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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3670

Senator CROWLEY(10.41) —The opportunity I have to support this legislation and to elaborate on what it is about also enables me to oppose, to elaborate on, or to sketch out, counter-arguments to the arguments put by the Opposition but, more importantly, to lay at rest the absolute, blatant misrepresentations-there is only one word for it and that is lies-in this place about the Australia Card. I do not even mind the fanciful nonsense, such as Senator MacGibbon taking his identification card with him once he gets 50 kilometres beyond the place where he lives. That was good, hysterical stuff, and it should get him a hell of a lot of votes from the dentists of Australia, particularly when they have patients with their mouths full of instruments. Senator MacGibbon's speech was sheer, unmitigated nonsense and rhubarb and he would be better off writing scripts for films. His speech had nothing to do with the facts of the matter, but it is some evidence of the fancifulness of his imagination. To that extent, it has added to the gross, very wicked misrepresentations that he and other Opposition senators have been making. For Senator MacGibbon to claim, in particular, that there will be a loss of privacy under the Australia Card in the area of medical history is wicked. It is nothing short of a scandalous, wicked misrepresentation. I say again that the only word for it is lies. People who visit psychiatrists--

Senator Peter Baume —Madam Acting Deputy President, the honourable senator has now linked the word `lie' with Senator MacGibbon's presentation. I believe that she has transgressed standing order 418 and she should withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Order! Senator Crowley, you cannot attribute lies to any honourable senator. I ask you to withdraw that statement.

Senator CROWLEY —I withdraw any connection to any particular honourable senator but I simply say--

Senator Peter Baume —Madam Acting Deputy President, I understand that a withdrawal should be unqualified.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The Opposition has asked for an unqualified withdrawal. I would like you to withdraw.

Senator CROWLEY —I am sure that it has. I withdraw those remarks and I hope that everybody understands exactly what I have been asked to withdraw. One by one, members of the Opposition, collectively, have wickedly misrepresented this point of view.

Senator Walsh —Big fibs!

Senator CROWLEY —The word `fibs' is hardly the word to describe it. The word `fibs' is the word that children use. It is an absolute farce that this chamber has to tolerate that kind of misrepresentation by members opposite who find clever or farcical ways of saying to the people listening to this debate that it is untrue. The example given concerning Medicare is very wicked indeed. Senator Peter Baume knows that and I am a bit shocked that he has not at least told his troops that that is not the way it will go. Under the Medicare card at the moment there is no way in which people's visits to the doctors and the particular treatment they are seeking is known to anybody else except the patient and the doctor. It is not known to Medicare and it is not an invasion of the privacy of citizens at all. It is scandalous for honourable senators opposite to suggest that, under the Australia Card, any of that will be changed.

Senator Peter Baume —You simply don't understand.

Senator CROWLEY —Under this legislation, information of that sort about individuals will not be available under freedom of information, and that should be understood, too. There is a wicked amount of misrepresentation. If Opposition senators want to dispute the effectiveness of the Australia Card, they may dispute it, but they should stick to the facts. They should not make up these wicked furphies. Senator MacGibbon is marvellous; he is matched only by Senator Sheil for highly creative imagination and flights of fancy. I shall come to some of Senator Sheil's nonsense. He, too, should know this, because he is a medical practitioner. Let us not introduce very grave misrepresentations about this matter.

Let us talk about the issues. The issues are about whether or not an Australia Card identification system for citizens in this country will help people in the course of their business and will help government in the course of trying honourably and properly to collect tax revenue, of trying properly and honourably to pay social security recipients what they are entitled to, and of trying to stop people fraudulently claiming under that system, and, as well, its third great arm-of trying to comply with all the provisions that are currently provided under the Medicare card. That is what the Australia Card is about-not nonsense about travelling down roads, getting taxis, internal passports, and the most extraordinary claims by Senator Sheil. Let us not get into the land of fantasy. Let us stick with the facts. If Opposition senators cannot do that, they should sit down and listen to us. We are prepared to look at the argument, as we have with the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card and with any sort of evidence, but let us not have this highly creative rubbish and nonsense that can be confusing and can create fear and anxiety in the community. If Senator Peter Baume wants to ask people to support him against this measure, he should tell them the facts, and not all this rubbish. That is what it is. It is very offensive to me and, I hope, to most Australians who are listening to this debate, that Opposition senators have to resort to that nonsense and wildly mischievous misrepresentation.

Senator MacGibbon, for some strange reason, does not mind having his one stroke-or whatever it was-to prove that he was a member of the Army. Under any of those records more was known about Senator MacGibbon in the Army than the Australia Card system will ever want to know about him. He somehow does not mind knowing it in the Army, but he is appalled to think that another section of the Government, the tax system, might want to know about it. For goodness sake, what is the logic of having everything known to the Department of Defence and nothing much known to the Australian Taxation Office? Why worry when one can tell everything to the Army but nothing to the Tax Office? I suggest that it goes to the point about which Minister Blewett was talking, which has been so oft quoted by Opposition senators. The trouble is that members of the Opposition do not want their financial dealings being understood, although they do not mind a few other of their dealings being known about. It is to the point of money that we are talking. I find it offensive that Opposition senators would so misrepresent the issues in this debate.

The Opposition has also said that evidence was given before the Joint Select Committee that identification was not a problem in the area of social security fraud. I should have thought that any proper examination of that evidence would make it clear that that is exactly the difficulty. Because people can so easily falsify an identification, identification has not been the problem for the Department of Social Security. In answer to a question asked yesterday, I think, Senator Walsh cited the case of the man in Victoria who has some 50 false identifications, all of which were drawing social security benefits. The identification was not a problem; it has been extraordinarily difficult for the Department to establish that a person is the identity he says he is and not any other identification. The Australia Card goes to establishing with great integrity that a person is that person and not any other person. It will make it very difficult for one to have a false identification, and it will make it, therefore, much easier for the Department of Social Security to be sure that it is paying the right person the right benefit or pension.

To say that identification is not a problem except in a very small percentage of cases is to misrepresent the difficulties the Department of Social Security must face. Identification is a considerable problem for people trying to establish their identification. At present they often cannot do so. It is an extraordinarily difficult thing for people to do. It is very difficult for the Department of Social Security to be sure that it has the right person. It has some mechanisms to try to address that difficulty. I should have thought that Opposition senators would know, as senators on this side of the chamber know from constituents who come to see them, that establishing identification is one of the biggest problems for citizens who go to claim social security benefits. I certainly have spoken to people in my office who have come to South Australia from Queensland, for whom the challenge and the terrible difficulty is to prove in South Australia that they are the same people who were the beneficiaries in Queensland.

That question of identification is a major one, and it will be in the largest part dealt with by the Australia Card. Because the Australia Card establishes a person's identity at an interview, with the Health Insurance Commission having access to the new data bank of births, marriages and deaths, and because people would have other documentation relating to who they are, all of that data being brought together in the one place will establish their identification at an interview, and therefore the documentation will be of very high integrity. That makes it very difficult to establish false identities. It makes it very difficult for people who wish fraudulently to create an identity. On what? On some fake birth certificate? It will not be easy fraudulently to identify false characters if the Australia Card comes into existence. It seems easy to produce a bit of plastic-there is no trouble with doing that; we have been doing it for quite a few years now-but to establish some method of sourcing that number, that signature and that photograph to a false identity will be very difficult. No longer do people have easy access to birth certificates. Under the changes proposed in relation to information about births, deaths and marriages, that information will be in a very differently secure and differently accessible system.

The Australia Card identification goes to the integrity that will be attached to it because of the interview and the high integrity documentation and access to births, marriages and deaths records at the time of interview. Those are the sorts of things the Opposition has not been telling the Australian public. They are the sorts of things that make an absolute mockery of the Opposition's claims as to how easy it will be to buy a false identification or to produce one in some little back street. We were hearing from one member of the Opposition about his wandering around Times Square, I think, buying American social security cards, and a few other things besides; we did not ask what they were. What a lot of nonsense; what a massive furphy. It has nothing to do with the identification system proposed under this legislation. Precisely because of that high integrity identification, much of the Opposition's claims in this area are nonsense.

Senator Peter Baume can tell his colleagues who are not now present that some of us have had the experience of living overseas and of having an identity card. I certainly have, living, as I have done, for four years in the United States. The first thing I had to get on arrival there was my United States social security card. I never felt that it was a terrible invasion of privacy. It was never a great problem for me, but it certainly facilitated some of the processes that I had to go through-for example, renewing visas, and so on. It is a piece of paper with a number on it. I should have thought that it would be very easy to reproduce it. That is not the sort of thing about which we are talking when considering the identification system under the Australia Card. So the Opposition does not have much argument at all if all that it can resort to are the misrepresentations and the wicked mischief it has put up instead of a significant debate on this issue.

It is interesting to find Opposition senators-Senator MacGibbon, for example-asking how we will stop the cash economy between a householder and a lawnmower man-or woman; which, of course, Senator MacGibbon did not mention. The Government is not making claims of that sort at all. The Government does not claim to be introducing the parousia pairidaeza, nor even an approximation to paradise. What it is introducing is a method of identification for citizens in this country that will massively reduce opportunities for tax evasion, tax avoidance and social security fraud and, at the same time, it will make the Medicare provisions that currently exist, in a very manageable way, part of that. It is not claiming to do away with all fraud. It is claiming that this system will dramatically reduce the largest areas of tax evasion and tax avoidance in this country. It is not saying that it will do it all. Even in the cash economy, the Australia Card will make a very significant impact, not in some of the household exchanges but certainly in the area of building, for example, where very much of the exchange has been in the cash economy. With the Australia Card, continuation of that kind of financial exchange would not be possible without the tax liabilities being picked up in that area, to name just one area of the cash economy that the Government sees as being closed to tax evasion and tax avoidance with the Australia Card. The Government does not expect that it will solve all problems, but it does expect that it will dramatically reduce the difficulties we confront at the moment and will dramatically increase the amount of revenue gained by the Government on behalf of Australian citizens.

I have heard people talking about this massive and terrible invasion of privacy. These very same citizens in fact have all this information held about them in a series of different records, but for some strange reason they feel more threatened when the tax man is looking at their tax revenue. I suggest that honourable senators opposite read again what Minister Blewett had to say about privacy; not that the individual citizen does not matter as compared with society, but that there is a balance between both of those. If individual citizens go on taking their money and not contributing responsibly, honestly and honourably to society, therefore putting a burden on all the rest, the honourable citizens, that kind of price has to be paid. If every citizen to this point had been honest, we would not have to worry, but neither Senator Peter Baume's former Government nor this Government can say that all citizens are honest. We know that a small percentage are very dishonest and massively rort the system so that honest citizens have to pay far more than is their due. It is this Government's intention to try to reduce the opportunities and prospects for that percentage who are wicked and dishonest and who rort the system, so that there is a redistribution of revenue regained to honest and honourable citizens.

There has never been other than a tension between privacy and society and I do not know why the Opposition thinks that it can persuade Australian citizens that we are the first to invade privacy-never. It has been a tension, it has been a struggle since communities became concerned to become communities, as apart from a group of individuals, probably 4,000 or 5,000 years ago. Over the time we have seen the development of all that, but the things that Opposition senators have been saying in this debate make a mockery and a nonsense of their level of intellectual ability. Why argue about privacy when one's birth certificate, marriage certificate and death certificate-I am not sure that that would describe this side of the chamber, but certainly Opposition honourable senators may have some death certificates amongst them, inasmuch as they are hardly ever animate--

Senator Archer —Ha, ha!

Senator CROWLEY —I thank Senator Archer; I thought it was not bad myself. Information that people are born, are married, how old they are, that they are on social security or that they pay tax, seems to me to be a fairly significant amount of information that citizens are already required to give to the Government. I do not understand why people feel that the Australia Card, which will put some of those bits of information side by side-that is all it will do-and under very strict regulations, requirements and limitations, is such a problem. We have to worry about privacy and civil liberties, but Minister Blewett and the Government, in introducing this legislation, have quite clearly paid very large and strict attention to those matters. There is privacy legislation, there is the establishment of the Data Protection Agency and there are the points listed by Senator Maguire and Senator Robert Ray, to name just two, in those areas. It is not as though the Government is thoughtless in this area-it is very thoughtful.

I recall the answer Senator Walsh gave to a question yesterday: The difficulty is not about just dealing with social security fraud or tax evasion and avoidance; the difficulty is that sometimes the two are hand in glove. People are not rorting social security only because they are getting two lots of unemployment benefit; they are rorting the system because they are getting unemployment benefit while they are working and paying tax. We need a system to match up the social security information with the tax information about some of our citizens. That is one of the biggest ways in which some of that fraud and tax evasion will be better controlled or managed. That is the true state of affairs and that is what is necessary. It is not possible for each department to go on trying to solve these problems, because the evidence is quite clear that it is the cross-departmental manoeuvrings of some citizens which contributes very much to the massive loss of revenue by people who are rorting the system.

Senator Sheil was really carried away when he got into extraordinary language about things such as search warrants. He said that any minute now, with the Australia Card, we will not have search warrants; citizens will be required to do this, that and the other, even without search warrants. There is a certain cynicism in my soul to hear a Queensland senator say that, when certain behaviour, with or without search warrants, in certain medical practitioners places last year leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Certainly Senator Sheil from Queensland ought to be talking about his concern about civil rights, but I wish that he would practise it in his own State. It is also important that he does not leave the Australian community with that sense of what the Australia Card is about. It is exactly not that.

It is also true that citizens once a year can request to see the information through the Data Protection Agency and can check it. Senator Sheil and Senator MacGibbon loudly proclaimed that once the information is there it will never be able to be changed; it is stuck there for life. The legislation says exactly the opposite; people can check their information files and if they are inaccurate they can require them to be corrected. We cannot go into this debate with that kind of wild misstatement. We cannot ask people to understand what the issues are if we are so grossly misrepresenting the issues. The Australia Card is not about search warrants or internal passports, nor will it require anything other than that the listed organisations-the Taxation Office, the Department of Social Security and Medicare--

Senator Peter Baume —Yet.

Senator CROWLEY —Yet, says Senator Baume. What an extraordinary answer.

Senator Peter Baume —Just tattoo it on the inside of our arm.

Senator CROWLEY —Now the tattoos. What about the thumbprint on the forehead? Why do we not go the whole way with Senator Baume's creative rubbish? That is a scandalous way of looking at things.

Senator Peter Baume —We don't trust you.

Senator CROWLEY —That is what the issue is. Senator Baume has said it in a nutshell. Let him tell everyone listening, the few of them who are serious enough to stay here and listen to two days of this: The Liberal Opposition does not trust the Labor Government. That is what this debate is about-it has nothing to do with the issues we are supposed to be talking about. We are debating whether or not the Opposition trusts us. The Opposition does not want to read what is in the Australia Card legislation or what is in the privacy legislation, nor does it want to know the facts about the Data Protection Agency. Senator Peter Baume and his Opposition colleagues have stood up for two days and have grossly misrepresented what is in this proposed legislation because they do not trust us. That is what it is about-not the real issue. The Opposition is not telling the Australian people what the issue is.

The issue is that, with the Australia Card, the Government will produce an identification system of very high integrity for every citizen so that those citizens can be sure that under social security they will be able to receive what is properly theirs and those people who want to claim fraudulently will have considerable trouble doing it. The Department of Social Security will be able dramatically to reduce welfare fraud. Under the tax system, with the high integrity identification system, citizens who are honest and honourable will have no difficulty; they will pay their tax as they ever have. The crooks and cheats will find it very difficult and the Taxation Office will be greatly assisted in recouping revenue from the people who to this point have been able fraudulently to avoid and evade their tax responsibilities.

We have the Medicare card system at the moment, which is working very efficiently and nobody's medical history is being touted around the country. That information will change not at all under the Australia Card system. The Opposition's claims to the contrary are scandalously misrepresenting the facts. The Opposition cannot face up to those facts; it is not telling the people of Australia those facts. The Opposition, honourably and collectively, is an utter disgrace to intellectual debate. That is what I find most intolerable about the Opposition. It is a disgrace that it should so misrepresent the facts to the people listening.

Senator Knowles —You're so clever, aren't you?

Senator CROWLEY —No, I am just honest. Other issues have been raised which need to be picked up. One extraordinary piece put in by Senator Powell, an Australian Democrat, seemed to be devoted entirely to whether or not the Government was passionate about creating jobs. It is a very good point and not a bad topic for discussion but it is not exactly what the Australia Card debate is about. The Australia Card debate is not about whether or not we are creating jobs; it is about establishing a high integrity identification system for citizens in this country so as, as I have said before, to make the recoupment of tax manageable, to reduce the possibilities for fraud, evasion and cheating under the tax and social security systems and to provide for the payment and return of moneys under Medicare. It is not about job creation. It is very colourful of Senator Powell to put all of that on the record, but it is really a massive furphy. This Government is passionately committed to creating jobs. Over 600,000 jobs have been created since it came to office in 1983. That is a very good record, although the Government is the first to say that it is insufficient.

It is interesting, too, that Senator Powell argued that we could help people out of poverty by creating jobs for them. That is exactly the point I made in debate on the social security amendment legislation not too long ago, only to be harangued almost to death by the Australian Democrats who suggested that that was a sideways attempt to help people out of poverty. I am glad that Senator Powell has finally come to see the force and persuasion of my argument. Creating jobs is not really what the Australia Card issue is about. However, it is at one remove certainly true that if the Government had available to it the revenue forgone under the present system, where people can defraud the social security system and cause increased payouts from government or avoid their tax responsibilities and therefore reduce government revenue, the Government could put that revenue into alternative and preferred programs. Even to pick up on the points Senator Button has often raised in this chamber, it could put such funds into research and development, encouragement for industries and the creation of jobs in the new high technology areas. Certainly those are some of the things that the Government might prefer to divert its tax moneys into. All of those options are important but they are consequential on the Australia Card legislation. That is one of the reasons for looking at the whole business of establishing a high integrity identification system.

Too many people have been saying for too long that something must be done. The Government has bitten the bullet. It has done something and it has done it with considerable thought and deliberation following a joint select committee inquiry and the collection of a massive amount of evidence. It has looked at the difficulties, including the possibility of the invasion of privacy. It has chosen a proposal that will provide the highest integrity card so as to minimise as much as possible-rather than guarantee, as anything is possible-false identification. The Government has been absolutely honourable in its figuring and it has been conservative in its costing. It has had to deal with the sort of debate we have heard from the Opposition, so there has not been the contribution in this Senate over the last two days of the type that we might have expected seeing that honourable senators opposite were so keen to get back here to debate this matter. That is said with heavy irony as it is my understanding that they were not keen at all. They are so deeply divided on the issue that they did not want it to come to a vote at all. The Government is unashamed. It wants to pass this legislation and implement the Australia Card over the next couple of years. It will take that time to establish all the necessary prerequisites before the system can be put in place.

The Opposition suggests that it does not trust the Government, that it does not believe that what the Government says is what it means and that the legislation really means what it says. The Opposition does not accept any of those things. How can we have a debate with people who argue like that? Let us hear the Opposition's considered views about the issues in question. The civil liberties debate is very important. I believe that the Government has met the concern in its own ranks and in its proposals for the Data Protection Agency and with the Privacy Bill.

It was interesting to hear Senator Puplick point out that the Government has adopted a minority report and minority recommendations. I remind him that that is exactly what he said about the report on human embryo experimentation. He wanted it put on record that he supported the minority report. Seeing as I contributed to that report, I was pleased to have his support but I remind him that he cannot go skipping around like that from one to the other. He says that that minority report was good enough because he examined it and found it honourable; I say that is all the Government did when it looked at the joint committee report on the Australia Card.

This is a significant piece of legislation. It has far-reaching consequences in terms of the revenue, it will be of benefit to the Government as a result of the difficulties it will provide for tax cheats, tax avoiders and evaders. It will assist honourable people by providing a high integrity identification system which will mean that they do not have to hassle to prove they are who they say they are. It will remove a whole lot of difficulties in social security. It will be helpful to the honest and honourable people as it will make it very hard for the cheats, the crooks, the rorters and the frauds and it will be of great benefit to government down time. I am absolutely sure that if this legislation is passed the Opposition will not remove it should it ever return to the Treasury benches.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.