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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3747

Senator WATSON(9.04) —Given the importance of this Australia Card to the Australian Labor Party I ask: Why did the Government introduce this legislation into the Senate in the last stages of the 1986 Budget session? Why did it then decide to bring the Senate back for two days just to test this legislation here? The consequences of this Labor Party grandstanding in this particular manner will be far-reaching for that Party, given the incidents that occurred late this afternoon in the Senate. This draconian legislation is using the latest technology available in Australia. Just as the dawn of an electronic world has burst upon our society, it is not surprising that this Australian Labor Party Government has been keen to latch on to plastic cards and computers to exercise a George Orwellian control over Australian society. More subtly, many in the Australian Labor Party see this mechanism being used to control individual behaviour.

Senator Cook —You don't need to pay fair taxes, do you?

Senator WATSON —As a senator from Senator Cook's side said this afternoon, it is no more than a licence to exist. Others who are less radical than Senator Cook perhaps see it as some sort of mechanism to maximise revenue collections, to discharge government responsibilities, including the dispensing of social justice. But the retail credit card, the Medicare card, the pass card and the authority card, with their numerals, the person's name and sometimes a photo embossed on the front, are all part of this new scene with which we are becoming familiar. To this list this Hawke-led Labor Government now wishes to add the identification card for every Australian citizen. At birth everybody will be given a number for life. The Government will therefore be able to identify continuously everybody's medical treatment, everybody's significant financial transactions, all one's employment engagements-just at the press of a button.

The law in this field is quite deficient, despite the fact that the legislation is being accompanied by two other Bills, the Privacy Bill 1986 and the Privacy Bill (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986. I submit that these Bills in themselves are also deficient in assisting the privacy of the individual. Not only in this field of electronic banking is the law deficient, but it has not kept abreast of the technical wizardry of the designers of the machines, whose owners keep them in units in central locations which are operated by pass keys and pass numbers through literally tens of thousands of terminals spread all over Australia, in country and city areas alike.

We have before us this evening a Bill which has the mechanisms for introducing and operating an identification system. But at the same time we do not have the proper safeguards for the individual. It is the conditions that are attached to this Australia Card that are the frightening features of the legislation before us tonight. This package of Bills is quite deficient in any proper safeguards to protect the privacy and the integrity of the individual. I think it is the integrity of the individual that is perhaps of most prime importance, because time and time again we have seen this chamber used to denigrate the integrity of individuals who cannot respond in an appropriate way to protect their own privacy, individuality and integrity.

One Labor senator said that this is the time, this is the opportunity, this is the debate, when we should be debating the protection of privacy. I would like to contend that, surely, this attitude is at variance with the leadership of his own Party. This is an admission by a Labor senator that the Bill is deficient. The Australian Labor Party has brought this Bill in here in the hope of one Labor senator that we will have a nice debate to overcome the problems of lack of privacy in this legislation. I believe that that senator has been conned and misled and he will be carried away with the tide of Labor Party opinion.

This information is supposed to be kept secret, available only to a limited number of specified individuals who are mentioned in the Bill, but we have seen that an increasingly large number of bodies are able to get access to information from the Australian Tax Office. Sometimes the integrity of the information available to those bodies is not as strong as within the Tax Office, so the information can be misused, abused and spread around the community. Naturally, given the electronic world in which we live and the control it will have over individuals, unauthorised access can be a consequence of the use of electronic impulse systems. For example, the doctors in dispute with the New South Wales Government some months ago soon realised this to their detriment, when their remuneration became available through the Commonwealth Medicare computers to State Government personnel.

Few issues have come before the Senate which have seen Australians as divided as they are on the matter of this identification card. This division, as we saw this afternoon, does not follow traditional party affiliations. It is unfortunate that many of the Labor Party senators, in speaking to this Bill, used arguments that were debunked by a Senate Committee which threw out those sorts of arguments in its report some time ago. All of the quotations from statements of certain Liberal Party of Australia people who were in favour of an Australia Card were made well before that Senate report, well before those people saw the legislation and the draconian conditions that attached to this card. The Liberal Party is united when confronted with this sort of legislation, brought up by the Labor Party to take away the rights and integrity of individuals.

The Fabian Society within the Labor Party sees this legislation as a great leap forward as a control over individuals. Less radical members believe that it is one more way of adding some armoury to a system of cracking down on social security problems and trying to collect some more revenue in the Tax Office, despite the lethargy of inaction from the Tax Office and the Department of Social Security. The efficiency audit report of the Auditor-General into the Tax Office has been quoted frequently. That report said that the Tax Office was not using its financial resources to acquire the latest technology for cross-referencing and was not applying its personnel in the most efficient way to overcome some of the problems of tax avoidance. The Australia Card will in no way overcome the problems of the cash economy and it will barely touch the problems of social security fraud.

The Committee of Public Accounts examined very closely about 12 months ago some of the problems of social security fraud. The Committee dismissed the idea of an identity card being able to rectify the problems in this area in an efficient way and said that it is an administrative problem which has to be accounted for in a different way. I remind people listening today that that Committee was an all-party Committee dominated by the Australian Labor Party.

I remind the Senate that this card can be reproduced by forgery. Therefore, while I acknowledge that it might be able to assist in some areas, such as in the detection of petty offences and petty criminals, it will provide the mechanism for the very big cheats-the rorters, as they are called in this place-to get away with crime. Those people will be able to have access to forged cards and documents and, therefore, will be able to go on a rampage of unprecedented abuse. This Australia Card could assist those with real criminal intent. So what is the Government going to do? It will provide a mechanism for catching the little people, the small offenders. We are told that the card will do very little to prevent illegal immigration. As I have said, while some concede that there are some benefits from the limited use of a plastic card, the onerous provisions that the Labor Party is attaching to this card are truly horrifying for anybody who has any concern about the future of democracy in this country, for anybody who is concerned about civil liberties issues.

There is tremendous doubt as to whether this card will be cost effective. However, it is certain that there will be an enormous increase in the size of the bureaucracy. There will be bigger government. As I have said, Frank Costigan believes that it will do very little to stop organised crime. Computer matching programs will effectively place everybody under surveillance, not just those suspected of illegal conduct. Therefore, this Bill is just going too far for ordinary Australians. They will not accept legislation which gives government and ultimately private sector agencies access to an information record without the consent of the data subject. I believe that on this day, the 38th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, this human rights infringing Australia Card will be defeated in the Senate. It is appropriate that this legislation, introduced by the Labor Party, be defeated in the Senate tonight, on the last day of sitting.