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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3680

Senator KNOWLES(11.32) —I rise today to speak on the Australia Card Bill 1986 out of sheer concern that this Bill is yet another attempt by this Hawke socialist Government to strangle Australians with more and unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, more public servants, more information collection of a personal nature, more expenditure for the taxpayers and more expenses for business. To gain what? That is the question. According to government departments and expert witnesses before the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, the gain is absolutely nothing. Contrary to what the Government and the Minister for Health, Dr non-medical Blewett, would have Australians believe, it is the honest Australians who have most to fear and most to lose.

I object to calling this proposal an Australia Card if for no other reason than it gives it an air of respectability that it does not deserve. By using the green and gold sporting colours it tries to do exactly the same. It is an absolute manipulation by this Government of the symbols of freedom and democracy which we in this country value. As I have said before, the next thing that this Government will try to do presumably is to rename all the gaols `Australia camps', to give them the same degree of respectability. The Government gave a much more honest revelation of its true thinking and underlying attitude when, on 9 June, Dr non-medical Blewett said-it has been quoted before in many speeches, but it is worth repeating as it shows the true thinking of this Health Minister:

Let me say as a socialist it is the interest of the community that should come before the individual right.

He also 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 says it all. That says exactly what this Minister means. The Minister whose Department will administer a national identity card has, on his own admission, no respect for either privacy or private property. The Minister says that there will be adequate privacy provisions associated with the card. One cannot but help but wonder whether those provisions will be similar to the ones connected with Medicare. Many people were disgusted last year that personal income details of doctors were leaked from Medicare information during the New South Wales doctors dispute, in an effort to achieve political point scoring. Yet, we heard this morning from Senator Crowley, a medical practitioner, who said that everything is as tight as a drum with Medicare. How absurd. She said that no information was available. Senator Crowley did not even have the decency to stay in here for two seconds after she had finished her speech. I would have liked to ask her why it was necessary for us, as members of parliament, to be notified this year that our Medicare cards were to be tagged or flagged to ensure our privacy. That is absolutely disgusting. Why should we be privileged in the community to have our Medicare files flagged to ensure confidentiality? Why cannot everyone have that confidentiality with his own Medicare records.

Senator Peter Baume —Every time we make a claim we identify a broken leg.

Senator KNOWLES —That is exactly right. Senator Crowley omitted to say that what Senator Baume is saying is quite correct, that every time one makes a Medicare claim the item number for the problem one has is put on that claim form, so therefore everyone in Medicare knows exactly what the illness or problem is. When some people in the community are given a so-called privilege by having their confidential medical records made different to the records of anyone else in Australia, it is an absurdity. Surely everyone is entitled to total privacy of his medical records, and not just a select few.

This Department of Social Security is run by the same self-confessed socialist Minister who will be in control of the ID card. While the Government insists on saying that the Opposition is taking the easy way out in rejecting the proposition of an ID card, I see it as quite the reverse. If we were to take the easy way out we would not have made the decision we did when it was still supposedly a popular proposition. If it were going to work that may be another thing, but every investigation and expert opinion says it will not work. We have not made this decision lightly. We have not just decided to oppose it for the sake of opposing it. Many people on our side of politics have been quoted as having originally supported the concept of an ID card. That is fair enough. Anyone is entitled to change his opinion once he has investigated the matter thoroughly and found that it will not achieve the results that it is designed to achieve. I do not think anyone at all should be criticised for changing his mind on that basis.

Why is this Government pursuing it in the light of all the evidence within and outside Australia that says that it is cost ineffective, intrusive, and unworkable. I always worry when I find myself agreeing with anyone on the Left, but fortunately public opinion on this crosses all political beliefs and ideologies. It is highly appropriate that under the legislation we are no longer citizens but card subjects. If this Bill passes we will find that the Government has licensed us for the privilege of functioning as members of the Australian society. Conscientious objection will be an impossible luxury. We heard Government senators yesterday saying that you do not have to carry the card. That may well be so. The simple fact is that a person will not be able to operate without carrying the card. So we do not have to carry the card if we do not want to do anything. Without the ID card and our personal identification number, we will be unable to obtain employment or employ anybody else. We will be unable to invest in shares, trusts or commodities. We will be forbidden to sell primary produce, buy or sell real estate, or even open a safety deposit box or a bank account. We will not even be able to leave the country. It will not be safe to get ill as ID cards and numbers will be a prerequisite for Medicare benefits and hospital administration. This state of affairs is covered in clauses 4 to 54 of this Bill through the levying of $20,000 penalties that will be visited on employers, stock agents, banks, brokers, real estate agents, and any financial institution that fails to cite and record the ID card of employees, customers and clients.

Social control is being achieved through the threat of fines against the private sector. So the private sector is in the gun again. Only those prepared to exist as nomads or hermits will be able to avoid the use of an ID card. Let there be no mistake, this all pervasive compulsion will at once result in massive inconvenience to the private sector and to many individual Australians. The cost to business of compliance has been conservatively estimated to be up to $200 billion over the next 10 years. I have already asked the Government to confirm or deny this and it has chosen not to comment at all. Why?

Senator Aulich was rather amazing yesterday when talking about the cost of compliance to business. He listed the compliance factor as being as simple as taking four seconds to write down a 12-digit number. That was his only argument about the cost and the inconvenience to the private sector-that it would take four seconds to write down a 12-digit number. That goes to show the depth and intelligence of the argument being put by the Government. The Government has not even bothered to estimate the cost of the ID card to private business. It has not even given business the courtesy of a rubbery estimate. The Minister for Health says that he does not know, or presumably care. No longer will it be possible for any new business to be initiated over the telephone. It is well understood in the community, if not by the Australian Labor Party Government, that the telephone is a prime business tool of stock brokers, real estate agents and financial agents, followed up through the mail without any direct contact whatsoever.

Rural dwellers and those doing business with them will find themselves put to enormous inconvenience when they must now present themselves in person to the offices of those who currently do their major business on the telephone and much of it after hours.

Senator Boswell —They don't worry about the farmers. They have never cared about the farmers.

Senator KNOWLES —I am glad that Senator Boswell has said that because we have all been able to read about the short shrift that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) gave to the National Farmers Federation last night. This is obviously another extension of `let's strangle the farmers, let's strangle the rural dwellers, and let's give them an ID card and make them travel miles and miles'. The ramifications of this ID card for people in remote areas of my own State of Western Australia-let us face it you cannot get anywhere more remote than the far outposts of the north west-are that they will have to travel thousands of miles to do the business that they now do by telephone. The Hawke Government is apparently not concerned at all at the difficulty and expense that will result from the ID card for these thousands of Australians, nor does it care about the sick and the elderly who will be unable to conduct their investment business from home. It is no accident that employers who fail to sight and record the ID card of even a casual or temporary employee are subject to a fine of $20,000 while a person who deliberately lies to obtain the social security benefits-a practice that an ID card will not prevent-will be fined only $2,000. Obviously, this Government considers the offence committed by a company in not sighting a person's ID card is far more critical and more dangerous than someone trying to defraud the social security system; they happen to be fined 10 times as much. No doubt employers and business people who have accepted forged ID cards will, in practice, be forced to prove their innocence adding further costs.

I have mentioned the immense inconvenience to those businesses, particularly in the country, which trade by telephone rather than by direct contact. We now have to consider the cost to every employer, large and small, whose employees must absent themselves from work to register for the Australia Card. The interview and photograph may be scheduled for only a couple of minutes, but travel time and inevitable delays within the Medicare offices will eat into that employee's time. The smaller the staff, the more that will be felt. Businesses will have to alter payroll and accounting systems to accommodate the new ID card and the related changes to taxation reporting procedures. I remind the Senate that it was only yesterday that Senator Aulich said that that will not be so, that it takes only four seconds to write down a 12-digit number and that that is the only thing they will need to do. How absurd. It will be a major cost burden for banks, according to Mr Allen Cullen of the Australian Bankers Association. Yet how much greater a cost burden will it be in relative terms for the thousands of small businesses that are not computerised?

The Hawke Government should take heed of the director of its own Business Regulation Review Unit, who admitted that as a general rule we can expect new regulations to cost the private sector twice what they will cost the Government. Yet Senator Aulich said yesterday that this was our figure. It is not. It is the Government's figure.

We in Australia should take warning from the experience in Sweden, where a national identification system has allowed the profiling of citizens without their knowledge to the extent that a formal census is no longer needed. Seventeen registers can be centrally linked. Sweden, too, has a data protection agency. It has failed to protect individual privacy. So what chance do we in Australia have with these proposals?

As was stated in the Joint Select Committee report, major American studies have specifically rejected the introduction of a national identification system because of the extent to which criminals could benefit from such a move. Yet we heard Senator Ray say yesterday that the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada had national identification systems. That is purely and utterly incorrect. It was only a few months ago that evidence was given to the Joint Select Committee which quite clearly showed that the United States had rejected the system out of hand. The Australian Federal Police, Mr Frank Costigan, QC, and Mr Douglas Meagher, QC, have also warned the Government that organised crime could flourish with ID cards and the Government still will not listen. Senator Ray asserted yesterday that an ID card would catch the drug pushers. That is gorgeous. When a couple of druggies exchange money for drugs will it be a case of show and tell-`You show me your ID card and I will show you mine'?

Senator Peter Baume —Or $20,000 if you don't.

Senator KNOWLES —That is right. It is absolutely laughable to suggest that it will stop the drug pushers. Let us not forget that no other common law country has a similar compulsory national ID card system.

I now turn to the practical question of the costs and benefits of the ID card. The report of the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee, endorsed by representatives of all four parties represented in Parliament, sets out very clearly that the Australian Labor Party Government estimates of revenue savings and administration costs have little reliability. The Committee took 129 submissions, covering 5,000 pages of evidence, examined the issues closely, and is now conveniently being disregarded by the Government, which does not, I suppose, like this brand of consensus. It likes all other sorts of consensus. It has costly tax summits and everything else, but it sets up a parliamentary select committee that comes down with conclusions and that form of consensus is not good enough.

Evidence from the Department of Finance revealed that the revenue savings figures, which the Government is so fond of citing, were not calculated by that Department at all, where we assume that the financial expertise is to be found. The figures were calculated by the Department of Health, not the Department of Finance. Alternative calculations based on cumulated discount benefits that were favoured by the Department of Finance give a benefit to revenue of $2.5 billion-very different from the $4.5 billion the Government is now claiming. Some $1,300m of the $4,500m supposed revenue savings is to result from the apprehension of illegal immigrants. Yet, in paragraph 1.56 of the Joint Select Committee report, it is revealed that the Department of Immigration admitted that its estimates were simply based on guesswork. Good substantial stuff, is it not?

It appears that many within the bureaucracy see the ID card as the quick fix to achieve revenue savings when other effective and less intrusive methods have been neglected. This certainly appears to be the case with the Australian Taxation Office, which on only 11 November was named by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure as being responsible for as much as $500m in lost revenue through administrative inefficiency. Such a report echoes the 1984 Auditor-General's report which pointed to a failure by the Taxation Office to use its existing powers in requiring the reporting of interest payments where the ATO estimates that as much as $500m could be lost each year. It already has the ability to find out that information but chooses not to. We are entitled to ask why the Taxation Office demands the use of ID cards when it has not made use of modern computer technology to cut down on tax avoidance, using only half of a $76m allocation for computer equipment.

Real blame, however, lies not with the Taxation Office but with the Government that controls it. This socialist Government has neglected to implement the recommendation of Mr Frank Costigan, QC, that procedures for the opening of bank accounts be tightened. Instead, it now proposes a sledgehammer approach of an ID card, to which Mr Costigan is strongly opposed as a threat to individual liberty. I am getting a little tired of hearing the ALP trot out the excuse that the ID card is needed to fight social security fraud, thereby seeking support from the huge section of the community which is concerned over this issue, and angry that other Australians are getting a free ride on the system. What the public is not being told is that evidence from the Department of Social Security before the Joint Select Committee showed that, of $63m overpaid by the Department in 1984-85, the great bulk was due to people falsifying not their names but their circumstances, and also to clerical error and simple misunderstanding.

While 61 per cent of social security overpayment was due to false statements, not even one per cent but 0.6 per cent was attributed to false identity. This is why the whole of the Australian community is going to be burdened with the number. They will be numbered by this Government, supposedly to catch fewer than one per cent of social security recipients who defraud the system by false identification. Again, a government which in the area of social security has failed to enforce the work test for unemployment benefits and which has only recently been insisting that 19b forms for the continuation of the dole be lodged in person has absolutely no right whatsoever to scream for ID cards to cover up its own slackness. If it had had the work test being efficiently implemented and people lodging their 19b forms in person we would not have the great problem we have today.

The proposal of the Liberal Party, widely supported in the community, is that those on unemployment benefits present themselves for work or training. This would make multiple registrations for the dole impossible, unless people worked 48 hours every day. The Opposition fully supports a central register of births, marriages and deaths which would be as effective as an ID card in stopping fraudulent identity, without the danger to privacy posed by an identifying number. The absurdities the Minister carried on with in his second reading speech reached their peak when he tried to draw a similarity between the ID card and other cards currently carried by individuals. Absolutely no one in his right mind can say that what the Government is proposing is in any way similar to a driving licence, student card, credit card, membership card or any other card. Apart from all the obvious differences, the major difference is that none of those cards is linked to a central computer with wide access.

Senator Sheil —The number belongs to the card. With the Australia Card the number belongs to the person.

Senator KNOWLES —That is right. There is a very major distinct difference. Everyone in Australia will be numbered. The Government also says that one will not be able to forge the ID card. We heard Senator Crowley say this morning that it will be impossible to forge the ID card. That is really laughable. Senator Crowley obviously has a very short memory because it was only last year when a prison-I think it was in New South Wales-was a one-stop shop. If one wanted a birth certificate, a death certificate, a marriage certificate, a driver's licence or, in fact, a little bit of cash to go on with, one was told: `Come to us-we will do the lot'.

Senator Sheil —A complete service.

Senator KNOWLES —It was really a one-stop shop. It was absolutely fantastic. Yet here we have the Government saying: `But that's different. It is not like a passport that can be forged'. Passports are not meant to be forged either. This one prison did the lot-passports and all. People were told: `If you want to get your passport and you want some money to go overseas, come to us'.

I am very concerned that the attitude that this Government is taking to the recommendations and findings of the Joint Select Committee is one of absolute ignorance. This ID card and this Bill will not save any money. The ID card will cost taxpayers an arm and a leg. It will place enormous costs on the private sector and, heaven knows, it cannot afford any more costs after all of the taxation imposts that have been placed on it this year. It will invade privacy and it will restrict freedom of operation of individuals. Most importantly, it simply will not work.

I am one of the people-and I do not mind admitting it at all-who, when the proposal was first in the wind, said that it seemed like a good idea. I have spent some 17 months going through document after document. I have not taken the decision lightly to oppose this legislation. I am 100 per cent opposed to it because it will simply not do what it is designed to do. I come back to what I said earlier: I do not believe that people should be criticised for changing their minds after having done something like 17 or 18 months research into this matter. I am pleased to oppose this Bill.