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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3703

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(3.08) —We are debating cognately the Australia Card Bill 1986, the Privacy Bill 1986 and the Privacy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986. The Australia Card Bill 1986 will introduce the Government's identity card, euphemistically called an Australia Card. Should this Bill pass through the Senate, Australians will be invited by the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) to apply for an Australia Card. Although there are exceptions, in the normal run of things the applicant will receive a card indicating the bearer's name, the Australia Card number, the expiry date of the card, a photograph of the person and the person's signature. It will be necessary to present the Australia Card to banks, building societies and credit unions so that they may record the number of the card. Until this is done these institutions will be quite unable to accept deposits, open an account, pay interest, or even permit withdrawals of a person's own money.

Where a person is opening an account in the name of a partnership or organisation of a political, social, sporting or agricultural nature, the number of the card must be recorded to open the account. The card number will also have to be recorded for any money lent to a State and Territory body and any money lodged with legal practitioners or unit trusts. Primary producers will not be able to receive payment from marketing authorities and real estate agents are not to pay rents to landlords unless an Australia Card number has been recorded. Funds cannot be remitted by banks overseas, interests in land cannot be transferred, and safety deposit boxes cannot be opened unless the person's number is so recorded. Stocks and futures brokers cannot deal for people and public companies cannot register shares unless the number of the transferee is also recorded. All employees will have to provide their employers with their Australia Card numbers before they can be legitimately employed. The Commissioner of Taxation will have access to a person's Australia Card information and number.

On the payment side, a person will not be able to claim Medicare or social security benefits unless an Australia card number is provided first. The Government claims to be introducing the system to stop people cheating the taxation system, the social security system and the health insurance system. It is also claimed that the Australia Card will help in the fight against organised crime and against illegal immigrants. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is my belief that many of the claims that are used to support the proposal are exaggerated, that its costs are clearly, starkly and blatantly underestimated, and that not only are the safeguards which are supposed to protect the information gathered by this proposal insufficient but also there can never be a permanent safeguard for an identity card system.

I turn first to the claim that the Australia Card will reduce taxation evasion and social security fraud by the elimination of false identities within the system. The system is supposed to overcome these problems because everyone will have only one number-each name will have a number and false identities will be removed. In the tax area there is an obvious form of evasion which the Australia Card, or for that matter the best identification system in the world, cannot stop. It is not where an employee works under a false identity but where there is no official acknowledgment of employment at all. These employees are the cash out of the till employees who work behind bars or on farms, frequently for less than award rates, on the basis that they are paid in cash and that there is no official notification whatsoever of employment. I am obviously well aware that no employment is supposed to take place without the employer recording the number of the Australia Card of the employee but unofficial employment is not supposed to take place now, under any system.

This is a major area of tax evasion which the card cannot ever hope to catch. What is more, where people currently work under false names and feel that the Australia Card may in some way cause them some difficulty, the incentive will be not to register a card and to take cash out of the till. The people already being paid cash out of the till will continue to be paid in that way. Many people who are currently employed under false names will transfer to this form of tax evasion. The Australia Card will be totally helpless, inadequate and powerless to do anything about it. This seems to me to be the greatest area of tax evasion at present. This card will not address that problem. It simply cannot. The cash economy has been estimated by the Commissioner of Taxation to be worth $3 billion. In my view that is a gross underestimate. I think it was the National Australia Bank which some little time ago estimated the figure was in the range of $14 billion. Yet this card will do absolutely nothing to overcome the problem. The problem is not addressed by having an identification card.

There is a second weakness in the Australia Card as proof of identity-the very source documents which are used to complete the information on the central register. The reason the Government wants to introduce an identity card system is that it considers that birth certificates, drivers licences, marriage certificates and the like-the general recording of one's activities-are of a low integrity. Yet it is those very documents, that information, upon which the register will be compiled. More to the point, the Government has cited examples of people who have 20 or more Medicare cards, or people who claim unemployment benefit from several different Commonwealth Employment Service outlets. This information is now going to be the basis, premise and foundation for providing us with a further card.

Senator Robert Ray —Oh, read the Bill.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I have read the Bill. I say to Senator Ray, with the greatest respect, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, that having heard Senator Robert Ray's contribution to the debate I am none the wiser as to what the Bill says. His speech seemed to be an absolute departure from the Bill. The Government has failed to come to grips with the fact that a person who has shown sufficient resourcefulness to obtain 10 or 20 Medicare cards so that he can systematically go about ripping off the system is not going to lie down and die in his tracks because he has been presented with an ID card. He will use the diligence he has used to rip off the system so far to continue to do so with an ID card.

Senator Georges —He cannot do that without the collusion of the doctor. How can he do it?

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —There is more than one doctor. These people will be able to produce any number of false birth certificates and drivers licences. Ultimately they will be able to obtain more than one Australia Card. As was pointed out in the debate yesterday by an Opposition senator, the passport, which is supposed to have high integrity, has been the cornerstone of much corruption and organised crime. Yet the process is such that the situation will not change. It is not without consequence that, in the Government's submission to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, the Department of Social Security very clearly indicates that it intends to require better, more substantial and more material identification than just the Australia Card to minimise the risk of false identities being accepted because of the improper use of lost or stolen cards. The Government department about which we have heard so much in this debate, which needs the card to overcome all these problems, is saying that it will not accept the card on face value. It will not accept it as prima facie evidence that the holder of the card, the person presenting it, is the person represented on the card. Yet this card is being foisted upon us by this intransigent Government, in spite of the fact that the very Department it is intended to assist refuses to accept it.

The point becomes even more obvious when the Government asserts that the card will assist the fight against organised crime. Does Dr Blewett really expect the Australian public to believe that crime figures will not be able to get numbers of cards from different sources? Of course they will. They will do so by false applications, theft, alteration, or perhaps straight-out forgery. One thing is absolutely certain: With the millions of dollars available to organised crime, criminal participants will not be stopped by this simple, glorified Bankcard. There is even the very real possibility-I suspect that it weighed upon the mind of Mr Costigan-that the Australia Card will aid organised crime, and welfare and taxation cheats. If the Government sells the identification card system as a system of extremely high integrity-again, upon which much of its argument is mounted-many people will accept it at face value as being of high integrity. They would not do so with any other means of identification. The possession of a card, therefore, guarantees perfect anonymity. The card is the beginning and the end.

Senator Peter Baume —That is why Mr Costigan is so much against it.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Absolutely. It guarantees no further checks. It guarantees that if a person carries the card he is who he says he is and the information contained thereon is correct. In many cases the very character of the problems the Government is seeking to address will not be rectified by the Australia Card. Australian citizens, Australian society, will receive no benefit but all the hazards, liabilities and afflictions resulting from this Government's blundering, uncaring insensitivity. The Government will give us a card and it will make us enjoy it. This is a typical socialist attitude to life.

Welfare fraud is just one example-it is just one such problem. The largest part of welfare fraud is not due to the assumption of a false identity but to overpayments resulting from clerical errors and unintentional misunderstandings of the terms and conditions of benefits and the failure to disclose changes in circumstances. Let me take honourable senators back to the beginning.

Senator Aulich —If you believe that you believe that the bottom of the harbour does not exist.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I am sorry, this was put to me by the Government department that the honourable senator is seeking to protect. This is what the Department of Social Security said in its submission. Government senators put to me that I should read the Bill. I am telling them that they should read the excellent report which was subscribed to by their colleagues, my colleagues and even the Australian Democrats. The Department is saying that much of the overpayment is a result of clerical errors. I put it to honourable senators, as has been pointed out by Senator Puplick, that the Australian Electoral Commission indicates that there are something like 1.2 million changes, corrections or variations to the Australian electoral rolls every year. How many errors do honourable senators opposite think there will be as a result of changes and variations to the Australia Card? Of course, the proposal is fraught with the risk that the cards will be in error, inaccurate and incorrect and that false and improper information will be provided to little bureaucrats sitting in front of their spook machines.

It is interesting that this card is being foisted upon us because, it is put to us, we are losing so much money and revenue in taxes through false identities. The Department-again, the very Department that the Government is seeking to assist-estimates that false identities account for no more than 0.6 per cent of overpayments. Does the Government mean to say that this card is to be introduced because of 0.6 per cent of overpayments? What is the Government doing about the rest? What is it doing about clerical errors, lack of identification and changed circumstances? It is doing nothing. However, the Government is hellbent on giving us this card all the for the sake of perhaps correcting 0.6 per cent of overpayments as a result of false identification. So the card will not be attacking the major areas of fraud but rather only one of the more minor areas.

Perhaps an even more powerful criticism of the proposal is the Department of Social Security's expectation that it will not be rewarded with any cash benefit as a result of this card. The Department told the Joint Select Committee on the Australia Card that it would cost it as much to administer the card to cover the small area where it might yield some advantage as it would save by reduced fraud. The claims about social security gains are therefore illusory. There will be no gains to the Department as a result of the introduction of this card. Yet, this has been the corner-stone of most of the speeches I have heard from Government senators in the last two days.

The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs told us that it would cost $21m to implement the card but that the revenue gains would be in the range of $1,292m. What an enormous windfall that would be! We checked what was said by the Department of Social Security and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and found that of the illegal immigrants in Australia, guessed by the Department to be 50,000-a wild underestimation, if ever I saw one-0.4 per cent are in receipt of benefits. When the Department of Social Security checked out the list given to it by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in respect of illegal immigrants, it found that almost without exception the people on the list were not receiving a benefit at all. So the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs was found to be hopelessly incompetent in making judgments. In my view the Committee's report is a damning indictment of the Department's efficiency and competence in making judgments. Finally we find that the Australia Card will not help that Department at all.

The Government has indicated in its final estimate that the card will cost $759m over 10 years and that the employment of an extra 2,150 public servants will be required. That calculation, which has been done over a period of 10 years, has been varied. It is guesswork and it has been changed from time to time. As we all know-everybody in this chamber will agree-every time the Department gives us an assessment it is miles too low. Look at what happened in respect of the Sydney Opera House. Look at the estimates that have been given in respect of the new Parliament House. Have they been right yet? No. The costs are always underestimated.

The Australia Card is not a high integrity system. It is open to be walked around by those people who the Government would like the public to think the card will catch-people involved in tax evasion, large scale social security fraud and organised crime. It will be very costly for the Government to introduce and therefore, of course, very costly for taxpayers and for businessmen who will have to comply with yet another mountain of paper. The advantages of the system have been enormously overstated.

Let us turn to the grave dangers the system presents for the privacy and freedom of Australians, something that Dr Blewett dismissed out of hand as inconsequential and something that is the first hazard and the first casualty of this card. The mere fact that individuals are termed `card subjects' in the Bill sets the tone for what the attitude of the bureaucrats will be towards the millions of people they will have on their files. People, of course, will simply become numbers to them with no recognition or thought given to their individual personalities. I take issue with the Government's claim that there will be no central data file on people. In the strict sense of the word, for the moment that is true.

Senator Robert Ray —That is not what your colleagues said this morning.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —With respect, Senator Ray, I will go on. All the information about a person will not for the moment be kept on one file. However, on any fair, genuine and honest assessment of what will take place one must come to a different conclusion. All information will not be on one file but the Australia Card number, which will be on every file, is the marker which can lead a person to the files in other departments. This is centralisation of information as it stands and it is utterly false and misleading for the Government to try to deceive people that it is not. Right at the outset, of course, the Government is prepared to engage in subterfuge. In time, as this information is already kept on satellite files, as one might describe them, within the relevant department I believe that there will be a trend towards centralisation. After all, as the information is already in existence it will be only a matter of time before someone, quite naturally, in the interests of efficiency, suggests that significant administrative savings could occur by the centralisation of the information. This may be perhaps as far away as 20 years but once people have become used to the physical presence of a card, no public outcry against centralisation of the information on to a file will prevent this inexorable movement. Certainly, it will be made to look administratively irresponsible not to centralise.

The Government has led the population to believe that the Australia Card will be used only to stop tax evasion, social security fraud and medifraud. In attempting to achieve this goal, the Government has already obtained information about bank accounts, people's work habits, occupations, financial dealings, land transfers and so forth. I referred to this earlier in my speech. There is nothing more certain than that once people accept the inevitability of carrying a card, the system will quietly expand. I remind honourable senators that in the Government's submission to the Joint Committee, possible uses for the Australia Card were suggested by the Australian Taxation Office, the departments of Health, Social Security, Housing and Construction, Education, Veterans' Affairs, Community Services, Employment and Industrial Relations, Foreign Affairs, and Immigration and Ethnic Affairs as well as the Australian Institute of Health, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Federal Police. They all felt that they ought to have access to information on the card. They all felt that there was something in it for them. In time the bureaucracy will convince itself that life without the Australia Card will just not be possible. This has, in many respects, been foreshadowed by the same Government submission, and I quote the following from page 61:

The Government cannot rule out categorically the possibility that at some future additional uses may suggest themselves as being desirable or essential to meet the emerging problems in the taxation and welfare or other areas.

I underline the words `essential' and `other areas'. They indicate precisely the very problem that I fear. Having created a new tool, the desire to use it will be almost irresistible. To how many uses the Australia Card will be put, one can only speculate, but it is worth examining the various uses to which an identification card has been put in the United States. There the social security number is used in relation to credit bureaus, retail stores, banks, oil companies, credit facilities, supermarkets, cheque cashing facilities, utilities such as telephone companies supplying services for new customers, insurance, hospitals and doctors, drivers licences, employers and schools and universities, and so on. Of course those uses are not presently designed for the Australia Card, but it is inevitable that very shortly they will be. It is interesting that in 1973 the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare recommended against the introduction of a universal identification number, and suggested a halt to the drift towards the use of the social security number in this fashion. Despite that very real fear, the drift in the United States has continued.

The Joint Select Committee drew attention to the fact that the number of Federal departments which nominated for access to the Australia Card Register rose from eight in August 1985 to 13 by February 1986. It is very likely that having the card at its disposal the Government will discover entirely new areas where it may interfere in people's lives, which would otherwise be unavailable to it. In fact it is worth reading, for those who are interested, what the Health Insurance Commission has already done in terms of checking the card by way of a pilot study. It indulged in areas which were quite properly none of its business and, as the report says:

Such studies not only breach the 1981 OECD guidelines to protect privacy to which Australia is supposed to adhere and prospectively breach the information protection principles embodied in the proposed privacy legislation.

Already there has been an intrusion way past that which is described within the parameters of the card. We have to have a very real concern about the way in which the card will be used, given further information which will attract to it. It is interesting to note that the New South Wales Privacy Committee has reported that computers have been used to establish profiles to detect skyjackers, drug couriers, taxation defrauders, welfare cheats, insurance defrauders, public examination cheats, employees who may be drug users and credit card thieves. That Committee worked out a model of who all these people may theoretically be. All someone would have to do is run through our cards and we could find ourselves in a category in no time flat. Given the prospect of errors and the prospect of the fertility of the imagination of people looking at the information which is stored as a result of the cards, no doubt we will all find ourselves pigeonholed in some shape or form.

I conclude by recording my philosophical objections to this rather obnoxious card. In our society our basic legal tradition is one which gives the citizen the liberty to do whatever he likes, unless that is constrained by the law. The best illustration of that can perhaps be found in the ten commandments, which are all based on a series of `thou shalt not', indicating that if a thing is not prohibited, it is permissible. Unless it is clearly stipulated that it is illegal, it is automatically legal. From this has grown the idea that liberty is not something which is granted by governments, it is not something for which we look to governments; it is instead the natural right of mankind. A government may only constrain this liberty with the permission of the people and after, of course, rigorous public debate. Yet in this Bill, unless we have a card and unless we have the Government's permission, the Government takes away our very ability to work, to bank, to buy and sell land, to buy and sell shares and to buy and sell primary produce, to name but a few examples. That is what we cannot do without the permission of the Government, through the granting of this card, which we are invited to apply for-an invitation that we find irresistible. The concept of liberty being granted from the state, not surprisingly, of course, is a particularly socialistic one.

The Government has made much of the fact that many European countries have identity cards. Of course it has not gone on to explain, as Senator Puplick quite properly pointed out yesterday, that those countries have entirely different judicial histories to those of the common law countries such as Australia, England, New Zealand, and Canada. Whereas the basis for common law has been derived up from the customs of the people, the basis of civil law is in statutes imposed down from the government above; a very real difference, a profound difference, in making judgments of the type that are before the Senate right now. Of course the European countries cited by the Government are all civil law countries, every single one of them. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a list of the countries that have an ID card. Honourable senators can look at their political persuasion and their judicial process.

Leave granted.

The list read as follows-

The following countries have ID cards or documents which are legally required at all times:










Sri Lanka



South Africa

















Germany (Democratic Republic)













Hong Kong








Korea, North


Korea, South

The following countries have ID cards but they are not legally required at all times. In the case of Sweden, it is not compulsory to have an ID card.

Germany (Federal Republic)


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —The Government has also not acknowledged that identification cards have been the hallmark of totalitarian regimes which find the information gained from them vital to the control they exercise over their people. The history of man's struggle for liberty has typically been a struggle against the power of autocrats, bureaucrats, kings, dictators and generals. With the emergence of democracy it seems we have let our guard slip. We have a democracy, a very fragile democracy, as all democracies are. In my view, in the six years I have been in this Parliament, this has probably been the most intrusive, obnoxious and dangerous piece of legislation, in terms of its far-reaching effects, that I have ever seen, and I am sure that I am ever likely to see. I hope that the legislation is defeated before the Parliament rises tonight.