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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1661


Senator WEST(9.17) —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. Before I commence my speech on the Australia Card Bill I would like to take the opportunity to thank those who supported my entry into this place, especially my parents and my husband. I also wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, the Hon. Douglas McClelland, who I know will do a sterling job representing Australia at the Aus- tralian High Commission in London. I am sure that I speak on behalf of all honourable senators when I wish him the best of times there.

The Australia Card is an issue in which I have had an interest and an involvement from day one. Prior to my entry into this place I worked for the honourable member for Calare (Mr Simmons) in the other place. It is well known in many places and by many people that David Simmons is the father of the Australia Card. I discussed the proposition of a national identification card with him prior to his taking it to the Australian Labor Party Caucus in April of 1985 as a notice of motion and I was delighted to see the subsequent acceptance of it by the Caucus.

We remember the delight we experienced when it was actually incorporated as a part of the tax package later that year. But more importantly, I remember the reception it received from members of parliament of the conservative parties. There was a lot of favourable comment and support and I remember the public statements of support from Opposition members of parliament and candidates. In fact, I have a selection of quotes from Opposition members of this chamber and the other place and if I have time towards the end of my speech I might remind people of what was said then.

One Opposition member in another place even advocated the use of fingerprints to obtain an accurate national identification system. Something has happened since then because we have seen in the conservative parties a change in attitude. They are no longer gung ho about the issue. They are opposed to its introduction. The matter was referred to the Joint Committee on an Australia Card chaired by Senator Terry Aulich. The report of that Committee was not unanimous but even the report signed by Opposition members of the Committee referred to essential reforms. These essential reforms included the computerisation of all birth, death and marriage certificates and the accessing of those records by certain Federal Government departments. Such provisions are included in the current Bill. In rejecting the Bill before the Senate, honourable senators opposite who agreed on the need for computerisation of birth, death and marriage certificates will reject this important step. In fact, Mr Blunt and Mr Porter in the other place both called for the use of birth and marriage certificates now as methods of identification and for centralising and computerisation of birth, death and marriage records. In 30 out of the last 36 years the Opposition parties have had the opportunity to come forward with the reputable method which they now oppose and criticise.

The report also calls for the Commonwealth to establish an independent statutory body, known as the Data Protection Agency, to control the collection and use of personal data. The Data Protection Agency is incorporated in this Bill, yet still the Opposition is opposing the introduction of the Bill. The agency will be a watchdog to protect against infringements of personal privacy. It will play a pivotal role in the Government's commitment to providing citizens with a right to information and a mechanism to ensure accountability of all officials. The creation of the agency is a manifestation of the Government's firm determination that citizens in Australia maintain their civil liberties at a time when computer technology may be seen as putting their individual privacy under unprecedented threat.

The Data Protection Agency will have a number of very important functions, including the reviewing of decisions made by the Health Insurance Commission on Australia Card matters; the investigation of complaints about any infringements of privacy arising from the Australia Card program; and the issuing of guidelines controlling the use of cards, the accuracy of data and the confidentiality of information. I would suggest that the Australia Card will be the only system which will have in-built confidentiality and privacy safeguards.

We all have a number of credit cards on us. I challenge honourable senators to tell me how much access they have to the information that is stored on their files relating to those cards. I challenge honourable senators to tell me to whom or to what organisation that information may be given or sold.

We are all aware of credit agencies and of the apparent cross-flow of information between these bodies. I find it offensive to receive unsolicited letters or visits from people or organisations seeking to sell me things. Probably the most interesting campaign that I experienced was the American Express campaign when it was targeting professional females to become carriers of American Express cards. I do not know where it got my name from and I do not know any more about it. All I know is that on several occasions a letter addressed to me arrived in the mail-the first time I sent it back with a cursory note-and American Express invited me to join that organisation. It then invited me to provide it with all this information: My name, age, sex, marital status, occupation, who my employer was, what my salary was, where I lived, where I lived five years ago or some such information, and almost where I planned to live in five years time, whether I drove a car and what my commitments were. All of this sort of information was requested of me. I might add that I did not take up this offer.

Interestingly, and something that causes me to wonder, is that if I had filled in that form, what rights would I have had to check that that information was correctly recorded. We all know that when we receive Bankcards or Visa cards directly from our banks-it has happened to me, as I have received cards in the mail and I have used them-we have been given a credit limit. The banks have also been able to write to me some time later and say: `Your credit limit has been raised'. I can understand that I probably have a good credit rating with the banks, but it still does not sit very freely or happily with me. It is an invasion of my privacy. I know that I do not have the right to inspect my full file on this.

I would also ask honourable senators opposite to tell me what access they have to check the information that is kept on computer files by private organisations with which they may or may not have an agreement. I did not have an agreement with American Express but it was certainly chasing me up. People appear happy to have a wallet full of credit cards and to enter into various arrangements and yet have no access to the information that is stored, to check its accuracy or to look at who else has access to that particular file. Yet those opposite come in here and complain about the invasion of privacy which they claim will occur under the Australia Card. Here we have a simple identification card of high integrity which has the protection of the Data Protection Agency. This means that the carrier is entitled to know and see what is held on his or her file and to know who has accessed that file. Every time the file is accessed it must be recorded. The Data Protection Agency also gives us the right to correct incorrect information.

The report also called for the Department of Social Security to conduct a progressive review of proof of identity for all existing pension recipients and all current unemployment beneficiaries whose claims were determined before the introduction of the new procedures. In their speeches in the other place Mr Blunt and Mr Porter called for similar action. The same thing has been called for here. It has failed to be acknowledged that the Department of Social Security has tightened up quite considerably the proof required to establish identity. There are reviews under way to check the long term unemployed. The work test is being applied and has been tightened up. Surely honourable senators know from the constituents coming across their doors that low income people are sometimes experiencing difficulties now in providing the information necessary to prove their identity. Surely they know that three pieces of identifying material are required to be produced. The poor people feel that their civil liberties are already reduced.

As Senator Aulich said, civil rights and liberties are the property of the middle class. There is a widely held perception in the community that it is all too easy to defraud the social security system and that far too many people do just that, either by way of false identity or by not declaring income received. In short, the community no longer has confidence that its tax dollar is doing what it should for those in need or even going to those in need. This is not a new concern. It has been spoken about for quite some time. When we introduce a method to overcome the problem we find that we are being opposed.

By association, even honest and needy welfare recipients are often unfairly classified as cheats. Using the card will reduce social security cheating. It will greatly increase community respect for all genuinely needy pensioners and beneficiaries. It will increase public confidence in the value of the Government's welfare programs. It will make the community more accepting of the need to pay taxes to support the genuinely needy. It will allow the billions of dollars clawed back from the welfare cheats and, I might say, from the tax avoiders and evaders, to be redistributed to the genuinely needy, raising their standard of living. More jobs will also be created for the unemployed by forcing many illegal immigrants out of employment. Establishing identity conclusively is a problem for many pensioners and beneficiaries. Having established their identity once to obtain a card, such persons will find it much easier to establish or re-establish their identity with the Department of Social Security on an ongoing basis.

The Opposition talked freely about using people's birth and marriage certificates as proof of identity. That would mean that honest people would be forced to disclose things they may not feel are the business of clerks or the Government, things such as children born out of wedlock and parents who have never married. As someone who is very involved in family research, I know how sensitive people can be to these matters. Yet those opposite do not seem to care very much about the feelings of people. The methods they propose will cause a great deal of unnecessary hurt and embarrassment to people every time they have to produce these documents to prove their identity.

In the majority report there is talk of extending the use of tax files numbers to cover all financial transactions proposed in the Government's submission for the use of the Australia Card number by the Australian Taxation Office as well as for social security purposes. The report also calls for increased integrity in the Medicare system and, obviously, the continuation of an independent register for Medicare. There is no talk of cost. What appears to be wanted is a duplication of the system. I put it to honourable senators that that would not involve a small cost.

Probably the only point of divergence between the report and this Bill is to call for the tax file number integrity to be upgraded to that of the proposed Australia Card number-in other words, the tax file number versus the Australia Card number. The majority recommendation in chapter 4.12 (d) (iii) states that all other taxpayers and persons who do not currently possess a tax file number verify their identification to the same level of integrity as proposed under the Australia Card. This, to me, indicates a couple of things. Obviously the integrity of the Australia Card is not in question. It is a system of high integrity. They also appear to believe that the Australia Card system and the integrity involved therein are something that should be emulated by the tax file number.

Another point, however, is that that statement appears to have greater faith in the human nature of tax avoiders and evaders than has previously been established. I want to know how we are to identify those taxpayers or persons who do not have a tax file number. Are we to go out into the community and say: `Hands up those who don't have a tax file number or who aren't paying tax'? For the last 86 years such people have not paid tax to the Federal Government and I do not see that they will change because we think they should. Several million unclaimed group certificates are sitting in Taxation Office offices around Australia-obviously unclaimed by people who are not able to be identified by their taxation returns. People are moonlighting and working under assumed names. I suggest that they will never be found by the Taxation Office to be given a tax file number. They do not want to be found, to start with.

If we were to plan to catch them we would need an absolute army of people to police this. No member of the Opposition has ever said how this would be policed or at what cost. For an Opposition that is claiming to be about cutting government spending and cutting the size of the public sector I want to know how it would get greater integrity into the tax file number and also police and chase up those without numbers and chase up the avoiders and the evaders. Under its policy of cutting government spending and the number of public sector employees, is this something else that will be privatised? The Taxation Office also readily admits that the tax file number was never intended as a unique identification number. There are numerous false identities in the system, and the lack of documentation, secure or otherwise, effectively removes from users the ability to ensure that the number presented is the rightful number of the bearer. In Mr Porter's contribution in the other place he said:

We will require all interest-paying institutions to record the name, address and date of birth of account holders so the information can be matched with tax returns.

There is no mention of how it is expected that institutions will verify that the names, addresses and dates of birth are accurate. I also say that a number of people-it is commonly said that it is women who do not like their ages being made public-are not too fussed about their dates of birth being public property. One presumes that if one of the pieces of information does not match the account will not be matched to the tax file. The paper work of cross-referencing all this is mind-boggling, especially when one realises that it could all be matched together very simply by the use of the Australia Card.

May I ask members of the Parliament here, in relation to this Bill, how many addresses they operate out of and maybe how many names they operate under. I operate out of my residential address and, as I have just been married and moved address, two addresses are still kicking around on pieces of paper. I operate out of an electorate office with a street number. I operate a post office box for work. I also have a Parliament House address and phone numbers. The work of having to collate all of those different variables is monumental, and it would be far more expensive than the use of the Australia Card. The Australia Card will ensure that people who hold those accounts are who they say they are and that there is a common link between the individual and his sources of income. The Opposition shadow Minister also mentioned, as did honourable senators opposite, that the Opposition would impose strict identification procedures on recipients of social security payments, requiring the use of prime documents such as birth, marriage and citizenship certificates. They failed to say when they intend to do anything about improving the integrity of those documents. They have had 30 years out of the past 36 years to do something about it.

Very interestingly, today's Bulletin published a poll. The good old `Bullie' has been around for many years. I think that the statistics that it came up with are well worth considering. They show that, in November of last year, 66 per cent of people polled supported the introduction of an ID card. In March of this year, 69 per cent of people surveyed supported an ID card. Fifty-seven per cent of Liberal Party voters were in favour of an ID card and 82 per cent of Australian Labor Party voters. That shows good sense on the part of ALP members. An interesting little number did not give a voting preference. However, 70 per cent of swinging voters favour the introduction of an ID card. Those figures are very significant. It indicates to me that the average person is sick and tired of social security overpayments and tax avoidance and evasion.

This Government is offering a solution to help overcome the problems. That solution is one of high integrity and it has safeguards for privacy. The Opposition is offering a weak alternative which will not be as cost effective, and which offers no protection of privacy. In fact, it will cause hurt, anguish, worry and embarrassment to many honest people, especially the aged and poor in our community.

Senator Bjelke-Petersen said that the card was intrusive. I wish to quote from a media release of 13 January 1985 by the Hon. Neville Harper, the then Minister for Justice and Attorney-General in Queensland. The Press release stated:

The first 146 Queenslanders eligible to obtain an electoral identification card should receive letters inviting them to apply for the card later this week.

Eighteen year old Queenslanders who decide to apply for the identity card will have a photograph taken at either the Chief Electoral Office in Brisbane or at selected Court Houses throughout the State . . .

The Government hoped that by providing the Electoral identity card to eighteen year olds, the incidence of under-age drinking would be substantially reduced, as publicans and operations of other licensed premises such as restaurants and discos would be able to obtain conclusive proof of age from people they suspected might not be of legal drinking age.

The cards will contain a photograph of the holder together with their date of birth and signature.

Mr Harper urged young people who turned eighteen to apply for enrolment on the State Electoral roll and for their identity card as soon as possible after their eighteenth birthday and not to wait until just before an election.

We also heard how Queensland has introduced, or is about to introduce, photographic licences. I fully commend those steps; I do not oppose them at all. However, I want to know what privacy, what rights, people whose photographs are taken and upon whom, obviously, there is a file will have to check that the information is, firstly, correct and, secondly, who else has access to it and what it actually says. I could not stress that important point too often.

We also heard that the card will cost private industry $2 billion a year, I think. Those figures are totally inaccurate. They are based on a false premise. They were based on some very early estimations as to what the cost might be to the public sector when about 16 or 18 departments were likely to be involved. We know that only three departments will be involved and that, therefore, the cost will be much lower. Therefore, the figure of $2 billion is obviously just plucked out of the air. There have also been comments flying around that 2,000 extra public servants will have to be employed. Some extra public servants will be employed on a contract basis to start the ball rolling. What we do not hear from the Opposition is how many extra public servants will be required to implement all its calls for greater safeguards, increased policing and all these types of things. We hear nothing about that. Those questions have to be answered by the Opposition.

We also keep hearing that there will not be many great savings in social security. That is, of course, completely inaccurate. The Government has not stated that there will be no savings. Department officials have said that it is difficult to quantify the extent of welfare fraud and therefore the level of savings. However, a number of specific large false identity cases provide a pointer to the extent of the problem. As the Joint Select Committee said:

While the Committee accepts the Department's difficulty in establishing the amount of social security fraud due to false identities, it believes there is still significant fraud within this area. The Committee is concerned about the cases involving individuals with large numbers of false identities which come to light from time to time.

I might add that this is part of the Committee's report which was signed by everybody. The Committee went on to say:

During the inquiry the Committee became aware of a number of unsourced estimates of social security fraud ranging between $200-$500 million per annum. These figures gain further support from a recent internal paper prepared by the Department.

These figures exist and those opposite are ignoring them. That is something we cannot do. Senator Bjelke-Petersen spoke also of favouring work for the dole-for unemployment benefit-and also having to report to the Department of Social Security to receive payments. I suggest to the honourable senator that this poses problems for people who live in rural areas where there are no Commonwealth Employment Service or Social Security offices-small isolated rural areas where there is not a great deal of employment and where employment is casual. The honourable senator is expecting those people to report to the Department to collect money.

It has been said also by an Opposition member in another place that he thinks it is a good idea for people just to sweep the streets three times a day and it would not matter if the same section of the street was swept. Those things are very degrading and humiliating to people. If they are genuinely unemployed-and with the Australia Card we will reduce fraudulent social security payments-that is adding humiliation and degradation to a situation in which they are already experiencing difficulties.

I would like to conclude by mentioning some interesting things that have happened in relation to groups opposed to the introduction of an Australia Card. When I was working for the honourable member for Calare a number of groups opposed to the introduction of the card wrote letters to the office. All these groups received a reply but it was very interesting to receive the letters back from the post office marked `No such number', `caravan park' or `not known at this address'. They raised some rather interesting questions in the backs of our minds about why these people were opposed to the introduction of a national identification system. In finishing, I will quote comments that many people make to me when they learn that I support the introduction of an Australia Card. The most frequent comment is: `I have nothing to hide. I am proud of my identity, of my name. I am proud of being an Australian and anyone in opposition to an identity card has something to hide.'

Honourable senators-Hear, hear!