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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1666


Senator JESSOP(9.44) —I congratulate Senator West on her maiden speech. I observe that the Senate treated her as a political maiden in her speech. Despite the controversial nature of the debate, she was treated in an appropriate way. She did challenge the Opposition on certain aspects of the Australia Card, and perhaps later on in my speech I will respond to some of those challenges. When the Australia Card Bill was first debated last year I was, unfortunately, not able to participate in the debate as I was in South America at an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference representing the Australian Parliament. When the Australia Card was first suggested I was not entirely opposed to the idea, as a majority of the coalition shadow ministry was.


Senator Aulich —At least you gave it a hearing before they garrotted you.


Senator JESSOP —I certainly want to apprehend tax cheats and dole bludgers as much as anyone else in this Senate. When the Australia Card was initially proposed I thought it would help to do just that. However, the cynicism of Ministers, members and senators of the Government has reached a peak in their bringing this deficient Bill back to the chamber. I am not surprised that many in the community support the idea of an identification card, because the Government has concentrated on the card itself rather than on the information system lurking behind the card, as Senator Georges would appreciate.

Leaving that aside, Senator Richardson cited the Morgan poll published today in the latest Bulletin, which shows that support for the card has risen by 3 per cent since the last poll, in November 1986. I believe the poll was a disgrace to Mr Morgan, who can only share with the Hawke Government the blame for obscuring the nature of the proposed surveillance system. The Bulletin said:

A cross-section of 897 people aged 14 and over was interviewed on March 21 and 22 for the poll. Respondents were first told the government is considering providing everyone with an Australia Card, which will look like a credit card or a Medicare card and will contain only essential information such as name, identification number and, for people over 18, a colour photograph. They were then asked, `Do you favour or oppose the introduction of these identification cards?'

Those surveyed were then asked, `It's been said the card is an invasion of privacy. Do you agree or disagree with that?'

Not only is Mr Morgan guilty of misrepresenting the nature of this system for which the card is but a front but also he has demonstrated just how unprofessional he is-a fact which I trust businessmen thinking of doing business with him will bear in mind. The result of the poll not only reflects a lack of professionalism on the part of Mr Morgan but at the same time denotes one of the difficulties being experienced by a number of organisations that are endeavouring to demonstrate the dangers of the card to the public.

Many people are ignorant of the true nature of the individual identification system called the Australia Card because Dr Blewett has misrepresented the nature of the system. There is no doubt that once people understand that there is an ominous shadow lurking behind this benign sounding card, they will change their minds about its desirability. Since the early days when the card was first suggested I have investigated the whole concept of this system much more carefully. I am now totally opposed to it for the following reasons: Firstly, the Australia Card will set up a centralised data system or register on virtually every Australian citizen under the pretext of preventing a small minority of people from abusing the tax and social security systems. I believe that there are more direct and less expensive ways of targeting these cheats without having to invade the privacy of every Australian.

Secondly, the Government says that the Australia Card is not an internal passport and that people can be required to produce the card only by certain authorities. However, the Government knows full well that once the card becomes operative its use will spread into all facets of Australian life just as it has done in Sweden. Senator West, for example, should profit by the Swedish experience. In that connection, the privacy committee of her State of New South Wales recorded the following quotation from a Swedish journalist:

In Sweden the social code numbers float around everywhere. They are used in libraries and book clubs, by credit card companies and insurance companies, they turn up on all sorts of private and public identity cards, public transport cards included. Your football club your chess club and the political party you belong to, all take up your social card number, every Swedish citizen is caught in a cobweb of computerised information, just waiting for the spider.

I think Senator Georges would like that quote. In 1976, in response to public concern about privacy and data protection, the Swedish Government seriously considered abandoning its national ID numbering system but predictably the high cost of eliminating it from the entrenched position that it held in Swedish society ensured that the system would survive. Early last year 15,000 Swedes discovered that they were un- knowing guinea pigs in a `cradle to grave' survey. The project continued under three successive governments over a period of 20 years. The numbers of most Swedes are recorded on over 100-believe it or not-databanks in the public and private sectors.

Recorded medical, educational, welfare, police, employment and other records were assessed without consent in a massive secret, sociological study called Project Metropolitan. Unbelievably, Swedish government authorities had waived privacy restrictions to allow that study. Records were finally de-identified after a split decision of the Data Inspection Board. The sociologist said that it was far too costly to get consent and that the subjects of most interest to them might refuse. In Sweden privacy is shrinking and data protection specialists are increasingly worried about the computerised future, according to a Mr Jan Freese, who is the retiring Chairman of the Swedish Data Inspection Board. He said:

The side effects of information technology were little thought of by its pioneers.

The Swedish public sector, according to Freese, has become `a dangerous benevolent bureaucracy'. Another authority referred to Sweden as a nation of contented slaves. The Data Inspection Board, to which I think Senator West referred although she did not call it a board, upon which the Hawke Government's Data Protection Agency is modelled, has unanimously found that privacy protection in Sweden has become more limited.

Mr Freese added that hucksters in the public sector information temples, as he put it, have taken it upon themselves to sell more and more information about Swedish citizens. For example, change of address information is sold by the Swedish Post Office to direct mail organisations. Senator West said she has three or four addresses. Government senators who believe that a data protection agency will prevent this erosion of citizens' privacy should heed this final quotation of Mr Freese:

It may be looked upon as a timidity for me to leave after a dozen years as head of the Data Inspection Board. I knew what I was going when I reached my decision. To jump off the merry-go-round when you can no longer control the speed, can also be looked upon as responsibility-responsibility not to take further responsibility.

A Swedish-Australian from Cooma contacted my office last week to beg me to vote against this Bill. He had sent his daughter to Sweden for one year's schooling and he claimed that while she was in Sweden she had to produce her card before she could even hire a horse to have a ride. As for the claim for detecting crime in Sweden, it must be said that the Swedish card certainly has not helped its police force to solve the cowardly murder of the Prime Minister of Sweden.

An administration which introduces such a system into a liberal democracy, in the face of experiences in Sweden and other European countries with card systems, simply cannot be trusted with the confidentiality of a mass of personal information about the citizens of this country. The implementation of this legislation would mean that certain bureaucrats could invade the very soul of any citizen in Australia without any recourse to the courts to prove that such an invasion of privacy would be in the public interest. If this Bill is ever enacted, the Australia public will learn that the precious freedoms that have been won through the centuries and handed down by our forebears for our safe-keeping will be lost forever.

I mentioned the Privacy Committee of New South Wales. It was established by the New South Wales Government in 1975. Its purpose was to oversee the whole range of both public and private sector issues impinging upon the privacy of citizens. It is arguably the most expert body in the world today on the subject of privacy. When the identity card was first mooted at the National Taxation Summit, that particular Privacy Committee, which really had some expertise on the subject, said that the Government should examine very carefully the implications of it. The Committee said that it stood very solidly by its prediction that within a relatively short time the card will be an internal passport.

The community should realise that tax evasion and social security fraud can be prevented by other means which the Opposition has outlined in the brochure `Oppose Canberra's un-Australian Card' which was issued by the shadow Minister for Health, Mr James Porter. We believe in the Opposition that tax evasion is better handled by improving the efficiency of the Australian Taxation Office. The Government has announced, I understand not long ago, a program costing about $700m to do just that. Unfortunately, during 1988-89 only $148m will be spent. The total sum will not be committed until the mid-1990s. The Opposition, of course, would suggest that that process should be speeded up significantly. The Opposition's plan would save the community something like $2.4 billion and raise an additional $329m in the first 10 years.

The cynicism behind the Hawke Government is best demonstrated by its ignoring the advice from the Australian Bankers Association. That advice suggested that without substantive amendments, the banks would not be able to incorporate the use of the card into their banking systems. The legislation-the Australia Card Bill 1986 as it has been presented for second time to this Parliament-raises problems for a wide range of banking transactions. As Mr Allen Cullen, the Director of the Bankers Association stated, the bank systems, which range from sophisticated technology to primitive manual operations, could not deal with the legislative requirement that the card be produced for all transactions.

Earlier this year the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, said that he intended to introduce amendments to the Bill to satisfy the bankers' complaints and the complaints of those who were concerned about civil liberties and so on. The Minister, of course, was ignored entirely by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) who cunningly brought the Bill back to the Senate without giving effect to the Minister's suggested amendments, well knowing that the Bill was deficient because of the inadequacy of its original form. This is not only a cynical act; it is an act of contempt towards the Senate, the Parliament and the people of Australia as a whole. Of course, the Prime Minister has treated the Senate with contempt before. But I think this act of bringing the legislation back in a cynical way surpasses all previous attempts to demonstrate contempt for the Senate. I think this demonstrably illustrates the Prime Minister's arrogance and ignorance.

Senator Tate announced today that the Prime Minister has decided not to hold an early election. I hope that the people of Australia now believe this to be true. They have heard the Prime Minister say on more than one occasion that he intends going the full parliamentary term. The Bill has been presented in this manner deliberately because when defeated in the Senate it would have provided the Prime Minister with a trigger for a double dissolution. He would then be able to blame the Opposition for the ensuing early election and this would get him off the hook as far as breaking his promise was concerned. It would have enabled him to make the Australia Card an issue at the election and divert attention from the high interest rates, the escalating national debt, the increasing number of homeless people in Australia, an ever increasing number of bankruptcies and the many other indications of the financial and administrative ineptitude of the Government.

Regrettably, many people in the community believed that if this Bill had been defeated in the Senate this week it would have been finished and the Australian people would have been saved from this draconian measure forever more. That may well be the case now but this was not the case while there was any chance of a double dissolution. It was because of the risk involved in respect of a double dissolution that I asked my colleagues, and Senator Townley did the same, to look carefully at the tactics that the coalition would employ in regard to this Bill. The facts are that if the Prime Minister had used the double dissolution trigger as a result of passage of the Australia Card Bill being refused and the Labor Party had won that subsequent early election, the Bill could have been brought back to the Parliament and passed either in its present form, if the Government had control of the Senate, or in an amended form if the Government did not control the Senate. However, if the Labor Party did not have the numbers in the Senate it could have then put the Bill to a joint sitting of the Parliament, which is provided for on double dissolution issues, and, when carried, the Government would have had three years in which to act. It could have brought in the card almost immediately and put into operation the computerised information system implied by it, regardless of its inefficiency and regardless of its unpalatable nature. That is why I agree with Mr Colquhoun, who wrote an article in the Advertiser last week. I quote from the article:

For a Government to use a major change in our society to exploit an electoral opportunity is a spectacular example of what gives politics a bad name in this country.

I agree with that entirely. As this Parliament will now run its normal term, the Prime Minister having now confirmed his often repeated undertaking, there is no doubt that the coalition will win the next election, and win it handsomely. I am aware that Mr Hawke has a great personal desire to become the longest serving Labor Prime Minister. He has to wait until 17 August this year before, in terms of time, he equals his superior, the late Mr Ben Chifley. I heard one of my colleagues say that he had to wait until January, but I have checked that date and it is 17 August this year. I also understand that the Prime Minister was pressured by people from the left wing not to introduce this measure. I know that Senator Bolkus and Senator Georges, who is now an Independent, would have objected to its introduction.

I understand that the Prime Minister was seriously contemplating calling a double dissolution but that he and his minders became confused, as I am, about the chances of Labor winning in May this year. Reflecting on the method of polling used by Mr Morgan over this card, I can now understand why the polls are so unreliable. I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement because it will mean the death of this monstrous piece of legislation. Mr Hawke will now break the late Mr Ben Chifley's record term as a Labor Prime Minister, but I fear that no one will ever equate the two.

I emphasise to all Australians that the only way to ensure that this surveillance system, deceptively known as the Australia Card, is never implemented is to vote for the coalition at the next Federal election. I hope that my colleagues and particularly all those people who have written to me about the card in the last few weeks will strenuously continue their efforts to persuade the people of Australia that we do not need a surveillance card, even if it is green and gold and otherwise camouflaged as something akin to a credit card or the Medicare card.


Senator Cook —You are not reading this, are you?


Senator JESSOP —No, I never read speeches. I keep all the information in my mind. In conclusion, I hope the Government has learned its lesson. It has certainly looked at the polls indicating that 78 per cent of the people of Australia want it to run its full term. That may have had some influence in its decision.


Senator Cook —Sixty-nine per cent want the Australia Card.


Senator JESSOP —That may be so, but I believe that by the end of this year, as a result of the efforts of members of this side of the House, who will demonstrate time and again the underlying sinister purpose of this Government in relegating the people of Australia to having to wear dog registration cards, as my colleague Senator Durack very effectively put it the other night, the polls will be reversed in that respect. Nevertheless, the people of Australia already recognise that the only way for Australia to recover from the economic chaos which is evident under the administration of the Hawke Government will be to elect the coalition at the next Federal election. We will demonstrate, as we have in the past, economic expertise and knowledge that will restore Australia's economy to its proper position in the world and, I believe, restore to the people of Australia the confidence that they should be able to expect from a responsible Government.