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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1712

Senator SIDDONS(12.14) —As the Australia Card legislation once again rears its ugly head, I am forced once more to voice my objections on behalf of the Unite Australia Party to this classic piece of Government overkill. I believe the Australia Card is a piece of nonsense. It is not just simply another piece of plastic that Australian citizens have to carry around with them. It represents an insidious violation of the right of privacy to individuals in this country. I believe it also represents a typical bureaucratic overload on what already is a very inefficient system.

Senator Crowley made the point that neither the Australian Democrats nor the Opposition would support a modified approach to the Australia Card. I do not believe that is the case. It is certainly not my position. I and the Unite Australia Party are prepared to support the recommendation of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card that a verifiable tax number would cover 90 per cent of social security fraud and other fraud in our community. So it is a problem that the Government has reintroduced this legislation in its exact original form, purely for political reasons, to get a trigger for a double dissolution. I believe the Government has not sought to create an alternative and more efficient system of attacking social welfare fraud, which undoubtedly is rife in our community. If the Government had done that I believe it would have been possible to get agreement from the various sections represented in the Senate. But political expediency seems to have been the order of the day, and that is a great pity.

The essential problem with the legislation, as I see it, is that it is very complex and it is simply another example of bureaucratic overload, and a very expensive approach at that. If there were real commitment on the part of the Government to cut out waste and duplication, I believe it could do all kinds of innovative things that would achieve that. To illustrate what I mean, let me pose this scenario: At the present time at least two-thirds of the Department of Social Security is involved in checking on individual eligibility for social security benefits. The facts of the matter are that another Government department already has all this information in its files. I refer to the Australian Taxation Office. All that would be necessary would be for the Taxation Office to make available to the Social Security Department the information that it seeks when it is trying to establish eligibility. If there were co-operation between those two departments at least two-thirds of the staff of the Social Security Department could be redeployed on much more creative tasks than duplicating or attempting to duplicate information, often at great difficulty, that is already available in the Tax Office.

These new approaches need to be looked at. The Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card said that a verifiable tax file number was all that was necessary to attack social security fraud. I am sure this is the case. It is certainly the point of view that I support. I do not believe the Government has really done what it could to meet the legitimate objections of the groups represented in the community at this time.

Here we are faced with a simple regurgitation of a debate that we have had before. The Senate is being placed in the position of giving the Government a trigger for a double dissolution. The real issue at stake, of the cracking down on social security fraud, has not been addressed. The Australian Labor Party is clearly obsessed with the need for everybody in its ranks to be card carrying members. I do not see why every person in this society of ours should have to be a card carrying member. Up to the present time this has been a free society, and as far as the people I represent are concerned, it has to remain a free society and that freedom has to be guarded at all costs.