent that it clearly implied two things: Firstly, that the existing law is not good enough to catch those who defraud the system and, secondly, that a plastic cure all card would fix everything. Of course both of these premises are completely false.

A letter in yesterday's Age shows how shallow and superficial this supposedly high integrity card is in reality. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a copy of that letter, from Mr Rubens, headed `ID cards will not work if forgers can copy them'.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

As one who has a great deal of experience with ID cards, let me say that the Government's plan to introduce the Australia Card would be excellent, if only it would work.

I am not impressed with opposition to the card on the ground of civil liberties. What civil liberties?

One of the most fundamental civil rights surely is the right of all citizens (including women) to walk the streets and use public transport in safety at any time of the day or night. I don't know of many women who would be game to travel at night time by themselves in a suburban train. Nobody complains because we have unwittingly become conditioned to this lack of civil liberty.

Yet, I am against ID cards, because I know that they are not effective.

During the Nazi occupation of Holland (1940-45) the Germans introduced ID cards, not only with photographs but also with fingerprints.

The Germans were more efficient and ruthless in enforcing their ``laws'' than Australians could ever be. Yet, I survived the German occupation of the Netherlands thanks to a forged ID card. My wife once even managed to travel on an ``illegal'' errand in a German military train under the protection of a forged ID card.

One of my good friends was in the business of procuring false ID cards and survived in spite of a gruesome death penalty for such activities. It is, alas, true that very many ``offenders'' were caught by the Germans and paid with their lives.

But the point I want to make is that the introduction of the Australia Card will most probably give rise to a flourishing forgery industry. The Australia Card will only be effective after we have managed to remove all crooks from our society, but then we won't need the card any more.

My wife's and my own forged ID cards are still in my possession and Dr Blewett is welcome to inspect them.

S. M. RUBENS,

Brighton.


Senator ARCHER —I thank the Senate. I wish to deal with the issues covered by the responsibility I have in relation to crime and law enforcement and the portfolio of the Special Minister of State (Mr Young). I will leave other areas to other honourable senators involved. I state categorically that whether there is one plastic card or a dozen plastic cards it will make little difference to the way this Government has run and is running its law enforcement operations. There is clearly no will to ensure adequate law enforcement and I feel no constraint in simply asking why. All members of the Senate and all members of the general public clearly understand the law in respect of tax evasion offences, social security offences, immigration offences, medifraud, quarantine offences, smuggling or whatever. There is substantial law in all these areas. So why are we not doing better in stamping out these crimes? The answer, very simply, is that the Government gives law enforcement a very low priority.

Let us look at the various inquiries that have been held and the advice that has been given to government. In this respect, I refer to inquiries carried out by Williams, Stewart, Costigan, Moffitt and Woodward. I refer also to the Australian Federal Police resources inquiry, the parliamentary inquiry into the National Crime Authority and so on. Every one of them was involved in seeking out criminal money movement, law breaking and major crimes of all types. Did they urge an identity card system to trap crooks? No, they did not-anything but. Costigan and Meagher in fact said that the ID proposal was of `great potential benefit and use to organised crime.' Is that what this Government is all about and is that what it is prepared to undertake, knowing that? We heard from Senator Peter Baume the long list of eminent people and diverse organisations that have already announced their opposition. I will not repeat them, but I ask honourable senators opposite to give us their list of people and organisations, particularly the law enforcement bodies, that have given support since the time when the report of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card came down and provided real information to them for the first time. There was significant support for a better system, and there still is, be it a card or whatever, but I have not found one case where those people who initially gave support continue to support the Card once they have had all the details and asked their questions.

Had more time been available I would have liked to report on the recommendations that the various reports put forward to government to reduce crime and to apprehend the miscreants involved. I would like to read a portion of a letter which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald dated 5 November written by Mr Justice Woodward. He noted the following issues to which the Government should give attention if it were really trying to apprehend criminals in these areas. He said that it is necessary to have powers to tap phones; to inspect bank accounts, records of financial institutions and bookmakers' records; to search; to require a reconciliation of assets with known apparent income; and otherwise to follow the trails of criminals engaged in organised crime. Neither law nor intention mean anything without enforcement, and there is quite inadequate enforcement and inadequate will on the part of the Government to mix it with the criminals. Let us start with the crooks, please, before we start harassing ordinary, decent individuals. A variety of these reports that have come out in the last two years give the picture of what the Government is doing, or not doing, in this regard, and I would like to quote excerpts from pieces of them. The Australian Federal Police review of resources dated November 1985 said:

The Joint Task Group notes major resource problems in the drugs and intelligence areas of the AFP, the CIB functions, and the organised crime units.

The Group was presented with cases of serious criminal activities which are not being investigated because of staff shortages. As for the smaller criminal activities-such as many DSS cheque frauds-most of these are unable to be investigated. The revenue implications of the overall situation are clear.

Later in that review it is stated:

The Group notes that the Ports Watch role is significantly under-resourced. There are major staff shortages, a critical lack of experience amongst the bulk of staff, and a shortage of logistical support.

Further, it states:

Unless there is a substantial lift in overall resource levels the AFP will be increasingly unable to discharge its priority functions effectively.

Would a card change that situation for the better? The Chairman of the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence Management Committee reported to the Australian Police Ministers Council in 1984-85. In that report it was stated:

. . . the lack of support staff is having an adverse effect upon the efficiency and development of the organisation.

Later it states:

Budgetary constraints prevented the Bureau from further progress in the establishment of the Australia Drug Data Base . . . and to respond to the increasing workload in information/intelligence processing.

It is now quite clear from the operations of the Bureau itself, and from the findings of several Inquiries, that organised crime is now firmly entrenched in the Australian Society. It is also quite clear that some of these organisations are prepared to, and in fact do engage in violent activities.

Further on it is stated:

. . . In the meantime, it is the view of the Management Committee that the ABCI is already under-resourced.

I ask again: Would a plastic card help this situation? The National Crime Authority's annual report for 1984-85 said:

The Authority's initial staffing proposal formulated in mid-1984 called for a total establishment of approximately 235 permanent positions. In the event, the Authority's initial establishment was set at 178.

How could a plastic card help that situation? The Australian Federal Police annual report for 1985-86 came out recently. Under the heading of `Resources', it is stated:

It is just not possible at present and with present resource levels to enhance the capability of those objectives below the first four.

On airport security it said:

My concern over the AFP counter terrorist capability is that it remains at a bare minimum with little capacity to respond to a sudden increase in the level of threat.

On the matter of legislation, the Australian Federal Police set out their urgent requirements and strenuous requests in the following terms:

Despite the publicity generated by the Drug Summit, little real progress has been made in the vital area of legislation essential for the effective fight against drug trafficking. The legislation of concern includes:

forfeiture and confiscation of assets

police access to taxation records

police access to records of banks and other financial institutions

creation of an offence of sending illicit drugs through the mail

amendment of the Customs Act to clarify the powers to detail persons concealing drugs internally

model drug legislation.

Do honourable senators think that a plastic card would sort out those sorts of problems? The Director of Public Prosecutions annual report for 1985-86 was in a very similar vein. That report states:

. . . unfortunately the AFP does not have the resources to cope with more than a few of the large number of cases referred to it . . . concentrating instead on the very serious cases.

Meanwhile the DSS investigates the less serious matters . . . as a result of minor cases and very serious cases are investigated by the DSS and AFP respectively, large groups in the middle are not.

This unsatisfactory state of affairs can only undermine the deterrent value of prosecution in this area.

On Medifraud, the DPP's report referred to inadequacies in this area, in particular, weaknesses in the Medicare Bill. On the matter of health insurance the report said:

The legislation is generally in an unsatisfactory state for the purpose of prosecution . . . In many areas the legislation is vague and ambiguous.

No amount of plastic cards will overcome those sorts of difficulties. So it goes on. The report of the Senior Inspector of Shipping Control on the security of the Melbourne waterfront said:

The criminal element has little to fear from Customs on the waterfront except through his own carelessness.

The reasons for this included staff shortages, lack of clearly defined charter for Customs staff and so on. How will a plastic card assist us in tidying up the waterfront mess? The report entitled `Footprints in the Sand: Inquiry into Civil Coastal Surveillance' also raised this problem. It said that, of 82,500 sightings by the Coastal Surveillance Unit in 1984-85, there were 28 responses and 9 prosecutions, eight of which related to foreign fishing. Australia is the safest place in the world for crooks. How could a card help with infringements in this vast range of criminal activities? I quote from the report of the Auditor-General in relation to Customs systems at airports:

. . . the findings reflected serious weaknesses in the passenger and crew clearance system . . .

We have to deal with all manner of people and all manner of crimes. Again, would a card help here? How would a plastic card stiffen the resolve of this Government to do something of consequence in attacking fraud, corruption and organised crime? I have to ask: Is it frightened whom the net might gather in if it made the service really efficient?

The problem lies clearly in law enforcement. It lies with the Government and its willingness or otherwise to provide the resources to its agencies and the joint law enforcement bodies of which it is a member. I again quote Mr Justice Woodward:

I believe the Mr Bigs can be caught, given the will to do so, the courage, and the means. If governments lack the means, let us go without something else.

That is very good advice. It is also up to the Government to ensure that there is total collaboration and liaison among the various law enforcement bodies and to eliminate any obstacle to optimum performance. It is very clear that there are many difficulties within and among the forces. It is equally clear that we know why. Morale is not at the level that it should be; there is frustration generally through the lack of resources in both equipment and manpower; and resignations are excessive. If the ID card is to be used in criminal apprehension, whether this be for income detection, drugs, social security, Medicare fraud or whatever, it will require much better servicing and greater resources than this Government has chosen to provide to its existing law enforcement agencies during its first 3 1/2 years in office.

What would make anyone believe that this Government would provide 2,160 extra staff members to promote this highly questionable enterprise when, as the records show, it cut five people from the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence; it let the Australian Federal Police run at approximately 1,000 below the required strength; and the National Crime Authority was established with a staff of 178 instead of the 235 which was the required number agreed upon? Why then would it provide 2,160 staff members for another policing operation, and why would anybody fall for believing that it would?

I suggest that if the Government wishes to make serious inroads into the fields of crime-crime by fraud, crime of tax evaders not filling in their returns, drug business or any other type-the proven method of strengthening the resources of those already engaged in fighting crime would be the sensible way to go about it. To set up a new organisation-with premises, I presume, throughout Australia, with a new Public Service hierarchy, with a long period of establishment, considerable funding for equipment, transferring of staff, requiring vehicles, computers and so on-ahead of the logical thing of making the existing law enforcement agencies more effective is absolutely unthinkable.

Why would these 2,160 new staff members be appointed? If appointed, how could they be as effective as those forces already set up and capable of handling any reasonable expansion? We already know that the Department of Social Security does not regard false identity as any more than 10 per cent of its overpayment problem. We know that the Australian Taxation Office, through its hopeless inefficiency in not getting its methods up to date, would not improve with just a plastic card. We know that drug dealing, illegal gambling and race fixing are not done by plastic cards. We know that the cash economy does not require the showing of any plastic card. We know that laws galore are not enforced because they are unenforceable through the inadequacy of the staff and facilities available to the existing responsible bodies. The Director of Public Prosecutions has made it adequately clear that he does not have the resources to do more than he is doing. The Australian Federal Police seldom investigates fraud allegations if they are less than $20,000 because it does not have the manpower to do so. The Bureau of Criminal Intelligence is starved for money and staff even to get the Australian drug database operable and to make its task worth while. It is of no use the Government members denying that.

I see it as nothing short of absolute lunacy to set up another organisation which I would suggest the Government would not have any intention of adequately funding or making self-sufficient and effective, judging by its record with those agencies that it already has. As it is, we have cases in the hands of Federal enforcement authorities held up for up to two years because of the inability of existing staff to prepare cases. How would an identity card do anything but make that worse? Australians do not need and do not want to be numbered and registered like cars or tagged like livestock. We do not want a system which at any future time could be extended or which is subject to misuse in the hands of unscrupulous people or governments. We should heed the warning from the Law Society of New South Wales which quoted the Government's submission to the inquiry when it said:

The Government in its submission to the Joint Select Committee suggested that the following departments have access to the Australia Card Register:

Australian Tax Office

Department of Health

Department of Social Security

Department of Veterans' Affairs

Department of Housing and Construction Services

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Australian Federal Police

Australian Institute of Health

Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

Department of Foreign Affairs

and the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations.

There is absolutely nothing to make anyone in Australia believe that anything has changed. This is the list which the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, produced and which he would expect to get sooner or later. At present, however, according to the Bill access has been limited to the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security. But for how long? The submission went on to say that 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, welfare and other areas. No evidence has been put forward by the Government or any of its members to indicate that there is any necessity for this or that the existing laws are being adequately prosecuted. Until that time, I will be doing all I can to urge the people of Australia to oppose the implementation of the identification system in every way possible. I will also be calling on the Government to demonstrate its commitment to apprehending criminals by adequately resourcing the existing law enforcement agencies so that they may become fully effective. Only then will we see whether the abominable proposition deserves any consideration.