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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1746

Senator NEWMAN(4.00) —It is interesting that as this Government staggers through its four years of office we are increasingly seeing that it governs by Press releases and also by the polls. We saw an example of that yesterday. The polls are not quite what the Government wanted, so that the early election the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has been talking about is no longer operative. But the Government has brought on the Australian Card Bill in a cynical exercise of looking at the polls. They were fooled by the polls and thought that the Australian people were in favour of the Australia Card. I have to tell the Government that it should beware because the Australian people are not in favour of the Australia Card, and the Government will learn this to its cost. That is why so many senators on this side of the chamber are determined once again to speak strongly against this iniquitous piece of legislation and see that it is voted out. Let there be no thought that we are engaged in any sort of exercise. It is a matter of strong conviction on this side of the House that this legislation should be debated thoroughly, fiercely and rejected heartily.

Let us consider what this card will be like. I would liken it to a dog tag-not to the tags that hang around dogs' necks but those that soldiers talk about when they go on operations. Let us remember why they have those tags. They have them to identify casualties. Let us not forget that the casualties of this legislation will be the Australian people. There is a lot more at stake than meets the eye. The Australian people know-they are not being fooled by this-that more taxes will be needed to pay for the card and more bureaucrats will have to be paid. The Australian people know that it will not deal with welfare fraud or with tax cheats. The evidence has been around for too long now and it is too strong. They know that welfare fraud and tax cheats can be more effectively and more cheaply dealt with by greater efficiency from the bureaucrats that they are paying for already. They do not want more. Let the Government allow the bureaucrats to get their house in order.

Nothing new has been produced by the Government since the previous debate on the Australia Card. No evidence has been produced to rebut the objections of the Joint Select Committee on an Australian Card. I draw the Government's attention to one of the Government's heroes who spoke in 1939 during the parliamentary debate on the National Registration Bill. That was a very difficult circumstance. This country was going into war and if ever there was a time for national registration it was probably then. But what did John Curtin say? He said:

The fundamental principle of this determination to defend Australia is that it is a land in which personal liberty is still a cherished possession . . .

Senator Walters —Who said that?

Senator NEWMAN —John Curtin, Labor leader.

Senator Button —He is dead, Senator, so you can applaud him.

Senator NEWMAN —So your principles are no longer operative either, are they, Senator? I am glad to have your acknowledgment.

Senator Button —He is a dead Labor leader, so you can be nice about him.

Senator NEWMAN —I can be nice about him. There are some good ones still alive, but it is hard to find them as they are thin on the ground. He said that this is a land in which personal liberty is still a cherished possession. I would have thought that that still applies today even though he is dead. He continued:

. . . and that there are limits to the coercive authority which the State may exert on the individual liberties of the people.

I intend to quote the words of Mr Tim Robertson, Secretary of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties-and I notice that the Australian Council for Civil Liberties has a prominent left wing Labor lawyer member of parliament from Tasmania, Mr John White, as a member of its executive. Mr Robertson said:

What would John Curtin say today when it is possible that government computer profiles constructed from the database could fall into the hands of a person with the civil rights record of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen?

I shall not comment on whether Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen would be good on civil rights issues or not, but it makes one worry what would happen if these computer records fell into the hands of somebody with whom one was politically at odds.

During the previous debate I canvassed the issues very thoroughly and I do not intend to go through them at length today. However, I do intend merely to highlight the points which continue to convince me that I should oppose the Bill. I look first at immigration. I do not believe that the Australia Card will help much with immigration at all. There are a few reasons for that. I think that in one sense it will make the situation in Australia much worse. It will force more and more people into the black cash economy by pushing them further away from the mainstream of community life, and probably will reduce the chance of detecting and apprehending them. It is difficult to control entries and exits into the country, but with the lack of co-operation that currently exists between the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and other departments-one knows that they are notorious for their lack of communication and co-operation-it is inevitable that departments should be finding great difficulty in apprehending sufficient of the illegal immigrants whom, they admit, come to this country. If they could get their act together, we would be much better off and would not need to try to use the Australia Card to deal with illegal immigration. But it will not do so for the simple reason that the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has no right under the Act to demand production of the card from anybody it considers to be an illegal immigrant. Not only that, but that department has only a limited right to request information from other departments. It seems to me that the Department of Immigration has been left out in the cold under this legislation and that it is very unlikely that the Australia Card could possibly do much to help in apprehending illegal immigrants.

In the area of organised crime we see that the legislation gives plenty of opportunities to the crooks in Australia to create false identities and to get false ID cards. We gave illustrations in the previous debate as to how the Australian Federal Police expressed concern that this will make it easier for organised crime to get more of a hold in this country. Obviously this will create a black market in the card and also in the visitors' cards which are given to people who come to Australia for short terms. It opens the door to people working under false names, or drawing benefits under false names, or banking or taking part in other financial transactions under false names. Once one has that false identity, one is home and hosed if one has an Australia Card saying who one is. Certificates of identity which can be provided for under the legislation for people who cannot attend to prove their identity at all times will also enable false identities to be established. It is clear that before long a number of the visitors cards that are handed to people coming into the country will be recycled and will come back with people whom we do not want in this country. I suspect there will be quite an industry in that area and it is a matter of great concern. I understand the crime world is already working on it; it got its act into gear long ago. I am afraid the Government has lagged a long way behind in that respect. I fear that if this legislation were to go through, the Government would be giving crime a great leg-on in spreading its illegal influence around the country.

On the subject of social security fraud, the evidence of the Department of Social Security given to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card has not been challenged, and I believe cannot be challenged, that only 0.6 per cent of frauds on the Social Security Department is due to false identity and the remainder is due to misrepresentation of people's circumstances. Nothing will be achieved by an Australia Card in the case of false circumstances. I am glad to see that the Government has already started a crackdown on welfare fraud. It is proper that it did so and it is already showing results. I am glad that the Government has had the courage to take action. It is only a small step so far, and I urge the Government to keep it up. This is the way that it should be going. The important consideration in this area is that people should fear that it is too likely they will be caught. If there are a sufficient number of prosecutions and people have their benefits withdrawn publicly, we will prevent a lot more people from taking this course of petty crime, which is really what this is. It is quite clear to me that there is no reason to compel all Australians of good fame and character to carry their dog tags just because some of their neighbours are cheats.

I mentioned the cash economy earlier in relation to immigrants who would be forced into the `black economy' through being in the country illegally. We must not forget that the Australia Card will not do much for the black economy. Cash transactions will still be made-people will be paid behind the barn for casual work on the farm. The same will happen with people who do the gardening, babysitting or cleaning. These are some of the many areas in which there are cash transactions which currently do not attract tax or any attention from the authorities. There is no reason to think that these cash transactions will not continue in the future. It will suit both parties to keep mum about it. No one will want to start flashing Australia Cards around and keeping records of these relatively small transactions. The Government will not catch the cash economy with the Australia Card, whatever law it may make. I am afraid that it is endemic and it can only be countered by an increase in the indirect tax base. In that way the money that is being lost through the black economy could be recouped.

I turn now to taxation. I draw attention to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure, which is an all party committee, and to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, once again an all party committee. The interesting point is that both those committees concluded that there should be a major improvement in the administrative efficiency of the Australian Taxation Office to bring in revenue, rather than pursue the Australia Card proposals. Those committees went into these particular areas in great depth. They spent a lot of time on these subjects. It is clear that the Australian Taxation Office has not been efficient and has not spent almost $50m that was allocated to it for computer upgrading. It has been very lax and has misused its resources. I am glad that the Treasurer (Mr Keating) has announced a major computing upgrading program for the ATO. Although I support that upgrading, I am afraid that it recognises that there is outstanding revenue that needs to be and will be collected by the upgrading. If the Treasurer is recognising this fact by his announcement, he cannot have his cake and eat it too. He cannot say that he needs an Australia Card as well. If he can get this revenue by the computer upgrading program, that is the way he should go. We do not need a national identification and registration system simply because the ATO cannot do its job.

I also wish to canvass briefly the cost of the Australia Card. We know that the cost to the Government will be about $1 billion. I suspect that that will not be the real cost. We have seen how this Government starts off with a small sum and then lets it grow, grow, grow. One wonders whether the Government puts `Betta Gro' on its projects, because its budgets never seem to stick. We have a place just behind us on the hill which reminds us every day how this Government is unable to keep its costs within budget. There is no reason at all to expect that the cost of the Australia Card will remain at the level that the Government has stated.

It is interesting to note that our shadow Minister for Health had to go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on appeal for details of the cost of compliance with the ID card provisions. He is due to receive those documents on 21 April. It is extraordinarily interesting that there seems to be such urgency now to get a decision on the Australia Card Bill. The documents will be available to our shadow Minister two or three weeks after this debate is concluded. One has to wonder what this Government is hiding. One suspects the worst. It is a similar situation to the one that I am facing over the Lemonthyme and Southern Forests (Commission of Inquiry) Bill which we are due to debate after we have finished this Bill. Once again, my freedom of information requests will arrive too late for the debate. In view of the fact that the departments concerned dragged their feet for so long, I am sure that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure that embarrassing evidence was not put before the Senate when the legislation was being debated. Quite clearly this is the way this Government operates-keep everything secret, do not worry about the Freedom of Information Act, put a blanket on it and try to slide through without letting people know the truth. That is not good enough.

We have had criticisms from the banks about the ineffectiveness of a card in dealing with automatic teller machines, credit cards and other areas. The costs to the banks will not be as great as those to many other businesses. We have so many small businesses that are not yet computerised and that do not have regular reporting requirements to the Australian Taxation Office. The banks have the benefits of experience and equipment in both those areas, but so many small businesses do not. They do not have computers and they do not have regular reporting procedures. Such businesses include small employers, solicitors, real estate agents and a myriad of small firms around this country. One more layer of government regulation will be imposed upon them. In the last four years they have been inundated with regulation and this will be the last straw. We have estimated that the cost to business will be about $2 billion, but once again only when the legislation gets under way will it be possible to see the enormity of the cost. The rule of thumb has produced that figure and it is probably not too far out.

I turn now to the question of civil liberties. I wish to draw the Senate's attention to the fact that the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, of which I am a member--

Senator Michael Baume —And a very good member.

Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Senator, that is very kind of you. Last year, when this Bill first came before the Parliament, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee made a number of quite strong criticisms of various sections of the legislation and eventually it received a reply from the Minister for Health. In most of the areas of criticism the Minister agreed that necessary amendments would be made to the legislation. At that time he thought that the amendments would have to be made to the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in the autumn session of 1987. This legislation is before us for the second time and the Minister has had ample opportunity to incorporate the amendments to which he had agreed. He has not made these amendments and I take great exception to the fact that he told the Scrutiny of Bills Committee one thing and did something quite different. He produced this legislation and he had the opportunity to amend it in the form required by the Committee, but he has not done so. That is not good enough. I do not intend to go through all those parts in the Bill which the Committee criticised in detail; they were canvassed in the previous debate. But I draw the Senate's attention to the fact that the Minister is quoted as saying on page 43 of the Committee's fifth report of 1987:

. . . I undertake that this test of reasonableness will be made explicit on the face of the legislation.

One cannot get anything much clearer than that. So much for the Minister's word.

I also wish to draw attention to some points made by the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. It has noticed that Dr Blewett has broken his word. The Council wrote to most senators drawing our attention to that fact. I am pleased to think that Government senators will also have received that letter. The Minister for Health is under severe criticism for his failure to keep his word. I also draw the Senate's attention to a letter that I received from Professor Martyn Webb, Emeritus Professor in the Geography Department at the University of Western Australia. I shall quote a couple of sentences from his most interesting letter which he described as `a non party plea for the rejection of the Australia Card'. Professor Webb said:

Senators must, therefore, appreciate that the card's real purpose is to create a data base for central register of information about the socio-economic activities of every Australian, man, women and child which may be tapped at will and as a matter of routine by federal government departments who will, as a matter of routine, each go on `hunting expeditions' by introducing flagging or tagging techniques in order to identify deviant subjects who will immediately come under suspicion.

Senator Cook —You know that to be wrong, though, don't you?

Senator NEWMAN —I know no such thing, Senator.

Senator Cook —You do know that to be wrong, yet you repeat it.

Senator NEWMAN —I do not know that. I will be very glad to repeat it for the honourable senator. I am perfectly happy to repeat it. If he would like me to repeat it 20 times, I will. I would like to draw the Senate's attention to the fact that security of information cannot be guaranteed even if the collection of information were desirable, which it is not. The shadow Minister in the other place drew the attention of the House of Representatives to a leaked Special Minister of State document which stated that the Australian Federal Police investigating the leaking of confidential Medicare records said that they had identified 197 people throughout Australia who had access to the information notwithstanding the fact that only 20 possessed computer access codes. He said:

In other words, the same system which is to be invoked to maintain security of confidential records under the ID card proposal has been found by the Federal Police not to work. What is more significant is that for the first time under the ID card proposal, tax, health and social security records will be linked with a common identifier and, therefore, all the very personal and highly sensitive material will be much more readily accessible.

Of course, there are also going to be some 2,150 more new people who will be legally entitled to access under this card. So we really do have reasons to be concerned about the security of the system in view of the history of this Government in managing confidential records. Honourable senators opposite were interjecting just now about my allegations about the sinister nature of this legislation and, by way of final quotation, I draw attention to the Health Insurance Commission, which proposed by way of submission to the Government in May 1985 that the Government should go about overcoming public fears about this identification scheme. It said:

It will be important to minimise in advance public reaction to implementation of the system.

It also stated:

One possibility would be to use a staged approach for implementation, whereby only less sensitive data is held in the system initially, with the facility to input additional data at a later stage when public acceptance may be forthcoming more readily.

If that is not big brother finding ways to creep up behind us quietly, I do not know what is. It worries me that the Health Insurance Commission, which is going to be responsible for the administration of the Australia Card, is proposing to the Government how it can sneakily introduce something without telling the people what its eventual destination and aim are and how to make it more palatable by giving it a pretty name, something like `as easy as ABC'-the Australian Benefits Card-to make it sound attractive and make us believe that it was giving us goodies. It is really quite frightening to think that that sort of device is being wheeled up to the Government.

Australians who have studied this proposal are appalled by it. We know that it will not work to deter illegal immigration; we know that it will not work to deter illegal immigration; we know it will not work to reduce taxation cheating. We know that it will not work to reduce social security fraud. We know that it will not work effectively in the cash economy. We also know that it will assist organised crime and will add to the cost of government and the cost of business. We know that it will not protect our civil liberties or our privacy. In fact it will threaten them. I have no problem whatsoever in once again opposing an obnoxious Bill.

(Quorum formed)