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Attorney-General discusses proposals for national ID card.

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Subjects: Review of national ID card proposal


...Minister, this national ID card issue very firmly back on the agenda again, and you may be interested to know that Ninemsn on the net were running a poll today on did people favour the introduction of a national ID card and the reaction was very positive.


Well I mean Iʹm not interested whether reactions are positive or negative. Iʹm interested in there being informed discussion about any issue thatʹs going to impact on the Australian community. But I wanted first to debunk the couple of furphies. The first is that if you were to go down this route, that it would necessarily mean that personal information about your tax affairs or information about your medical record would be more vulnerable to public disclosure. The only point Iʹd make is that there is legislation that deals with data matching. In certain circumstances it is authorised, but itʹs the legislative framework that you put in place in relation to data matching that is important to protecting privacy, not whether or not you have a national identifier or not. The second point Iʹve made is that you do have very significant national identifiers already. One of them is called a passport and itʹs going to have its capacity enhanced because of the requirements of the United States that if you want to travel there, you have to

have fingerprints on it. So, you know, we do have a very significant proportion of the Australian public who sign up to a national identifier now. And people donʹt want to see their identity essentially compromised because somebody else

is able to steal it, particularly that gives access to their bank accounts or other financial arrangements. PRESENTER:

Yes, that is one of the big concerns, isnʹt it, that identity theft, as itʹs called, is a growing trend these days unfortunately.


Well I mean what you do have is a situation where around the world there have been people who have been quite sophisticated in developing mechanisms for replicating genuine documents and fabricating the information that goes onto it, or taking a genuine document and altering it. And weʹve seen that sometimes when documents get lost, you do need to have a basis, a proper basis for reporting and for ensuring that the fact that they have been lost is properly recorded. You also need to have in place arrangements that mitigate against alteration and increasingly documents like the passports become very, very much more risk averse when they have built into them integrity features - and thatʹs a very important aspect of any system of identification.


Alright. Well weʹre going to have a national discussion on this issue, which I think is good, and as you pointed out, very healthy. But amongst others contributing to that discussion already, the Australian Chamber of Commerce, who are saying - and Iʹm a little bit puzzled by this - that it could cost, the ID card introduction could cost as much as $15 billion over the first 10 years.


Well I mean one of the things that I think any examination has to look at is firstly, what benefits do you get if you have such a system in place; and secondly, are the costs such that they outweigh those benefits. And the purpose of having this inquiry is to look at that very question. But Peter Hendy, who heads up the executive office of the Australian Chamber [of Commerce and Industry], is a person who has a very strong view on these matters, Iʹve discussed it with him from

time to time. There are people representing other parts of industry that have

another view and I want to ensure that when we have a discussion about these issues, that itʹs informed.


Well the other question is we have been down this track before, thereʹs been a lot of discussion of this in past years. Why now?


Well the Prime Minister after the London bombing said everything was on the table, and we started then to collate information about what was happening abroad, looking at how relevant a system of national identification would be in helping us to protect the Australian community. There are some other issues that people have conveniently forgotten that have also arisen and thatʹs been in

relation to, for instance, the extent to which somebody in the Australian community, because of a mental illness or some other sickness, not knowing who they are, werenʹt able to be readily identified by government because no essential database identifying Australians was available or had ever been kept. And so you do have again the issue that you have to look at as to whether or not, if such information was available, youʹd be better able to address those sorts of questions.


I understand. But what of the suggestion that if, for example, in the case of terrorists, they are home-grown terrorists, that the card would be, well frankly, useless because if theyʹre home-grown, they will have a legitimate Australian ID.


Well I mean identification... and I mean nobody is going to wear a badge around the top of their head saying ʹI am a terroristʹ. Issues relating to identification go to the question as to whether or not you can identify people who may be intent on carrying out a criminal offence or may have carried out a criminal offence. And home-grown or otherwise, itʹs often very important for the purpose of investigation to be able to readily identify people and to have a proper basis for doing so. So, you know, Iʹd simply say the fact that you may or may not have home-grown terrorists, the question as to whether or not a system of

identification would help you in dealing with terrorist offences doesnʹt seem to be related to that issue. It relates to the question of would it help you if you were carrying out investigations? And I think it could.

The other aspect that is worthwhile looking at is in relation to people who are not your citizens, and you know the fact that you could have home-grown terrorists is just an observation, a fact, but there is also the prospect that people who have in mind a terrorist objective, if theyʹre able to move clandestinely without readily being identified, are enhanced in whatever they might be intending to do. And again, a system of identification might enable you to find people who have arrived without having been properly identified to you. So these are points that I make. There are advantages in having a system of identification but the question is do the costs of putting it in place outweigh those benefits, and thatʹs really the substantial issue that weʹre going to have to look at.


Well may the debate flourish because sadly in some ways it is a debate that we have to have. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, thank you for talking to us this afternoon. Have a safe trip home.


Thanks so much. Bye.


Charlie McKillop Media Adviser to the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock MP T: (02) 6277 7300 F: (02) 6273 4102 M: 0419 278 715


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