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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3749

Senator VIGOR(9.17) —This identity card legislation is an admission of failure by the Hawke Government. It will be a double failure because not only has the Government failed to control the Public Service and failed against the awesome power of Treasury, which itself has failed to operate properly the existing taxation system, but also it has failed to introduce new ideas to tackle the fundamental questions of tax and social security equity. The Government has also failed because the Australia Card Bill itself will fail tonight. I believe that that will be a just end to it.

This legislation seeks to sweep all manner of administrative and policy deficiencies under the carpet. It is a monstrous sledge-hammer, a sledge-hammer which cannot be effective in achieving its stated purpose but which would expand in a hydra-headed fashion as its failures were noted more and more. Had Ministers demanded better performance from their senior public servants and senior advisers instead of better excuses, there would not have been an apparent need for such a card. If Ministers had thought creatively about smashing the cash economy, they would not have fallen for this one-card trick. Had the Labor Caucus been allowed to examine the matter on its merits, it would not have been party to this unparalleled attack on the privacy of ordinary Australians.

If the ID card legislation were allowed to go through it would cost more than has been estimated. A realistic cost would be around $1 billion. The estimated cost to business and commerce is $2 billion, on top of the cost to government in introducing the new systems which would be necessary to cope with the requirements of the card. The increasing use of electronic mail and electronic transactions make the ID card itself out of date and a complete encumbrance to free trade.

The ID card would have returned less revenue than estimated. The ID card would in no way stop social security fraud as, in fact, from the statistics, only 0.6 per cent of welfare fraud is due to mistaken identity--

Senator Walsh —That is detected.

Senator VIGOR —Sixty-one per cent is due to misstatement of circumstances. So in fact, 0.6 per cent will really not make much difference, since 61 per cent is due to misstatement of circumstances, for the information of Senator Walsh. The ID card will not eliminate tax fraud. The Australian Taxation Office cannot currently cope with the information it already receives. It cannot correlate the interest paid by banks with the declarations made by taxpayers. This, in fact, came out at a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure hearing when the Committee investigated this matter. So how will the Taxation Office do these things with the ID Card? It is unable to match the records supplied by the banks and other financial institutions with taxpayers' returns. It cannot even run a very simple computer system such as that, let alone the type of large computer system that will be involved with the card.

The ID card would not reduce the cash economy. I believe it would encourage it. More and more money would be freed from the need to bank it, because those involved in the cash economy would avoid transactions which involve the use of ID cards. The ID card as proposed could not be secure. A photograph is not as effective as an identification and the need would soon arise for fingerprints. Eventually we would all end up with tattoos. The more the system falls into disrepute the more outrageous will be the calls to fix it. The documentary evidence produced to obtain an ID card is no more secure than the documentation that is currently required when we get a passport. In fact, passports are notoriously easy to forge and falsify. The ID card could be bypassed by people using foreign passports, and loss and theft of ID cards would also throw the system into disarray. I have tried to look into what could be done about this. The theft of ID cards would reduce their effectiveness, especially since they would not be needed daily, according to the Government, and therefore the theft could probably go unnoticed for a considerable amount of time and get people into trouble. The ID card would not affect corporate fraud because ID cards would be issued only to individuals.

The ID card would in fact go even further. It would provide a new bread and butter income for organised crime. Those people now using multiple and false identities would continue to obtain the necessary identifications. The cards would probably be much harder to forge. This would take the supply out of the hands of the small operators and put it into the hands of organised crime operators. People obtaining forged identity cards would be vulnerable to blackmail and become recruitment pools for other criminal activities. The centralised keying of information on all Australians would have a commercial value commensurate with the cost of collecting the information legally, plus, indeed, a scarcity value because of its uniqueness. A complete set of records, I believe, could fetch many billions of dollars through multiple sales to relevant commercial outlets or to criminal organisations. The theft of information could in fact remain secret, since the physical records would remain intact and only the information content would be stolen. The information would therefore attract the attention of top criminals and espionage organisations. Even if theft of records were uncovered, as with the Canadian experience, there would be delays in reporting the loss of records, again, as happened in the Canadian situation when all of this year's taxpayer's records disappeared and we do not know whether or not they were copied.

As a computer professional for over 25 years, I have come across several self-acknowledged computer criminals who have escaped prosecution because large institutions did not want to admit that their records were not secure. One such person applied to me for a job in a consulting organisation of which I was technical director. He told me in open discussion that he had successfully siphoned off millions of pounds by accumulating the rounding error in commissions in the British Central Clearing Bank's computer system. He escaped prosecution because the cost to the banks, in public esteem, of admitting the theft and the actual cost of making restitution to those defrauded would have been a real problem for the banks concerned. I believe that type of thing could happen with the Australia Card. Access to the information would allow criminals to choose victims for kidnapping, blackmail and theft, and it would give them a full pattern of the personal, banking, health and other details and an ability to extract names of suitable targets for any type of activity beyond imagining.

The ID cards would invade our privacy. The information kept on file is liable to error. The cost of getting each individual to check this information at regular intervals would be prohibitive. It would be the same cost as putting it on originally. However, wrong information could have dire consequences for people in their normal living, without those people being aware of those difficulties. The existence of the information would lead to pressure for increased use, and probably most government departments would eventually gain access and contribute to it. No limit is set on how long the information would be kept, nor a requirement to notify a person each time his or her file is accessed. We would not know what information is accessed, for what purpose or by whom. If we had to put in safeguards against those types of uses it would cost a fortune to operate the system. There would be no freedom of information records or safeguards for this use.

Senator Peter Baume —Senator, you are an expert on computers, aren't you?

Senator VIGOR —Yes.

Senator Peter Baume —Do you think it is really dangerous?

Senator VIGOR —I think it is a very dangerous operation. The loss of a card could severely embarrass a person in financial difficulties, or it could even endanger a life if a person needed immediate hospital care. Delays in receiving payment for produce or in finalising a financial deal because the ID card could not be found could well cause financial and health problems for people. In the initial allocation of the ID cards extra identities could be procured. They could be for sale later on the black market. I point out that the current price for a counterfeit driving licence in the Australian Capital Territory is $30. Young kids are buying them so that they can identify themselves as being over 18 and drink alcohol.

The ID card would also be a threat to national security. Those Australians, like me, who were born in continental Europe are aware of the use of ID card records in the Nazi period, in the holocaust, in tracking down Jews. It is not surprising to find a government calling itself national and socialist trying to introduce identity cards here. A dictatorship in Australia or an alien force taking control could use the records as a means of controlling the movements and activities of the whole population or of selectively getting rid of classes, races or individuals who are considered dangerous. A cross-reference information system for the whole population constitutes a threat to national security, from both internal and external enemies. I believe it should be resisted.

There are, however, quite reasonable opportunities to have something different from the ID card, to try to solve the problems which the ID card would never solve. These involve improvements to the current system. We could have improved integrity of the current tax file numbers; increased efficiency in the Tax Office-that is sorely needed; deduction of withholding tax on interest and dividends, on produce and contract payments; improved efficiency of processing information in the Department of Social Security, which would reduce the number of overpayments, and so the temptation to keep those overpayments, which seems to be one of the main ways in which Social Security loses money; a faster response in paying welfare and unemployment benefits so that taking a job for a week would not leave a person destitute for the following ten weeks while his or her employment status is reassessed, and so that short term jobs would be reported instead of being hidden, as they are currently.

We need to streamline bureaucratic regulations and paper works so that people do not shy away from declaring incomes or other relevant details because of the sheer work that is entailed in so doing. Obviously, the Treasurer (Mr Keating) himself has found this problem. We need radical changes to the tax and welfare systems to take the administrative burden off the Taxation Office, off individuals and off welfare workers. We need to remove or at least to decrease substantially taxes on employment and therefore increase incentive for production and productivity. Eventually, income tax should be payable only by the very rich and then at a level which is not punitive. We need to spread income over all dependants so that families are not disadvantaged. We need to put a tax on the use of non-renewable resources and energy to encourage conservation and to compensate Australians for the loss of those resources.

We could in fact solve the problems associated with the ID card and get more taxable income in a fair way if we had a materials-added tax. This is a turnover tax which exempts all labour costs and all inputs on which tax has already been paid. Such a tax would automatically record all transactions so that organised crime could be traced, and the cash economy could be smashed by giving a strong incentive to people in business to declare all labour transactions and previously taxed inputs. Such an indirect taxation would be much less avoidable than the current system. We also need to provide a national support income through some type of negative taxation safety net for all Australians so there is no need to cheat the social security system. People need to have sufficient income to live in dignity and to contribute their share in indirect taxation. We need to tax moneys leaving the country so that speculative and non-productive foreign capital flows in and out of the country are discouraged and so that excesses of imports over exports are taxed. This would stabilise the Australian dollar to its true world market value and do a lot more for the economy than this particular dramatic measure of the ID card. We should also close down the transfer pricing rorts and negative gearing rorts.

I will not spend much time on the privacy aspect of the card. It has been well underlined in this debate that the ID card is a direct attack on the privacy of Australians. The ID card itself, that is a card with a photograph and a signature, standing alone as an identification, is not viewed as a threat in itself. We are all used to carrying some type of identification. If the card is issued to everyone, if the records are held centrally, and if everybody believes in the integrity of the card, which I don't believe can be established, we really have a problem. We can have false use of the card which can cause enormous problems to ordinary people. The ID card is an attempt to use one card for a multiplicity of purposes and, therefore, it requires a multiplicity of personal records to be tied together through one identifier. It is the multiple use of the ID card which requires multiple approval of the card before it is issued and multiple records, all tied back to the one identifier, which multiplies the danger to privacy and integrity in the use of such a card. Moreover, whenever any records are maintained by any agency, or any personal information is changed, there is the potential and the possibility for invasion of privacy.

The first invasion of privacy is neglecting to obtain consent for such information to be kept. This is often an implied corollary to accepting a particular service such as banking or medical services. The privacy of such records is protected by law and by custom. Consent is needed for any records which contain information allowing the person referred to to be indentified individually. This card removes that particular protection.

The second invasion of privacy comes from neglecting to check the accuracy of records which are kept, either mandatory or by consent. Many cases are known of people who have suffered loss of employment through mistaken police or security records, or loss of business through inaccurate credit information being given out. It must be mandatory for people keeping records to have their accuracy checked and, if necessary, challenged by the person whom that record concerns.

The third invasion of privacy comes through the disclosure to third parties of information kept on record. Permission to disclose the information must be given by the person concerned and a list kept for that person of all such disclosures, including details disclosed and to whom. Privacy legislation is necessary to safeguard all these elements, both in government records and in commercial and private files. I commend the Privacy Bill, which is a first attempt at such legislation by the Government and look forward to its speedy passage through the Parliament. We will be moving the modifications necessary to maintain the independence of the Data Protection Agency from the ID card.

The Australia Card is a result of minds manipulated by fear and control. The very name reveals the Government's desperation to dress its proposal in a cloak of false nationalism. It is a fascist concept which, were it to succeed, would change the character of Australia, restrict the freedom of Australians and increase the immorality of our society, as I stated. It fails to come to grips with the economic crisis in which this country is plunged. It offers the same glib, simplistic solutions which have undermined Australian industry over the last 40 years. It is a useless cost burden on the Australian people. It is an indictment of the foresight and planning ability of this national socialist Government. It should be cast into the dustbins of history.

Senator Maguire —That is a slur on the people of South Australia.

Senator VIGOR —Senator Maguire is both a socialist and a member of a national government. I urge the Senate to maintain the freedoms of Australians. I am glad to help in the rejection of this pathetic legislation.