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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3739


Senator WALTERS(8.10) —Tonight we are debating legislation brought forward by the Government that attempts for the first time in Australia's history to introduce the type of big brother identification system used by socialist countries all over the world. This socialist Government, in line with its ideology, has decreed that from the time of birth people will carry a number to identify themselves. This number will relate to a person's medical history, financial dealings and social security record-and that is just for starters. It is inconceivable that the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, which it is proposed will have control of the Australia Card, will not at some time in the future be expanded. We have been told that the Government will only require information on one's social security movements, financial transactions, tax records and medical history and that it promises-I repeat, it promises-that privacy provisions will guarantee-note that it says that the provisions will guarantee-that this often very personal information will remain confidential. We have been told that the card would be effective in combating welfare fraud, it would help control illegal immigration, it would overcome tax evasion, it would be cost effective and there would be privacy clauses. Let us deal with each of those points. During our examination of the Department of Social Security estimates last year I asked whether the ID card would be of any benefit. The unequivocal answer I got from the Department was no. The Department of Social Security in evidence to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card stated:

The fact is that in our experience the main problems within the departmental portfolio are not with identity as such, but a failure to notify change of circumstances. Mainly these are what lead to overpayments. There are circumstances which may be financial or there may be other changes, but by way of information the overpayments file for the Department shows that 0.6 per cent is attributable to identity and 61 per cent is due to income variations. Those are the issues which make us believe that it is of minimal relevance in the identity areas which is of course the primary initiative that the card will help address.

That is the Department's view and, seeing that the Department is the organisation that would be using the card, we can only take it for granted that it is right. So that deals with that.

The second point is that the Australia Card would help to control illegal immigration. The Government has already acknowledged that that would not be the case. Illegal immigration would only go underground and, seeing that the Government has promised that people will not be asked to show their identity card for identification, it would not be of any great benefit. The same applies to the third matter. The Government says that it would overcome tax evasion. We have before us-several of my colleagues have already commented on this-a review of five Auditor-General's efficiency audit reports into the Australian Taxation Office. It is entitled `A Taxing Problem' and is a report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure which comprised members of the Australian Labor Party, the National Party of Australia and the Liberal Party of Australia. The report says:

As this inquiry progressed it became obvious to the Committee that ATO's current tax assessment and collection operations left a great deal to be desired. As outlined in previous chapters of this report, significant weaknesses particularly within ATO's compliance and enforcement capabilities, have emerged placing doubts on the ATO's ability to effectively collect all taxes due and payable.

The report goes on:

It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that had ATO been more successful in its collection of existing taxes, the need for further taxes and higher rates of current taxes may well have been lessened, relieving in part the onus already shouldered by those who pay tax.

That report is a general indictment of the Australian Tax Office. It says, very clearly, that its data base is woefully inadequate. Again I quote from the report:

Their computer system, their ability to extract the required data and to be able to interface that data between different systems, is inadequate. They do a lot of manual checking . . . theoretically, they should be able to run two different computer tapes, interface them and get a computer printout.

In defence, one of the senior officers of the Australian Taxation Office said:

Our equipment is old and our systems are old.

In the last 10 years the Taxation Office has underspent $49.4m that had been appropriated to it to give it the ability to buy the appropriate technology, the appropriate computers-and it did not do it. The report said that there was evidence that the Australian Taxation Office `had also suffered from poor management and direction' of its data base area. The whole book says that the inefficiency of the Taxation Office is beyond belief. There are so many areas that I really do not have time to quote from all of them tonight. The report says, in part:

The inadequacy of ATO's current approach is distressing. The ABS estimates that for 1984-85 approximately $13,871m was paid in interest to Australian households. Using the figures quoted to the Australia Card Committee . . . only $2,774m of this is reported.

Out of $13,871m only $2,774m was reported. Also, it says:

Of this reported information only $1,387m is actually matched to taxpayers' returns.

That is interest. So if one does not declare one's interest in one's tax return one has a jolly good chance of getting away with it. The whole thing, as I said, is a dreadful indictment of the Australian Taxation Office. The report goes on to say:

Apart from the obvious revenue aspects of PPS, the system has also proved successful in detecting persons who although required to do so, had not previously lodged tax returns. Referred to as non-lodgers, the ATO through PPS checking has detected 22 297 non-lodgers and subsequently issued 20 335 assessments yielding revenue of $13.87 million.

I wonder whether Mr Keating was one of those non-lodgers, because Mr Keating had not lodged his tax return. He would not have been picked up by the use of the Australia Card. He would not have to go through what the other taxpayers would go through. He would just get a telephone call from the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation and be told: `Don't forget, Paul, you haven't filled in not just this year's but also last year's tax returns'. The Taxation Office obviously can be efficient when it comes to the Treasurer, but it is not efficient in relation to the normal taxpayer. Although the Government says we need an Australia Card because it would overcome tax evasion, obviously there are better ways of doing it. All the Government has to do is make sure the Taxation Office abides by this report, spends that $49.4m on updating its equipment and gets going. It does not have to have an Australia Card to overcome the tax problem. Indeed, this report says very clearly that tremendous amounts of money are not being collected by the Taxation Office. So we do not need an Australia Card; we just need to get the Tax Office going.

The Government also says that it would be cost effective. Let us look at what it calls cost effective. It has admitted that it would require another 2,150 public servants for the operation of the Australia Card. It says it would cost it $1,000m over 10 years. That is just the government expenditure. It would cost private business $2,000m. No estimation has been made of the cost to State governments and local government, but we know they will have to upgrade their capital equipment. This is meant to be cost effective.

The next matter is that we would have privacy clauses. The National Times of a couple of months ago carried the headline: `For sale: Social Security files'. Public servants were selling off private, confidential information to debt collectors. This Government tell us that it can bring in privacy clauses that it will guarantee cannot be breached. Of course it cannot guarantee it.


Senator Knowles —A bit like Medicare files.


Senator WALTERS —A bit like Medicare files. I am just coming to that. I am quite sure everybody will remember that we had a doctors dispute. During that dispute, under the heading `Sydney's leading doctors: a Medicare cheque list', the Sydney Morning Herald said:

How are NSW doctors doing financially under Medicare?

It listed the names of doctors and their incomes, from A to Z. Medicare is also meant to be confidential, just as confidential as the Department of Social Security records are meant to be. The Australian Medical Association demanded an inquiry into the leak. What did the Government do? It did absolutely nothing. The Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, said that it was in the hands of the Australian Federal Police but they had not been able to detect anyone. All this happened under a government which assures us that the card can have all the privacy under the sun and that it will guarantee that it will work. There is no way that the Government can guarantee that it will work.

A gentleman rang Senator Knowles this even- ing and said that he was from Victoria and that he had arrived in Australia as a migrant 18 months ago. On his arrival he was told to get a Medicare card. Within five days he received five Medicare cards, all in different names; all similar but different. Senator Crowley has told us that a person's medical history is private and that details cannot be obtained from Medicare. What rubbish! She calls herself a doctor. If anybody looked at a person's records and saw that that person had been to a psychiatrist five times in a row, he would not have to guess too hard what was wrong. If he found that a person had been to a cardiologist five times in a row he would not have to guess what was wrong. Of course the details are there for any public servant to sell at the drop of a hat. A person's medical history, financial transactions, tax and social welfare history would be there to see for any public servant who cared to look; for any public servant who cared to sell it off.

The Minister has already acknowledged that fake cards could pass. Of course he has to acknowledge that. We have not only fake passports and driving licences, but also fake dollar notes. We know that anything can be forged. As has already been said tonight, once a card is forged it is a true, accurate identification for any criminal. A criminal has only to come along with a forged card and say that it is his identity and it will be accepted by anyone.

Tonight we had a great kerfuffle when Senator Short said that people would have to carry their identity cards with them. A great scream went up by Government members saying that they did not have to carry their cards. We did not have to carry our driver's licences with us once, but we do now. We are told by this Government that we will not have to carry our identity cards. Senator Maguire said that there was an unequivocal promise that we would not have to carry our identity cards. I am sure honourable senators will remember the unequivocal promise of the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke. His words were: `Let me make a promise so that even the Opposition can understand it. There will be no capital gains tax'. What did we get? We got a capital gains tax.


Senator Gareth Evans —One election later. It was not before that election.


Senator WALTERS —Senator Evans says: `One election later'. Ladies and gentlemen, we do not have to carry the card this election but, one election later, we may well have to carry an identity card.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! Senator Walters, you must address your remarks through the Chair and not to the gallery.


Senator WALTERS —I am sorry, Mr Acting Deputy President. Let us note what the Minister has just said. He has said to us that the promise was for one election but at the next election we may well be told that we do have to carry an identity card. That was a freudian slip by the Minister, off the top of his head, which he always makes in this place. I can assure honourable senators that the garrulous gourmet opposite always tells us something truthful. Next year we can expect to have to carry the card. Next year the Government will say to us: `You will carry the card'. From birth onwards one will have a number for life. There is no doubt that we will be carrying the card. There is also no way that this Government or any future government can legislate for individual behaviour. One cannot legislate for human behaviour. There will be no privacy. Public servants will make the identical slip they have already made. They will sell our information to the biggest buyer.