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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1759

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(5.26) —We are debating the Australia Card Bill 1986 [No. 2]. As I stand here, noting that I am at least the twentieth speaker in what is presumably a long list of speakers on this card, I am reminded of how Richard Burton must have felt when he became husband No. 8 to Elizabeth Taylor: He knew the task ahead of him; his difficulty was to make it interesting and different.

Senator Puplick —And stimulating.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —And presumably stimulating. One ought at the outset to look at what this card-euphemistically called an Australia Card-is intended to do. In essence, it is a licence to live; it is a licence to function; it is a licence for an individual to be an intrinsic part of the Australian economy. Without the card one has nothing. Without an Australia Card one cannot sell or buy primary products, one cannot sell or buy real estate and one cannot buy or sell shares. Without a card, public companies cannot register shares that one might buy and seek to have registered. One cannot conduct transactions at a bank, a building society or a credit union.

Senator Tate —You only have to produce it once to your broker, and then you're right.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Yes, that is right, but one cannot commence any of those functions without an Australia Card. If what is euphemistically called the Australia Card is taken away, one's identity is taken away and one cannot function in this society. It is put to us that this card is intended to prevent social security and taxation fraud. Of course, it will do neither.

Let us look for a moment at the cash economy-the area which the National Australia Bank, I think, has described as having a ballpark figure of about $12 billion. What will the card do about the cash economy? Absolutely nothing. What about those people who work in bars, restaurants, clubs or pubs, who, quite improperly, of course, draw their wages or their stipend from the till? This card will do absolutely nothing to prevent that. What will it do in regard to those who work under false names? It will simply drive them into the black money market. It will take them into the cash economy. They will do what others have done before them-again, improperly-and simply take their cash from the till. So we see that the Australia Card is not in any way intended or designed to deal with the fundamental problems in the community in respect of tax evasion and social security fraud.

Let me deal with another weakness of the card, that is, its proof of identity and the very source documents which are used to complete the information on the central register. The very reason that the card is being introduced is that it is presumed by the Government that that information which is available presently by way of identification is not adequate and does not have the required integrity, that a birth certificate is not adequate, that a wedding certificate is not adequate, that a driver's licence is not adequate, but that another document is required to demonstrate that a person is who he says he is. Yet the very foundation on which the identity card is to be established, produced and developed is the very documents which are considered by this Government to have such fragility and inadequacy as sources of identification. There are many recorded cases of people having as many as 20 Medicare cards. No panacea has been found to that problem because it is so easy to reproduce these documents.

It is not without significance to note, as was noted in the submission to the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, that the Department of Social Security indicates that it intends to require better and more substantial material identification than just an Australia Card. The Australia Card will not be suitable for a citizen of this country to provide to the very department for whom the card is designed as to the person's identity. Further and better material evidence of identity will have to be established. That is the conundrum. The truth is that the card will not be accepted as prima facie evidence of identity by the very department that has the greatest interest in ensuring that it has a clear understanding of who a person is.

The card will not deal with the problem of organised crime. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was Frank Costigan, QC, who in evidence to the Committee suggested that it would give to criminals perfect anonymity behind which they could hide, flourish, grow and prosper.

Senator Archer —They are all in favour of it.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Of course they are; Senator Archer is right. Because of the card, they will be able to identify themselves as whoever they wish to be for the time being.

Senator Archer —Another brand new industry.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Of course. With their capacity, skill and cunning they will ensure that the card becomes a protection for them. It is inevitable that it will not be just government departments but society as a whole that will begin to accept the card in absolute terms by way of identification. The criminal element will flourish behind the veneer of respectability that the card provides in respect of their identification. I think that was a real concern expressed by Costigan.

One can draw the assumption that part of the reason offered to us by the Government for the card is that a significant amount of false identification is leading to false payments by the Department of Social Security. The truth is that on the evidence available false identity represents 0.6 per cent. It seems that overpayments result primarily from clerical errors and unintentional misunderstandings of the terms and conditions of the benefits and the failure of recipients to disclose a change of circumstances. False identity is not a significant source of loss of revenue to the social security and social welfare sectors, and presumably that is why the Department said that it will be of no material financial benefit for it to implement and to use the card.

When one looks at the risk of the card containing inaccuracies, I am reminded of a comment that was made in this debate on the previous occasion by Senator Puplick, as I recall, who pointed out that the Australian Electoral Commission had indicated that there were some 1.2 million corrections or variations to the Australian electoral rolls every year. One can imagine the alterations, variations and changes that would be required on an ID card and the inevitable risk and hazard of those details being incorrect. It seems that the card, according to evidence given to the Joint Select Committee by the Department of Social Security, will provide absolutely no benefit whatever and that it will cost as much to administer the card to cover the small areas where it might yield some advantage as it would, say, by reducing fraud. So in many respects the card is of no benefit to the Department.

As for the claim by the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs that it would cost $21m to implement and would save in the range of $1,292m, when the figures are carefully examined it seems that it estimated that of the 50,000 illegal immigrants in this country 0.4 per cent were recipients improperly of social welfare benefits. When the Department provided a list of names to the Department of Social Security, it was found without exception that none of those contained in the lists was receiving benefits. In my view, that is a damning indictment and reflection on the confidence, capacity, ability and efficiency of that Department.

I turn to the grave dangers that the system poses for privacy and the freedom of Australians. It is not without significance that individuals are described and categorised as `card subjects' right from the outset. They lose their character, their soul, their individuality-they are suddenly card subjects. It seems a matter that is not of the slightest concern to this Government. For the moment there are some limitations on to whom and to which departments the information will be provided, but I am reminded of a government submission to the Joint Select Committee which referred to possible uses of the Australia Card. The Australian Taxation Office, the Departments of Health, Social Security, Housing and Construction, Education, Veterans' Affairs, Community Services, Employment and Industrial Relations, Foreign Affairs and Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, as well as the Australian Institute of Health, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Federal Police, to name a few, thought that the card would be of some benefit to them.

Senator Tate —That is not right. They do not have access.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I am not saying that they have got access. I am saying that those departments have said that the information would be very useful to them if they had a choice.

Senator Tate —The Government has said no.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I know that it said no-no, for the moment.

Senator Tate —It said no.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It said no, but it was in the present tense. Whatever the ideals for the future may be, the truth is that, as Senator Tate well knows, once these cards are introduced it seems so obvious to a bureaucratic or a civil servant that he says: `If the information is there, why not use it?' It will seem so obvious for this information to be provided to other government departments. Our elected representatives will stand up here in reduced numbers some time in the future protesting about the proposals of the government of the day to make that information available. That government will argue that supplying the information to other departments will make for efficiency, reduced costs, reduced taxes and that the world will be better for it. That is the inevitability of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I quote from the Government's submission. It said:

. . . the Government cannot rule out categorically the possibility that at some future date additional uses may suggest themselves as being desirable or essential to meet the emerging problems in taxation, welfare or other areas.

The Government is providing a caveat on its `no for now'. We know what will happen to those caveats. Without question they will be removed in due course.

I turn to my philosophical objections to these obnoxious cards. We have a community and a society based on a legal tradition which gives citizens the opportunity to do whatever they like unless they are constrained by the law. Perhaps that is best illustrated by the ten commandments which are based on a series of `thou shalt nots', indicating that if a thing is not prohibited, it is permissible. Unless something is clearly stipulated as being illegal, it is legal. From this has grown the idea that liberty is not something that is created by governments--

Senator Tate —At least one of the commandments is not `thou shalt not'. What about `honour thy father and thy mother'.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Senator Tate, please let Senator Crichton-Browne finish his speech in peace.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I was delighted by the interjection, Mr Acting Deputy President, I am sorry that I missed it.

Senator Watson —Senator Tate is a very religious man.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Yes, he certainly is. We now find ourselves in a situation where one's rights, liberties and freedoms are set out by the form of this card. Unless we have a card, unless we have the Government's permission, we do not have the ability to work, to conduct commercial transactions, to buy or sell shares or to buy or sell primary products. It seems to me that that is not something which concerns this Government. Typically, the history of many has been a struggle against the powers of autocrats, bureaucrats, kings, oppressive governments and generals. I suspect that, with the emergence of a more sophisticated type of democracy, we have in part let the memory of those struggles for liberty slip from our minds. We should be very mindful of this because it is so easy for governments in this day and age, on the pretext of efficiency, good government and good management, to suspend the fundamental rights of democracy.

This legislation seems to me to be a product of a political party whose majority has no care or concern for the intrinsic rights of individuals within society. This legislation comes from a group within a political party whose majority no longer has a soul, a heart, or a belief in the rights of the individual. It makes economic judgments without regard to the effect of those judgments on individuals, their rights, their liberties, their freedoms and their capacity to function. Economics becomes an end in itself rather than a means to enlarge, improve and give growth to that liberty and freedom. It is sad that the repository of integrity for concern for the individual within the Australian Labor Party is now the small core of left-wing members; they are the bastions and final supporters of the rights of individuals. They are not prepared to compromise themselves for political expediency in the pursuit of a few dollars.

Senator Watson —I hope that you are not supporting the Halfpennys of this world.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —No, I am not supporting them; they just happen to be supporting a view that we have put forward over decades. The Australian Labor Party also used to accept and embrace this view. Now that it is in government that has all been suspended. It has the hard heads, the pragmatists. It has the numbers who believe that it is more important to be efficient and to chase the dollar that they see in the distance than to provide the people with essential freedom. The Labor Party now believes that a government can subjugate or suspend the basic rights of the individual whom it pretends to represent.

This legislation is a crude and misguided lunge at a mirage of money, at an illusion. That is shown by the very example that I have given in terms of the amount of money that is lost to government as a result of false identification, by dishonest representation-0.6 per cent of all revenue lost and that could be recovered by a more efficient taxation system and a more efficient Australian Taxation Office. It will not be recovered by imposing on the total community a system which gives citizens a licence to function, to live-a system without which a citizen cannot function. It seems that this Government has aborted all the fundamental principles that it pretended to have in the past. Besides being oppressive, this legislation is heavy fisted and ham handed. It is a diabolical intrusion-in the real sense of that word-into the rights and lives of the citizens of this country. I do not believe that I have heard one speaker on the Government side even express a concern, a reservation or an anxiety about the trampling of this legislation on the citizen's basic rights, liberties and freedoms. I have not heard anyone on the Government side express the slightest concern or care that this legislation will visit upon the community a rigid strait-jacket of a system by which it must function and with which it must conform. There will be no place in society for those who do not conform.

I ask honourable senators to remind themselves what would happen to any individual who had his card withdrawn for any length of time. If one thinks about that one realises that at the end of the day that is the level of intrusion, the level of the imposition upon the individual. Honourable senators should remember that without a card one cannot buy, sell, borrow, receive, earn or be employed. Not one of those things can be done without a card. That is what this card intends and that is the extent to which this Government is prepared to go, rather than deal with the problem in a practical and obvious way. As I said before, it is prepared in this ham-fisted and heavy-fisted way to impose this diabolical card on our whole society, a card which forever and a day will inhibit the activities and the rights of all individuals. Of course as time goes on, the collection of the information which will be stored in a central computer will be made available to more government departments and to more civil servants. No doubt, at the end of the day, for the right amount of money a pimply 18-year old civil servant will press a button and a computer will spew out the most intimate personal details of individuals within society; yet there is not a care or a concern felt by this Government.

I hope that this legislation is defeated and defeated properly and quickly and that it is cast out of this Parliament and that we are not visited by it again.