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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1659

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(9.01) —On 10 December last year when the Australia Card legislation was before the Senate, I voiced my concern about this Bill. I said that I considered it to be one of the most damaging and intrusive pieces of legislation to come up in this country. I am still of that opinion, and I intend to vote against the legislation once again. It is just the same legislation that is before us this evening as was put up on the previous occasion. I do not feel it necessary to reiterate tonight all that I said on the previous occasion. However, I believe that it is an unAustralian proposition which is unacceptable to a great number of people and I do not believe that the majority of Australians really support this Bill. Why does the Government want to bring in a Bill like this? The Government says that a lot of money is lost through tax cheating and social security fraud. I do not believe that this Australia Card identity system is an effective way to beat the tax and social security cheats.

Senator Bolkus —You are not worried about tax cheats. What about Queensland?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I have no desire to protect tax cheats, illegal immigrants, the cash economy or social welfare fraud. I believe that all Australians have a responsibility to pay their taxes, as I do, and as I am sure Senator Bolkus, who keeps on interrupting, does, because we have to. People want to be honest with the social welfare system. If they are not, I believe that they should be justly punished. I am as opposed as anybody else to those who defraud this country of billions of dollars each year, but it is the way in which the Government has sought to deal with these people that upsets me.

The purported aim of the Australia Card Bill is to create a national system of identification to facilitate the administration and operation of Commonwealth laws relating to taxation, social security, medical and hospital benefits and immigration. But it will do far more than that. I believe that the Australia Card is a very sinister intrusion into the privacy and freedom of all Australians, and these we very much treasure. It is Big Brother alive and well in 1987.

Senator Robert Ray —Your bodyguard has turned up.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I am very pleased to see Senator Boswell come into the chamber. I believe that he will not interfere or interject in the same way as Labor Party members have been interjecting on me. I think that they are all very annoyed because quorums have been called, so they decided that they would stay and give me a hard time. But that is all right. At least I enjoy having somebody take an interest in what I am saying. That is very important indeed. Many prominent Australians have raised serious concern about the invasion of privacy involved in a national ID card. Justice Michael Kirby and Mr Frank Costigan are two people I can name in that regard. I point out that the ID card is an extravagant, expensive and bureaucratic waste of taxpayers' money. On the Government's figures alone it is estimated that it will cost $1 billion to set up. Those are the Government's figures. I draw attention to the fact also that when the new Parliament House cost was estimated it was nothing like the $1 billion that it will cost now. It has blown out of all proportion and it certainly leaves me wondering by how much the cost of the Australia Card could blow out.

Another point that is not mentioned very often is the cost to private industry. The Australian Labor Party does not care about private industry at all, so it would not worry if it was a great cost to private industry. There is no doubt that it will cost private industry an enormous sum of money. An additional $2 billion has even been suggested. What about the 2,000 or more public servants who will be required for the administration of the card, as well as the cost to State and local governments? I do not think that the Labor Party has taken that into consideration at all.

Senator Boswell —They don't understand business.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I agree with Senator Boswell, who is an expert on small business. The Labor Party does not know too much about business at all, it knows only about trade unions. According to the Labor Party, the Australia Card supposedly, firstly, will reduce tax avoidance; secondly, reduce social welfare fraud; thirdly, expose organised crime; and fourthly, reduce illegal immigration. It is extremely doubtful that the Australia Card will do any such thing. The Australian Taxation Office cannot even give accurate estimates of the amount of revenue that might be saved by an ID card, but no ID card system can stamp out the major unchecked area of evasion, namely, the cash economy.

Senator Robert Ray —Howard in 1979 supported it.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —If all Senator Ray can complain about is what John Howard did in 1979, that is a pretty poor response, as far as I am concerned. The Department of Social Security has confirmed that an ID card will do little to solve social security fraud, because most fraud takes the form of overpayment of benefits, not false identity. The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has said that the ID card is not likely to do much at all to prevent illegal immigration. What we desperately need to combat social security fraud is better management of the Department of Social Security. If it followed its own identification procedures to the letter, fraud would be greatly restricted. I read a little piece in the paper about that today. While there is a case for requiring welfare recipients to be identified, I cannot see why people who have never drawn welfare in their lives should have to have an ID card. People like that should not be lumped in with those people who cheat the welfare system. That is very wrong. Indeed, public discussion of the measure has been quite inadequate. How many people know that the Australia Card Bill runs to 130 closely printed pages?

Senator Robert Ray —I do.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —If Senator Ray wants to make a speech, let him get up afterwards and say something. He can talk about my speech then. How many people realise that this measure will authorise and require the most extraordinary invasions of privacy of every Australian; however innocent he or she may be of any welfare or tax cheating? The penalties for failure to comply will be harsh-$20,000 if the ID card is not produced when opening a deposit account with any financial institution. I believe that people who are on social security should have to report before they can collect their social security payments. This should also apply to people who are on the dole. I really believe that all those who are getting the dole should have to report before they can collect the money. Cheques should not be sent off to them while they are having a lovely time lying on beaches somewhere up in north Queensland. I have always believed that people should work before they can get the dole.

Senator Robert Ray —What did Joh do to get the 400 grand off Bond?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —That has nothing to do with this ID card. The National Party of Australia supports genuine efforts to crack down further on tax avoidance, social welfare fraud, organised crime and illegal immigration, but it believes that there are more effective, less costly and less intrusive ways of achieving those ends. In order to get a card in the first place one will have to have a photograph taken. I accept the fact that up in Queensland one now has to have a photograph taken in order to get a drivers licence, but this card will have every little bit of information about a person on it and I do not believe that that is necessary. The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio that everyone will have a card, regardless of age.

Senator Macklin —Georges has got a card and I have got one too.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Yes, I received one too this afternoon, Senator Macklin, but I do not intend to carry it around all the same. I wonder whether it would perhaps be better to put a brand on one's head or wrist or something like that if the Government is so concerned about having all the information on the identity card.

Despite what the Government has said, the possibilities of duplication of the ID card are enormous. It has been suggested that there are already tens of thousands of duplicate Medicare cards in circulation. The fact that the ID card will have to be updated every few years could mean that there will be duplication of cards in abundance within a number of years. It would be very naive for us to believe that there will be no forgeries of the ID card. Of course there will be.

Almost all businesses and industries will have to change their systems and this will especially hit the small business sector. I know that Senator Boswell will be very upset about that. The banks will need to change their customer account systems to allow information to be supplied to the Australian Taxation Office in the form required.

Senator Maguire said that it would not be compulsory to carry the card. Perhaps it will not be compulsory but, as I understand it, under Labor's proposals one will have to present the card if one wants to deposit or withdraw money from a bank, be admitted as an in-patient to a hospital, get a job, claim Medicare benefits or sell primary produce through a marketing authority. What will happen to someone who sells cattle through television sales? How will the Government manage to cope with that? These are all such silly ideas. One will need to produce the card to buy or sell real estate or if one deals in any financial transaction such as buying or selling of shares. In other words, unless one wants to be inconvenienced one will have to carry the ID card at all times. I do not believe that that is right. The business community has already pointed out that the legislation in its present form is unworkable. I have received many letters from the business community about this and I have no doubt that Government senators have also received them. I would not be surprised if Dr Blewett himself received such letters. That is probably why he decided that he would make amendments to the Bill. However, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Labor Caucus said: `Do not do that. Take it back to the Senate just as it is so that it will be grounds for a double dissolution. If it does not pass it we can have it as a double dissolution Bill'. For some reason the Prime Minister has now decided in his wisdom-what wisdom he has-that he will not have a double dissolution election. That is very nice of him. It will give us a lot of time to get organised. The Prime Minister did not take any notice of Dr Blewett's amendments. The legislation was reintroduced in its original form. It is not going to be used now as a trigger for a double dissolution but in any case I have no intention of changing my mind and voting for this legislation to introduce an Australia Card. I want to put that on record.

I thank honourable senators opposite for helping to make my speech much more interesting than it would have been if they had not been in the chamber listening to me. I intend to vote against the Australia Card Bill as I did on the previous occasion.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Before I call Senator West I remind honourable senators that this will be Senator West's first speech in this place and I ask that the usual courtesies be extended.