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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3664

Senator McKIERNAN(10.04) —The Senate today is continuing to debate the Australia Card. It has been a lengthy debate so far and promises to be even longer than we had originally envisaged. I believe I am No. 14 out of a list of 33 or 34 speakers now with the addition of Senator Vigor which will please all of us no doubt. It has been an emotional debate, not only in this chamber but also in my Party, the Australian Labor Party. There have been cracks, divisions and dissent since the original proposal was first mooted. The debate has ranged widely. There have been many arguments about the merits of having a national identification system. As many sections of the Party, and even divisions within factions of the Party, are in favour of the proposal as are opposed to it. Debate has ranged within our Caucus rooms, our committees, our conferences and our executive meetings. At the conclusion of the debate, whenever that happens, Australian Labor Party senators will be voting in support of the proposals--

Senator Puplick —Every one of them?

Senator McKIERNAN —Every one of them, including me. We have some concerns. Some of us on the left of the Party and in some of the factions have some concerns about the question of civil liberties. We can stand on our laurels on that because since the formation of the Labor Party the Left has been concerned about civil liberties. The interesting thing this debate has brought out is the fact that from the Opposition benches we now hear concerns for civil liberties. We even hear Queensland senators-National Party Queensland senators to boot-expressing some concerns about the erosion of civil liberties in this country.

Senator Puplick —That is progress for you.

Senator McKIERNAN —It is progress indeed, which we on the Left welcome and support. We will offer any assistance possible as long as the concern is genuine.

Senator Robertson —As long as it is dinkum.

Senator McKIERNAN —Is it dinkum? Is it genuine? We shall wait and see whether any major reforms are instituted in Queensland in the very near future. We will see whether the concerns for civil liberties are dinkum, as Senator Robertson said, or whether they are not genuine. Believe it or not, a quotation from Sir Robert Menzies-many quotations have been given in this debate-was given. Sir Robert Menzies led this country when it became involved in the awful tragedy of Vietnam, when the youth of this country were conscripted and sent to Vietnam to die, to be wounded, injured and maimed. Where were the concerns for civil liberties from the other side of the chamber on that occasion?

This debate has been somewhat boring for those who have been involved in it for quite a period. It has been repetitious in a whole number of areas, particularly in regard to quotations. We have had, ad nauseam-I think it is about six times-from the Opposition benches a quotation from the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, of a statement made by Dr Blewett at the ALP State Conference in South Australia. We will hear it yet again. When the first person used the quotation we saw other Opposition senators go to get copies of it for themselves. They will, in turn, wave it around. I do not know how many people it will convince to continue quoting. Perhaps it is to catch the drive time audience. I did not have much opportunity of catching the drive time audience this morning because, unfortunately, the poor individuals in Western Australia are being subjected to this debate at 10 past 7 in the morning. I ask you! It is probably okay for those lying in hospitals who have nothing else to do-I hope you are improving, Jackie. We on this side of the chamber, in turn, can use our own quotations. I will use a quotation in a negative sense but will also put some positive aspects to it later. On 13 November this year an editorial appeared in the Australian headed: `Opposition flounders around aimlessly'. The editorial continued:

The Federal Opposition is looking like an opportunistic rabble. It is looking less and less like an alternative government.

It continued:

The decision to oppose the introduction of the Australia Card straight after being so forthright in the fact that a Coalition government would abolish the fringe benefits tax makes the Opposition look like the tax avoiders' party.

A tax avoider's party, indeed. Members of the Opposition are floundering around aimlessly, with one or two quotations on the Australia Card from the Federal Minister for Health, and they are feeling good. So they ought to be feeling good. I have paid tribute to them before about the fact that they are now showing some concern for civil liberties. That is positive, that is good, it has to be encouraged, and it has to continue. Hopefully, if they ever reach the Government benches again-it is not looking very much like it at the moment-they will institute some reforms in the area of civil liberties in Australia.

I also want to commend members of the Opposition for showing a degree of unity on this occasion. I think in excess of 20 Opposition speakers are all pushing the Opposition line. That is positive, but it is not what the people of Australia want to hear. They want to hear their alternatives. We know what those opposite are not going to do and what they want to stop this Government doing; but they should tell us what they propose as an alternative. They have not done that yet and it is about time they did so.

The question of civil liberties and access to information has been a major feature of the debate not only in this chamber but in the other place. The information required by the Australia Card Bill will be simply name, residential or postal address, date of birth, sex, a photograph, a signature and some verification of identity.

What other agencies in Australia collect information? I want to quote from an excellent speech made in the other place by one of my more brilliant colleagues in the Australian Labor Party, the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown). On 13 November-the day on which the editorial from the Australian which I quoted earlier was published-Mr Brown listed the information that is collected by a certain government instrumentality. He said:

Their name and address and a personal identifying number, their age, a full history of addresses where they have lived, the people with whom they have lived, the various occupations they have followed, the names of all who have employed them, how much they paid them, whether they have changed their name, the name of their spouse, whether they are married or divorced or widowed, whether they are living away from their spouse, the names and ages of their children, whether their children live with them, whether their children go to state or private schools, the details of any previous pre-nuptial or ex-nuptial children, whether they are unmarried parents, any periods of unemployment or sickness, what social welfare payments they have received, the names of trusts and partnerships of which they are members, the names of any companies of which they are directors and any remuneration they receive, the details of all institutions in which they hold funds, the identity of companies in which they hold shares, any life assurance policies, a description of all property owned by them, when it was acquired and when it was sold, its purchase price, its sale price, any profit made on its sale, any interest held in any property or business outside Australia, the location of the property, a description of it, the names and addresses of any companies, trusts or partnerships outside Australia in which they have an interest, the names of any trade unions, business or professional associations of which they are members, the annual membership fees, the names of any organisations and institutions which they have supported financially and, if they have had high medical expenses, the details of all illnesses and treatments, including psychiatric treatment.

Those details are already collected by the Australian Taxation Office. Concerns have been expressed here about civil liberties and about the fact that, to get an Australia Card, we would have to provide our name, our residential and postal address, our date of birth, what sex we are, and a photograph with a signature and some verification of the information. Where are the real concerns about data protection in this country on the question of the Australia Card?

Some mention was also made, in opposition to the card, of the fact that a trade union-again, this example was quoted ad nauseam-the Federated Clerks Union of Australia, had come out in opposition to the Australia Card. The Federated Clerks Union is but one union out of some 300-odd unions. Perhaps the most important fact, when we are talking about trade unions and their attitude to the Australia Card, is that the Executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the governing body of the trade union movement in this country, has come out in support of it, as indeed, according to opinion polls, have the majority of the people of Australia.

Although the debate has been long, somewhat boring and certainly repetitious, it has also been worth while. We know what is going to happen when the vote is taken-the proposal before the Senate will be defeated. I think we can all learn from it, as indeed the Government learnt from its original proposal and instituted refinements following the Committee's report. I think that the Government will take into account some of those real concerns that have been raised. I hope that some of the concerns about civil rights and civil liberties that have been raised from the Opposition benches are genuine and will be taken into account when the Australia Card Bill is again put before the Senate for passing next year.