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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1779


Senator KILGARIFF(9.10) —As one of the tailenders in this very important debate I have had the benefit of listening to the excellent and able arguments of many of my colleagues. There have been persuasive and compelling arguments but, unfortunately, they are falling on deaf ears. Nothing it seems will convince the Federal Labor Government that it should retreat from the course on which it has embarked. I fear that honourable senators opposite may be kidding themselves that the Australia Card is truly a popular measure. Perhaps they have been duped by their senior colleagues into believing that the card will really reduce taxation, social welfare and immigration fraud. For whatever reason, they are clearly impervious to the sound criticisms which have been made of this card, not only by Opposition members of the Parliament but also by a great many informed members of the community.

The Government cannot pretend that the only opposition to this card comes from its traditional political opponents. That is not the case. The opposition to this measure comes from thousands of ordinary Australians, many of whom do not normally take an active role in party politics but are concerned about moves which will adversely affect their quality of life. The Australia Card Bill 1986 [No. 2] has also been opposed by numerous organisations, many with a great deal of expertise very pertinent to the legislation under consideration. Honourable senators opposite cannot pretend that the opinion polls allegedly showing public support for the card are a sufficient basis for claiming that the Government has some sort of mandate to proceed. Many of those polls were taken using loaded questions which solicited the required response of those surveyed.

Recent polls show that the so-called support for the legislation has dissipated considerably. To reassure honourable senators opposite that it is not simply the coalition and its supporters who oppose this Bill I would like to quote from some of the very many representations which I have received in recent days and weeks as have, no doubt, many of the senators on both sides of the chamber. The Law Society of New South Wales, I thought, summed up the Government's approach to the Australia Card quite aptly when it applied the English proverb: `The road to hell is paved with good intentions'. The good intentions of the Government are, of course, for the reduction or elimination of tax, welfare and immigration fraud. There is no question that these objectives are ones which we should all work towards. However, the Opposition like the Law Society of New South Wales, is not convinced that the identity card will achieve this objective.

At the same time, the Law Society is convinced that there are serious civil liberties issues involved in the Australia Card debate. It rejects the Federal Government's argument that the proposed Australia Card is similar to the United States social security number system. According to the New South Wales Law Society it is more akin to the Swedish system which has come in for considerable criticism, even from within its own bureaucratic watch-dog, that is the Swedish Data Protection Agency. The Law Society statement on the Australia Card states that the head of that Agency, Jan Freese, resigned earlier this year, apparently on the grounds that the Data Protection Agency and Board were unable to stop the `shrinking privacy and extremely new vulnerability' of the computerised society. Other nations have been reluctant to extend existing identification systems. The United States, for example, has rejected moves to extend the existing social security number system to a universal identifier system. The Law Society concludes:

The Australia Card Bill contains some provisions protecting the privacy of the information contained on the register. This does not, however, detract from the fact that the Government is setting up a standard universal identifier, where abuses could far outweigh any advantages . . . for this reason the Society opposes the introduction of an Australia Card.

Another letter, no doubt circulated to all senators, from the Law Council of Australia, expresses similar opposition to the identity card. The Council says that it fully acknowledges the need to act on tax, social security and other fraud, as do we all. However, it believes that the arguments favouring the legislation are outweighed by other factors, principally the privacy considerations relating to basic rights and freedoms of individuals in society. To quote from the objections of the Australian Law Council:

The rules and procedures relating to the protection of individuals' rights to privacy are excessively complex and difficult to understand.

That is a most alarming analysis coming from a council of lawyers. If they, people who are used to dealing, often, with complicated and detailed language, have difficulty understanding the rules associated with this Bill, how will laymen cope with them? The Law Council goes on:

The Data Protection Agency is not given any effective means of penalising infringements of privacy. The rights of review of the Data Protection Agency are excessively complex and difficult to understand; those rights are contained in 40 clauses of the Bill which set up a confusing multiplicity of procedures.

The principles governing the Data Protection Agency in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers consist of vague generalities and are, at times, contradictory; apart from creating uncertainty these features would render it virtually impossible to show that the Agency had applied incorrect criteria in arriving at a particular decision.

The efficacy of the Data Protection Agency is dependent upon subjective factors such as the provision of adequate funds for its staffing and the skill, energy and philosophical attitudes of its members; sufficient reliance could not be placed on the Agency to monitor and protect the rights of privacy which, by virtue of the other provisions of the Bill would become vulnerable.

The discretionary prerogatives of the authority are excessively wide; this affects the right of an individual to a card, the power to decide which documents must be produced, the right to replacement or renewal of a card, the right to change information on the register; the authority is protected from being sued and will become a large powerful bureaucracy exercising virtually unlimited control.

That is a very powerful quotation. In addition, the Law Council cites its further objection to the Bill, which requires persons to prove their identities before they can enter into many common transactions and activities. The Law Council believes that this involves an unwarranted restriction on the freedom that individuals have to engage in ordinary activities and transactions. The same view is shared by the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. Honourable senators will no doubt have received representations from this organisation, but in case a few of those opposite have forgotten what the Council for Civil Liberties thinks of this Bill, I would seek to remind them. It said:

The card will not be cost effective or efficient in any of the most publicised areas of use (social security, immigration, organised crime and corporate tax avoidance).

The ID card and number system will present a serious threat to civil liberties.

This is the analysis of the most influential and experienced civil liberties organisation in this country and the Federal Government is prepared to ignore it, in its blind determination to go on with the identity card legislation. Many other representations were received from individuals in the community, who clearly had expertise in the area of computerised identification systems. Their conclusions were equally critical of the identification system proposed by the Labor Government.

One such person was Roger Clarke, a reader in information systems at the Australian National University, who took the trouble of providing a very detailed examination of what is being proposed. Mr Clarke has excellent credentials to comment on the ID card Bill. He has had 17 years in the private sector, in professional, managerial and consulting work in commercial software and development technology. He holds a masters degree in commerce and is a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society. He has been involved in the privacy data protection issue for many years, and has done research work for the New South Wales Privacy Committee and consultancy work for the Australian Law Reform Commission. He is also Chairman of the Australian Computer Society's Economic, Legal and Social Implications Committee. Mr Clarke has some very severe criticisms of this card and the way in which the Federal Government went about its campaign to introduce it. Firstly, he states:

Public comment, to the Joint Select Committee which considered the card, was severely constrained by the failure of the Government to publish its significantly changed and further developed proposals until after the closing date for public submissions. Despite this, a majority of the Committee, comprising members from all parties, concluded that the scheme should not be proceeded with. The Government ignored that conclusion.

Mr Clarke continued:

During the early months of the campaign, public opinion polls showed significant support for the scheme. The questions were in the form `the Government proposes to introduce an Australia Card to address the problems of tax evasion, welfare fraud and immigration. Are you in favour of such a card?' The fact that some 25-30 per cent of samples said no to this heavily biased question may reflect considerable cynicism in the community about government power.

However, as Mr Clarke notes, the Federal Government was determined to press on promoting the scheme by focusing on tax evasion, welfare fraud and illegal immigration. The Government was cleverly playing on public concerns about three issues, and being less than open about the extension of the card into other uses. As Mr Clarke reports, the Health Insurance Commission, in its advice to the Federal Government, is refreshing and frank. The Health Insurance Commission stated:

It will be important to minimise any adverse public reaction to implementation of the system. One possibility would be a staged approach for implementation, whereby only less sensitive data are held in the system initially, with the facility to input additional data at a later stage . . .

What damning evidence! How much more evidence do we need to prove that it is the Federal Government's intention to set up a surveillance system to monitor the lives of Australian citizens. As my colleague Senator Durack has said, the Government is issuing Australians with a plastic dog tag which, realistically, will have to be carried at all times.

Mr Clarke also lists a number of technical deficiencies in the identification mechanism, that is, the problems of merging numerous databases, the lack of a reliable identification scheme and the small, grainy photograph which is proposed to be used which will be entirely inadequate. Some people will have problems in providing initial identifying documents. There will be problems for some people who were born overseas in providing documentary evidence of identity, and so the list goes on. Mr Clarke is highly critical of the Government's alleged attempts to protect individual privacy and he lists a number of deficiencies in the data protection arrangements proposed to be put in place. He also makes some very important points on the wider social implications of the card, referring to the scope for misinterpretation of data and the problems of maintaining security. Mr Clarke said:

Ensuring security for the register would be impossibly difficult. As in other, similar countries, there is at present, no single, reliable source of names and addresses in Australia. Six per cent of telephone subscribers pay to keep their addresses and telephone numbers out of the telephone directory. The register would therefore be of interest to many people, variously for good reasons (such as debt collectors are presumed to have), for ambiguous ones (estranged spouses, jilted ex-boyfriends and over protective fathers and brothers), and for downright sinister reasons (criminals pursuing ex associates). Every record would be accessible on over two thousand terminals operated by thousands of clerks in the offices of at least three different government agencies, at over four hundred locations throughout the country.

The list of criticisms of this legislation is endless. It has been roundly criticised by the banks which regard it, in its present form, as unworkable. Apparently they have been promised amendments which have not materialised.

One wonders, as have many honourable senators who have spoken tonight, why the Government has proceeded with this Bill when it has admitted that there are faults in it. The Government has agreed that the criticism of the banks is genuine and that amendments are necessary, so why has it once again introduced this Bill in its original form? I do not think I have to answer that question. Of course the reason would be that until a day or so ago the Government wanted the legislation to be put back to the Senate in the same form as it was when it was rejected last year, and that was to provide a double dissolution trigger.

If the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, were sincere about not having an early election, the rational path would have been to increase the necessary amendments, as I have just mentioned, and at least acknowledge that the Bill, even if it were passed, would not be workable in its present form. One can only assume that it is the Government's bloodymindedness which makes it so determined to get a vote on this Bill regardless. I understand that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, have indicated that if the Bill is defeated-as it will be-they will use it in the next election campaign.


Senator Archer —I hope so.


Senator KILGARIFF —So do we all. I will look forward to that, as will many of my colleagues, because I know that the people I represent, that is the majority of the people of the Northern Territory and the people of Australia do not want this card and will tell Mr Hawke exactly that when they get an opportunity of voting at the ballot box.