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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3729


Senator SHORT(5.41) —I feel very humble to speak immediately after Senator Georges, a man whose politics are quite different from mine but who has just made a speech which I think will remain long in the memories of those of us privileged to have heard it tonight.


Senator Elstob —He is an old scab, that is what he is.


Senator McKiernan —Madam Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. There was a reference, unfortunately from my own side of the chamber, made to a senator, and I would ask that it be withdrawn.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Senator Elstob, I think you should withdraw that reference to Senator Georges. That is not a parliamentary expression and I regret you made it.


Senator Elstob —It may not be a parliamentary expression. It is the truth, but I will withdraw it.


Senator Childs —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The word `scab' is very offensive to anybody who has any involvement with the Labor movement and any trade unionist should not dare to qualify the withdrawal. I demand that the honourable senator withdraw that word `scab'.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Elstob, you have been asked to withdraw without reservation.


Senator Elstob —I withdraw unreservedly; yes, all right.


Senator SHORT —That interjection from Senator Elstob, I would point out to those listening to this broadcast of the Senate, came from a man who, last night, I believe made the most objectionable speech that has been heard in this House for a long time, about a matter of grave issue to every Australian. He demeaned the whole being of the Senate with his disgraceful performance last night, and he has just repeated it today.

The Hawke Government's Australia Card Bill 1986, the purpose of which is to force every Australian to carry an identity card--


Senator Walsh —That is a lie, and you know it.


Senator SHORT —It is not a lie.


Senator Chaney —Madam Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. The Minister, whose behaviour is usually thoroughly objectionable, is now shouting `that is a lie' across the chamber, and I ask you to call him to order. I ask him to withdraw that interjection.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Walsh, the word `lie' is not--


Senator Walsh —To say that the purpose is to force every Australian to carry an identity card, that is a lie, and Senator Short knows it is a lie. But since it offends the Standing Orders, I withdraw it.


Senator SHORT —It is--


Senator Walsh —If you had a proper case you wouldn't have to resort to that sort of thing.


Senator SHORT —Is Senator Walsh trying to tell the Australian people--


Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. It is again--


Senator Walsh —It is a substitute for an argument.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Walsh. Senator Chaney is taking a point of order.


Senator Chaney —It would be funny if it was not so tragic. The Minister's withdrawal was qualified and I ask for an unqualified withdrawal of his comment.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —As I heard Senator Walsh's withdrawal, it was unqualified, but I will treat it as--


Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I am sorry. What Senator Walsh said was that because it was in breach of the Standing Orders he would withdraw it. That is a qualified withdrawal. That is not the reason and he must withdraw it.


Senator Tate —That is a description, not a denial.


Senator Chaney —That is a denial of the withdrawal in the same sentence.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think it would speed the process if Senator Walsh were to withdraw without comment.


Senator Walsh —I withdraw, Mr Deputy President.


Senator SHORT —The proposal to force every Australian mandatorily to have an identity card is one of the most important proposals--


Senator Walsh —You have qualified it now. Are you withdrawing what you said before?


Senator SHORT —In my view, the two are one and the same. If Senator Walsh is going to be squeamish about it, okay.


Senator Cook —That is an admission by you that you were wrong.


Senator SHORT —I was not wrong, and the honourable senator knows I was not wrong. It is one of the most important proposals that have ever been put before the Australian Parliament and the Australian people. The Liberal and National parties are totally opposed to this Bill and we will continue to oppose it, however many times the Hawke Government chooses to bring it into the Parliament.

It has been said by some people that the Government will have a double dissolution when the Bill has been rejected twice by the Senate. I would welcome that. I would welcome going to the people of Australia and telling them why the Liberal and National parties have rejected this intrusive socialist Government's plan to impose on every Australian a major and costly invasion of his or her privacy or his or her civil liberties. I would certainly have a wide range of support and company in doing so. I would have the support of a vast range of organisations and individuals across the spectrum of community involvement and interest and across the spectrum of political thought in this country. For example, I would have the support of several of the major trade unions. I would have the support of the Law Council of Australia, the Australian Catholic Welfare Association, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, the International Commission of Jurists, the Council for Civil Liberties in each State and Territory, the Australian Retired Persons Association, the Australian Computer Society Inc., the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party and the ALP's national Legal and Administrative Policy Committee. I would also have the support of the Confederation of Australian Industry, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, the Australian Associated Stock Exchanges, the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission of Western Australia and many more organisations of responsible and concerned people.

In campaigning against this iniquitous identity card proposal, euphemistically and misleadingly called an Australia Card proposal, by this misleading, arrogant and intrusive Government-it is really an un-Australia Card-I would also have the support of such eminent Australians as Frank Costigan, QC, a person who, probably more than any other Australian, has led the fight against organised crime, including tax fraud, in this country. I would have the support of His Grace the Right Reverend Michael Challen, the Anglican Bishop of Perth, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, former Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission, law Professor Geoffrey Walker, leading business people such as Hugh Morgan, author Frank Moorhouse, youth affairs director Robert Hudson, former Lord Mayor of Melbourne Irvin Rockman, and countless thousands of other concerned individuals.

In campaigning against the ID card I would also have the support of the majority of the members of the parliamentary Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, which was established in November 1985 to examine the Government's proposals and which reported in May of this year. The majority of the members of that Committee rejected the Government's proposals. The members of the Committee making up that majority included members from every political party in this Parliament: The Liberal Party, the National Party, the Australian Democrats and the Labor Party. It is said that surveys indicate that the majority of Australians support the idea of an ID card. I doubt that very much. But if that is correct at the moment, it is simply because the Hawke Government has managed to hoodwink the electorate through a combination of lack of information and quite deliberate misinformation. Those members of the public who have had an opportunity to study the Government's proposals have a duty and a responsibility over the months ahead to get out and alert the rest of the Australian community to the dangers inherent in these proposals, and that we will certainly be doing.

Why are we so opposed to the Government's ID card proposals? In broad terms we are opposed for the four reasons set out in the amendment that we have moved to the second reading motion. These are: Firstly, the card would not solve the problems of tax and welfare fraud, both of which generally involve people whose identity is not in question. Secondly, the card does not address serious administration failings and operational deficiencies in the Australian Taxation Office that have been revealed by the Commonwealth Auditor-General and that remain a major cause of failure to collect revenue due to the Government. Thirdly, we oppose it because the costs of the ID card have been grossly understated and the benefits grossly exaggerated. Fourthly, the details of the proposal will constitute an unprecedented and unjustifiable intrusion into the individual privacy of all Australians and will greatly damage our civil liberties.

I will come back to these fundamental concerns and other concerns in more detail in a few moments, but first let me outline, particularly for the members of the public who may be listening to this debate, the main details of the Government's ID card proposal. In doing so I stress that it is not the card itself that is the major concern but rather the consequences that flow from the existence of the card. Let me also make the point at the outset that not one country in the world with a common law system like Australia's has a comprehensive ID card system like that proposed by the Hawke Government. The Government first floated its ID card proposal at the National Taxation Summit in July 1985. It was then promoted as a major element of its tax reform package and there was little or no comment of the card's potential for attacking social security fraud.

An amazing and absurd feature of the Government's handling of its ID card proposal since day one has been that the ministerial responsibility resides with the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), not with the Treasurer (Mr Keating) who is responsible for taxation, not with the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) and not with the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) nor the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) who are responsible for fraud detection and prevention. No, the Government has left the matter with the Minister for Health. The reason given for this is that it is the Health Insurance Commission which will be the administering authority for the ID card. That, I submit, is a totally insufficient reason for leaving the carriage of the scheme with a Minister whose portfolio has absolutely no responsibility for the detection or prevention of tax or social welfare fraud, which are said by the Government to be the very reasons for the ID card in the first place. It makes no sense to have this matter lie with the Minister for Health. That stupidity, though, is dangerously compounded by the particular person who has been the Minister for Health throughout the life of the Hawke Government. I refer, of course, to Dr Neal Blewett. Dr Blewett is not a medical doctor-he is a doctor of philosophy. Let me give the Senate an example of Dr Blewett's philosophy. Addressing the 1986 South Australian Labor Party conference, Dr Blewett had this to say:

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 to private property.

Those words are from the person who has been given the responsibility to force every Australian, from the day they are born to the day they die, to have an identity card, thereby setting in place the basic framework for the development literally of a police state in Australia, if not by this Government or the next government, by some government in the future.

Under the Government's proposal every Australian will be forced to have an ID card. The card will look rather innocent and innocuous. It will simply contain a person's name, identity number, card expiry date, photo and signature-not much different to a driving licence. But there the deception begins. I will outline that deception as I proceed with my remarks because the card would be required to be produced on a very wide range of occasions, including dealing with banks and financial institutions, for land transactions, for initiating investments, for initiating transactions with cash management trusts, for employment, for admission to hospital, claims for Medicare benefits, when required by the Taxation Office, for primary producers transacting business with stock agents and marketing authorities, for investing in shares in public companies and for dealings with the Department of Social Security.

The Government proposes massive fines for failure to produce the ID card on such occasions. Most of those fines are $20,000. For bodies corporate the fines are up to $100,000. To give just a couple of examples, a householder who gives casual employment to, say a cleaning lady, for a few days a week without sighting the lady's ID card and notifying the Taxation Office is guilty of an offence-penalty, $20,000. A farmer who, during the fruit picking season, takes on a young itinerant looking for a few days work who does not have his ID card on him, will have committed an offence-penalty, $20,000.


Senator Maguire —Senator Brownhill tried that yesterday.


Senator SHORT —But is is true. Is Senator Maguire denying the accuracy of that? A small businessman giving casual employment to young people or to pensioners without sighting their ID card is guilty without trial-fine, $20,000. So it goes on and on and on. But there are loopholes. For example, there is the loophole in clause 36 of the Bill which makes it possible to forward, through the ordinary mail, a so-called certificate of identity in place of the ID card. That is a sensible idea for all those engaged in transactions involving the requirement of identification where the two parties are separated by distance. But just think of the scope for theft, loss or forgery of these certificates in these circumstances. Yet the Government is trying to tell the Australian people that the whole system is virtually guaranteed against forgery or duplication. What nonsense. Even the ID card will be forgeable. Experience around the world with identity cards, passports, drivers licences and similar identification documents has demonstrated beyond any doubt whatsoever that no such system is foolproof against forgery and fraud. A letter to the editor of the Melbourne Age earlier this week summed up the situation very neatly. It was a letter from someone who had gone through the identity card requirements of Hitler's Germany and the processes in Holland during the war. He said, amongst other things:

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.

It is indeed possible that the introduction of the card will legitimate a false identity which will aid and abet the criminal element in our society and may well encourage tax and welfare fraud. The Government's stated objective for the ID card, according to the Minister's second reading speech, is to fight tax avoidance and evasion and social welfare fraud. The Opposition, of course, fully supports those objectives. Our concern is that the ID card will not achieve these objectives. So far as tax evasion is concerned, the evidence produced to the parliamentary Select Committee indicates that it is very doubtful whether tax evasion would be seriously restrained through the use of an ID card. One of the witnesses before the Committee was Mr Costigan, QC, the former Royal Commissioner who is famous for his investigations in the late 1970s and early 1980s into tax fraud in Australia. Mr Costigan expressed strong opposition to the Government's ID card proposal and he said that the card would not have prevented the criminal tax fraud he found in his inquiries.

It is universally accepted that the existence of the cash or underground economy poses the biggest single threat to our tax base and is the largest source of tax revenue leakage. An ID card will not solve the problems associated with the cash economy for the simple reason that cash economy transactions will not be identified by the card. Indeed, it is arguable that the existence of the ID card would actually increase the size of the cash economy by encouraging more people to engage in it. The Government has given the impression that the ID card will hit hard at social welfare fraud. The facts indicate overwhelmingly that this is simply untrue. Whether the Government is deliberately lying to the Australian people or whether it is wilfully ignorant of its own proposals, I do not know.

The primary way in which an ID card might be able to reduce social welfare fraud is in the area of false identities, but the Department of Social Security, in its evidence to the parliamentary Select Committee, said that false identities were not a major component of social welfare fraud. The Department said that less than one per cent of social welfare fraud-less than $1 in every $100-results from the use of false identities. The major form of social welfare cheating comes from people falsifying their circumstances, not their identities. The ID card would have no direct effect on this form or other forms of welfare fraud. So the overwhelming weight of evidence is that the Government has grossly overstated the extent to which its ID card proposal will improve the exchequer by reducing tax revenue losses and fraudulent social welfare payments. In other words, the benefits side of the cost-benefit equation on a national interest basis is thin indeed.

What about the costs side of the equation? The Government has not come clean on the costs side. It has produced confusing, contradictory and incomplete figures. The Government claims that the total cost of introducing and operating the card would be $759m over the first 10 years. Note the accuracy. How on earth could one come to such a figure as that? The basis of the Government's costings to arrive at this figure is very shaky. The parliamentary Select Committee placed little if any credence in the figures. What we do know, however, is that as a minimum 2,150 additional public servants will be required to administer the scheme and more than 300 Medicare officers will either be appointed or relocated and upgraded. The Government has made no allowance for the cost to State and local governments of their compliance with the requirements of the ID card system. These costs obviously would be very heavy. Nor do the costs include the costs of compliance by the business sector. On the basis of calculations by the Government's own Business Regulation Review Unit, the cost to the business sector could amount to $2,000m to $3,000m over the next 10 years.


Senator Cook —That is a discredited figure.


Senator SHORT —That is the figure from the Government's Business Regulation Review Unit and Senator Cook well knows that. That is a staggering additional burden to impose on a business sector that is already reeling under a massive onslaught of Government-imposed taxes and charges. It is beyond dispute that the financial costs of the ID card scheme would be enormous, but there are other non-financial costs that must also be considered and in the longer term they may be of even greater significance. The non-financial cost of the greatest concern is the cost to the privacy of every individual Australian and the costs to our civil liberties. The ID card, because of its common number, inevitably would provide a centralised database. It is not possible to guarantee that access to that database would be restricted to the degree the Government suggests. Unauthorised access would always be a major threat. Other dangers exist too with centralised databases. One of the major ones is that the data may be incorrect. The proposals by the Government to deal with this problem are not sufficient to overcome the concerns. Indeed, no system would be able to overcome those problems. These types of problems were very well outlined by 12 public servants from the Department of Social Security in a letter to the parliamentary Select Committee in March 1986. I believe their letter is very important and very significant. I shall quote it in full. It reads as follows:

Sir: As public servants in the Department of Social Security, we are concerned at the proposed Australia Card.

Dr Blewett . . . does not point out that the computer records of Social Security already hold the following data: A person's name, date of birth, residential address, postal address, bank account, branch and number, sex, marital status, family composition, and details of any financial income and assets. If this proposed Australia Card number was added then we would indeed have a `centralised computer data bank' holding large amounts of information.

We are concerned about the pressure put on various officers by outside agencies such as debt collectors attempting to gain information. Cases of this nature have already occurred. While there may be a `watchdog' authority set up, it will not stop information being leaked. It will only provide a source of retribution after the event.

We question the need for this card at all. Proof of identity procedures already in existence are adequate, the only problem being a shortage of staff to fully investigate possible abuses of the welfare system.

We also object to the Australia Card on moral grounds; we don't want to become a number in a system.

Anyway, what is to stop any future government legislating to amalgamate all computer records of the Department of Social Security, and Police Department, the Taxation Office and all other government bodies?

That is the end of that very significant letter from 12 officers of the Department of Social Security, who obviously know in detail what they are talking about. I could say much more about these privacy problems. For example, I could point to the privacy discrimination against women who legally work and live under names other than their married names and whose personal privacy and anonymity are not only highly valued but also are necessary for their survival and psychological integrity. With this scheme they are under the very real risk of not being able to have a card in other than their married name.

However, at this stage suffice it for me to say that the privacy problems are of enormous potential. We would need to be absolutely convinced of the overall advantages of the introduction of ID cards before subjecting every Australian to this threat to privacy. Rejection of the ID card proposal leads to the legitimate question: What would the Liberal and National parties do instead to reduce tax evasion and social welfare fraud? We would take several actions which would be much more effective, less costly, and not have the dangers inherent in the Government's proposals. First, we would force the Taxation Office to be much more efficient in its collection activities. The House of Representatives Expenditure Committee has recently produced a very important report which examines five inquiries by the Auditor General into the operations of the Taxation Office. That report found:

. . . taxation revenue losses through non-detection of total taxpayers incomes could conceivably amount to several billion dollars each year . . . in large measure it can simply be attributed to Australian Tax Officer's internal inadequacies.

The Liberal and National parties would act immediately to rectify this disgraceful situation and improve the efficiency of the Tax Office. The Liberal and National parties in government would also attempt to do much more to stop the tax drain through the cash economy. I recognise that that is a very difficult task but it is a task that the ID card proposal does not address at all. We would also strengthen the reporting requirements of banks in respect of interest income, an area generally agreed to be the major source of tax revenue loss. In the area of social welfare fraud, we would introduce a requirement whereby persons in receipt of the unemployment benefit would work for that benefit. We would also tighten the existing identity requirements for social welfare recipients. That is an extremely important point. I note that the Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, in a speech several months ago pointed out that in 1981-82 the ratio of unemployment benefit recipients to the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey estimate of unemployed persons seeking full time employment was 94 to 100. It is now 116 to 100. In other words, according to the ABS figures, for every 100 persons seeking full time employment there are 116 persons actually receiving unemployment benefit.

What this debate we are having on the Australia Card Bill really boils down to is this: Do we want to see the introduction in Australia, at great financial cost, of an identification card system which the overwhelming weight of evidence indicates will not achieve its laudable objectives of reducing tax and social welfare fraud? Do we want to introduce an identity card system which is an open invitation to some government at some time in our future to turn Australia into a virtual police state? Do we want to propel Big Brother and Sir Humphrey another huge step forward in the monitoring, oversighting and controlling of our daily lives? De we want to introduce into Australia an identification system which is un-Australian and which is contrary to our history, our traditions and our great strength as a free, open and civilised society? Do we want to introduce a system which is more embracing and intrusive than any other identification system in any other common law nation in the world? I submit to the Senate and to the Australian people that we do not. Yet these will be the inevitable consequences of the Hawke Government's Australia Card Bill. I therefore urge the Senate to reject the Bill.