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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1502

Senator DURACK(10.00) —On 10 December last year this Senate, after a most exhaustive debate, threw out lock, stock and barrel the Bill that is now before us again which the Government euphemistically calls a Bill for an Australia Card and which simply is a Bill to impose on 16 million Australians an identity card-virtually a human version of a dog licence. That legislation, as I said, was very carefully debated at great length in the Senate on the days prior to 10 December last year and was voted out by the Senate on that day. Now we have the same Bill back in the Senate in exactly the same terms as the one we rejected then.

There was an exhaustive debate in the Parliament-not only in the Senate but in the House of Representatives as well. Afterwards, the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, who is responsible for this legislation, announced that the Government would be amending the Australia Card Bill and taking note of the criticisms that had been made about the Bill in the Parliament and by many other people in the course of that debate at the end of last year. Yet last week the very same Bill was put before the House of Representatives and passed there. It is now submitted to us again in exactly the same terms as those under which it was rejected in December last year.

About six week ago, early in February, the Government announced that it had taken notice of these things and would make a number of amendments to the legislation. I ask the Government: Why is it now producing this legislation in exactly the same terms without any of the amendments and in fact, as far as I am aware, without anyone being told in detail what the amendments were, except that they would be made and would accommodate many of the criticisms of the legislation? So it is quite clear that the Government in presenting this legislation again is doing so for a cynical, political agenda. That is wholly and solely the reason we are being forced to go through a further debate in this Senate on exactly the same Bill which was exhaustively debated and rejected in December last year.

The Government has shown no flexibility whatsoever in relation to this matter. It has borne on again with the same tired, old, discredited arguments in this second round as we went through in the first round of this Bill at the end of last year. Throughout the whole of this debate the Opposition has maintained a consistent and principled position. The Government and particularly the Minister in his second reading speech in the other place and the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate) in the second reading speech in this place have accused the Opposition virtually of every political crime that they could think of. Political opportunism is one of the major criticisms that the Ministers made. The Minister in this place described our arguments as trivial, shallow, misleading and so on but one thing shines out in the Minister's argument in introducing this Bill a second time: The Government has given no further justification for the legislation it brings forward.

The Minister, as I said, devoted the whole of his time to throwing abuse at the stand the Opposition has taken and has advanced no new satisfactory reasons for why the Government is proceeding again only because it sees some political opportunism of its own-not political opportunism by the Opposition of which it accuses us-in this whole sordid exercise that we are being forced to go through again. The Government's reasons which it advanced earlier have been fully met in extensive public debate outside this chamber probably as much as within it. As I said, the Government has presented no new arguments.

The Opposition in this debate, far from taking a politically opportunistic stance, has taken a thoroughly principled stance. We have taken the stance that this legislation is quite unnecessary and unworkable and we maintain the stance that it is a gross and massive violation of the individual privacy and civil liberties of Australians. It could well be the thin end of a wedge to be driven through all those rights of privacy and liberty which we cherish so highly. The Government has totally ignored these arguments, arguments which, of course, are not unique to the Opposition but are widely held throughout the community. It is very sobering to see that in the arguments that the Government has advanced and which the Opposition has rejected we are in very notable company with those who take the same view. So if we in the Opposition are guilty of all the political crimes in the book which Dr Blewett and the Minister representing him here maintain, we are in extremely good company in Australia.

Far from any opportunism on our part, the fact is that polling that has been done on this legislation-although results have fluctuated a good deal-consistently has indicated that a majority in those polls support this legislation and that totally undermines the criticism that the Government has levelled at the Opposition. As I have said, the vast number of people and organisations in this country have maintained the very same concerns and have used the very same arguments against this legislation which we have consistently exercised.

The President of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties is a very distinguished Australian lawyer-one who is well known to the Government and one who I am sure is held in very high regard at least by Senator Tate, who is the Minister at the table tonight-and that is Mr Ron Castan, QC. On behalf of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties he has issued a pamphlet which is headed `Oppose Canberra's UnAustralian Australia Card'. I am holding the pamphlet in my hand, and I hope that Government senators have read or will read what is said in it because it summarises, in a way which could not be clearer or simpler, all the arguments which the Opposition has been using throughout this debate.

It points out that the un-Australian Australia Card identity system is not an effective way to beat the tax and social security cheats. It states that the ID card-it quite rightly emphasises that it is an identity card-is an extravagant, highly expensive and bureaucratic waste of taxpayer's money. It goes on to point out that not only will it cost the Government about a billion dollars of taxpayers' money to bring it into operation--

Senator Tate —That is not right.

Senator DURACK —That is the very figure that the Opposition has always referred to.

Senator Tate —It does not make it credible.

Senator DURACK —This is what Mr Castan is saying; it is not what the Opposition is saying, although it happens to be the same estimate as we have made. The Council states that it will cost $800m to $1,000m of taxpayers' money to set it up and that it will cost Australian industry $2 billion which will have to be passed on to Australians in higher prices. The Government says `We don't agree with that figure', but in fact the Government's Business Regulation Review Unit has found that the cost to private industry of government regulation is a factor of about 2:1; whatever is the government expenditure on regulation, private industry has imposed on it twice that figure. That figure of $2 billion is arrived at from the advice and findings of the Government's Business Regulation Review Unit.

As Mr Castan points out, it will be at least six years before the card will earn net revenue for the Government-if ever. The pamphlet goes on to point out that the Department of Social Security admits that the identity card will not stop welfare cheating and that that Department has estimated that no net revenue will be received by it from this identity card. It then goes on to give a brief description of the way the card will work.

There is a very clear and very detailed analysis of the arguments against the card-not by the Opposition, but it so happens that at this stage of this long debate everything that the Opposition has said about this card is summarised and supported by that independent body presided over by one of Australia's most eminent lawyers. Incidentally, he is not a lawyer who is likely to be a supporter of the Opposition; indeed, he is a most independent, non-political lawyer heading a council which the Government and honourable senators opposite have been constantly quoting in support of many of their causes. It is not just the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties alone that takes that view; I think most of the councils of civil liberties around Australia do. This evening I signed a letter to the Secretary of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, who has written to me, as no doubt she has to all other senators, expressing strong opposition to this card.

A wide cross-section of the Australian community has already given support to opposition to the ID card. An advertisement was placed in the Weekend Australian last November. I refer to some of the names of people associated with that strong protest: I have mentioned Mr Castan whose name appears here again; Bishop Michael Challen, the Assistant Anglican Bishop of Perth; Mr Roger Clarke, a well known academic; and Mr Frank Costigan, QC, who has been a strong Labor lawyer throughout his life, who is probably the most distinguished investigator of crime in this country and who is opposed to this card because he knows and he has said over and again that it simply will not do the job, that it will not work. I will not read them all out, but there is a host of names of people representing a vast range of leading community figures across the political spectrum and from all walks of life in this nation.

In addition, however, to individuals who have expressed those views against the card there has been a galaxy of leading organisations in Australia which have expressed the same opposition to it. I will list a number of them to show the variety and significance of organisations which are opposed to the card, for the same reasons as the Opposition has advanced throughout this debate. They include: The Confederation of Australian Industry, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, the New South Wales Council of Australian Small Business Associations, the Australian Associated Stock Exchanges, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce, the South Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Law Council of Australia which, in its submission to us all, has expressed grave concern about the inadequacy of the Government's watchdog, its Data Protection Agency, and its rules and operations and the provisions in the legislation about that. The Law Council of Australia has been most concerned about the inadequacy of those rules.

Other organisations that have opposed the Australia Card proposals are: The International Commission of Jurists, the Australian Catholic Welfare Commission, the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission of the Anglican Diocese of Perth, the New South Wales Privacy Committee which was set up by the Wran Labor Government, the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association, the Federated Clerks Union of Australia and the Victorian Teachers Union. Only today I had brought to my attention the fact that the National Youth Council of Australia has totally rejected Labor's identity card proposals. It has adopted, according to a recent news bulletin, virtually the same arguments as the Opposition has been using.

This is not a piece of political opportunism or some aberration for the political purposes of the Opposition. The Government and Government supporters should be asking: How is it that the arguments that the Opposition has used consistently throughout this long debate are used over and over again by this wide spectrum of the Australian community, both individuals and organisations? It is really very simple because the arguments that are used are so overwhelmingly sensible and convincing to everybody, apparently, except the Government and its supporters.

I have already said what the cost of setting up this card will be. The Government said: `It is only about $759m'. How does it arrive at $759m? We have already had many estimates by governments of what things will cost: Just take the new Parliament House as it slowly rises behind us. It will probably cost three, four or five times the original cost estimate. Yet the Government makes a great issue about the card by saying `It will not cost $1,000m; it will cost only $759m' as though it can work out that figure with such accuracy. Even on its own admission, the Government has not taken into account the costs of State and local authorities. So we are quite entitled to add in those costs and take a round figure. But on the Government's own admission 2,150 extra Commonwealth public servants will be needed to set up the Australia Card. All existing Medicare offices will be upgraded and 15 new Medicare offices will be established because this card will replace the Medicare card. Based on the Government's Business Regulation Review Unit's assessment the cost to private industry will be about $2 billion.

The banks have just issued some costings of what the card will mean to them. It will cost $60m to implement and $5m a year thereafter. However, in a later submission the banks went further and showed that the card would be quite unworkable for the banks. One will have to use the card to open a bank account or to operate an existing bank account. The banks have shown that the system throughout all their branches in Australia cannot readily be fed into the computerised system that is required to operate the card. Many banking agencies around the country operate manually and it would be simply impossible for the banks to carry out the demands that will be made upon them and maintain their existing standard of service. The banks have said that if the card is to be imposed upon them, it will reduce the convenience and availability of banking services throughout the whole of Australia.

The Government says that this card will result in taxation savings of something like $4,000m over 10 years. It will take at least six years before that is any credit at all. The Minister has given various figures in the course of debates on this subject. The Minister has estimated higher amounts at times but he has included savings from the social security system that the Department of Social Security has said will not be made. The Minister has claimed benefits from illegal migration which the joint committee of our two Houses have found in its investigation is a massive exaggeration. Figures are simply plucked out of the air.

The Opposition takes the view that the same savings, if not more, can be made in the taxation area by upgrading the Australian Taxation Office and improving its efficiency along the lines of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure report which is based on a series of Auditor-General's reports on the problems in the Taxation Office. Those reports collected by the Expenditure Committee indicate the massive failure of the Tax Office in recent years to use material that has been given to it, to collect material that it is entitled to have and to spend money on modern computer methods and modern administrative methods to make the most use of the powers and information that it has. Savings of between $400m and $500m a year could be made simply by improving the operations of the Taxation Office. The report `A Taxing Matter' has been tabled in this Parliament and has been the subject of widespread acceptance.

In round terms, the Government's own estimates of savings that it is proposing to make by this intrusive, unnecessary, unworkable and highly expensive identity card-as I said, savings will be made over a period of 10 years and we will be many years down the track before any savings at all are made-can be achieved in a much quicker time, with far less expenditure, perhaps a couple of hundred of million dollars, by upgrading the Taxation Office. Perhaps it can insist on its upgrading itself because it is the subject of massive criticism for its failures. If it were made workable in that way savings of about the same as the Government estimates it would get from this card could be made and far less of an assault would be made on Australia's privacy, liberties and traditions; there would be no massive increase in public servants and other expenditures and private industries would be saved from massive increased costs.

Finally, the Opposition rests its case on the enormous intrusion into individual privacy that this legislation entails. It entirely reverses the principle that the Government should be accountable to the people. This makes people entirely accountable to the Government simply to establish their own identity. Sixteen million Australians will be asked to establish their identity under this legislation. Indeed, under this legislation if one loses one's card and does not report it within 21 days one would be committing an offence. We simply will not be able to carry on as ordinary citizens in this country without having the card with us at all times. The Government says that the legislation does not say that we have to have it with us at all times, but this card is necessary for opening a bank account, buying any form of property or getting a job. We have to produce it to get a job.

As I have said it is a massive intrusion into not only individual privacy; the Government is giving us a licence to live. As I said earlier in this debate, it is the human equivalent of a dog licence. This is what this Government is proposing to impose on each and every Australian citizen-not those who are simply on welfare or paying taxes even. Everybody, every man, woman and child in this country, will have to have this card. The information will all be stored in a central register. Although the Government says that it will be used only for certain purposes, who knows in future what use will be made of a whole range of private information about every individual in this community!

As the Law Council has shown in its submission, the protections that the Government is seeking to build into this legislation to protect privacy are inadequate and simply will not do the job. Australians will be massively assaulted in their ordinary rights and in the standards that they have come to enjoy in this country as a result of this card. The Opposition will continue to maintain its opposition to it. We will speak against it in this debate as long as it is necessary to do so and we will vote against it as we did on 10 December last year.

Debate interrupted.