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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1425

Mr HALVERSON(9.18) —I welcome this opportunity to speak on such a vital issue as the Australia Card Bill 1986 (No. 2), given that this autocratic and authoritarian socialist Government so unceremoniously gagged my speech during the last debate. I would like to commend the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Nehl) for his compassionate understanding of the evil implications and evil potential of such an insidious Bill as that currently being debated in this place. The principles of liberty, equality, justice and humanity are the foundation stones upon which a free and democratic society are built and the guarantees and safeguards on which its continued existence depends.

This debate today is not so much about whether we can or should introduce a compulsory national identification system but whether we are prepared to ignore and undermine these basic democratic principles. The acceptance of the one concept is, in the final analysis, the rejection of the others. There may be persuasive and seemingly very reasonable arguments used to justify the implementation of the Government's Australia Card proposal, but they must be considered very carefully against the arguments in favour of preserving and maintaining the rights and privileges that Australians are indeed fortunate to enjoy--

Mr Slipper —A free society.

Mr HALVERSON —A free society; one that we must move, at all expense, to guarantee now and in future, and which we must be vigilant to protect-rights and privileges which are unknown, denied or restricted in many other countries, but which we take almost for granted; our personal privacy, civil liberties and individual freedoms. Perhaps it is because we have become rather complacent that we are sometimes slow to recognise when these most precious principles and ideals are being threatened and we are hesitant in our reactions to defend our rights, because it is not always immediately obvious how they are under attack. We have them now, so we presume that we will always have them. Such presumptions are dangerously naive and demonstrably incorrect. The greatest dangers lie not in the obviously easily identifiable threats but in the apparantly innocent, inconsequential actions which are promoted as being fair, necessary and beneficial. The idea of giving a little to gain a lot is an attractive and simple proposition to market, but sometimes even a little is far too much. A little given or taken frequently soon amounts to a lot more than may have been originally anticipated.

James Madison once observed: `There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations'. Slowly whittled away, bit by bit, or sledge-hammered into oblivion with one well directed blow the result is the same. The former approach is, of course, more subtle than the latter and much harder to detect, but it is only a different means by which to achieve the same end.

This proposed legislation to introduce a national identification register is being sold to us on the basis that it will provide a workable, practical and acceptable solution to the significant and increasing problems of tax evasion, health and welfare fraud, organised crime, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and a plethora of other undesirable and offensive activities; activities which are practiced by those who contrive and who are determined to abuse in uncommonly bad ways a system which has been designed, however imperfectly, to serve the common good. There can be no denying that problems do exist, but the introduction of a compulsory identification card is not a proper nor an acceptable solution.

This legislation will allow the State and the bureaucracy to abrogate the rights of the many in the hope that they may apprehend the despicable and selfish few. As a result, the vast majority of decent, honest, law abiding citizens will be dispossessed of their personal privacy and will have their irreplaceable rights and privileges downgraded, thus increasing their vulnerability to the big brother scenario which was once considered implausible but which is now becoming a frightening reality.

Mr Slipper —Under Labor.

Mr HALVERSON —Under Labor now and under any subsequent Labor soclialist government. Hopefully, we have seen the last of them. To excuse and justify this dangerous proposal by claiming that it will clean up the corrupt, criminal and parasitic elements in our society is a confidence trick of monstrous proportions. The Government is well aware of these facts and has therefore sought to ignore them in its ID card marketing campaign by adopting yet again the `politics of envy' tactic-the shoddy and shallow strategy of emphasising and concentrating on the `let's get even' aspects of its insidious scheme. If it really wants to get even it can start doing so now by instructing the appropriate authority to use the existing legislation in a more efficient and therefore more effective manner. The `get even' measures already exist, but they are not being used.

Why do we need more laws when the ones we have now are not being given a chance to work. If the Government is really genuine in its desire to beat the cheats and those who exploit the system, and can demonstrate that it has tried to overcome the problems but is being defeated by the inadequacies of existing legislation let it tighten up the system and the legislation. But any tightening must be by fair rather than by foul means. Let it improve and strengthen existing laws and regulations. But at the same time it must realise its actions will be futile unless it also ensures that resources are available whereby these measures can be and are enforced. The only real deterrent to those who contrive to break the law is the certainty of being caught and suitably punished. After all this has been done, if specific problem areas still remain, only then should we contemplate introducing new and additional legislation. But we must always remember that evil practices cannot and will not be overcome by evil laws. Therefore, any new laws will be acceptable only if they are good laws, and good laws are ones that work only to the detriment of, have an adverse influence or effect upon, or reduce the rights and privileges of those who break and abuse them.

Mr Slipper —This is a bad law.

Mr HALVERSON —This is indeed a bad law. The Australia Card legislation is not, by any definition, the basis for a good law. It will not provide proper and adequate solutions to the difficult problems of graft, corruption and greed which manifest themselves in the spiralling white and blue collar crime rates which currently confront us. This Government maintains that it wants to protect the rights of the people, yet it sets about doing so by proposing legislation which restricts those rights. It is very easy to protect rights by restricting them. We need only have a few laws based on this premise and we will have no rights left to protect. The problem will then have solved itself. Furthermore, the instigators of this Orwellian legislation have the temerity to endeavour to disguise their true intentions under a mask of respectability by calling the seemingly innocuous, but nonetheless obnoxious, plastic identity tag, the Australia Card.

There would be very few things less Australian in concept and character than a compulsory identity card. The proposal is totally un-Australian in design, in principle, and in practice. The Hawke Government is being altogether rather too coy. It should demonstrate the courage of its convictions by being brutally frank and honest by calling this small but powerful machine made computer controlled menace `the personal privacy invader'-that is what it really is.

Many honourable members opposite who support the Australia Card proposal may be well-meaning, well-intentioned and sincerely motivated by a desire to put a stop to the unwelcome activities of undesirable and irresponsible people who do not pay their taxes, or who rob the public purse of millions of dollars each year, but they are lacking in foresight and understanding if they imagine that this legislation is the best solution. In fact, it is a far greater abuse of the rights of ordinary Australian citizens than could ever result from the activities of all the tax evaders and dole cheats combined. This is truly an instance where the hackneyed phrase about the cure being worse than the disease can be justifiably employed.

The legislation we are debating today is littered with uncertainties and fraught with dangers. It may be presented to us with assurances that its very real potential for abuse and exploitation will never be authorised and, therefore, never realised. Such promises are easy to make and just as easy to break. Let it be clearly understood by every Australian that there is and can be no absolute and/or permanent guarantee that present or future governments will not or cannot amend the so-called safeguards that may now be contained in the proposed legislation, but which can be altered or deleted by any government of any political persuasion which has the inclination and the numbers so to do. It will be a relatively simple matter to link up the various mushrooming data banks which hold information, often information of a very personal and private nature about you and me and all Australians and combine and exchange this data at will.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics, which has been given increasing authority to pry into the day to day affairs of unsuspecting citizens who have already been deprived of the right to refuse to participate in its inquistorial activities, is potentially a very valuable and, therefore, highly vulnerable source of information. The ABS holds not only details compulsorily acquired from Australians during the Census, but also it collects an enormous amount of information on an ongoing basis. None of this relevant and sensitive data is provided anonymously.

Medicare maintains files on every Australian who has lodged a claim for medical or hospital expenses; all highly confidential, all highly vulnerable. There are many instances, several in my electorate of Casey, where the confidentiality of the patient-doctor relationship has been breached by Medicare investigators. Information and records about patients and their illnesses are obviously readily available to Medicare employees and, via them, to the police and other authorities, all without prior knowledge or consent of the patient.

The Australian Taxation Office is another agency which holds a substantial amount of confidential information about a lot of people, most of whom have no intention of breaking any laws or offending against any regulations. The Taxation Office has significant and far-reaching powers which enable its inspectors and investigators to obtain and use information without knowledge or consent of the taxpayers or taxpayers involved. It is unfortunately a matter of public record that the Taxation Office is sometimes more efficient in leaking information than it is in collecting it.

These three agencies alone have the potential to provide detailed, confidential and personal information which could be used to prepare exhaustive profiles on any or all of the people who are already on their files-and that is most of us. There is, however, no guarantee as to the accuracy of this information or whether or not adequate provisions exist to allow errors to be rectified. There can certainly be no guarantee that the various departments have the ability or even the commitment or intention, to maintain total permanent confidentiality in regard to their files.

The Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, with members from all the major political parties, has rigorously examined all aspects of the Australia Card proposal and has rejected the proposed legislation as being inappropriate, unjustifiable and unacceptable. After assessing evidence for and against the ID card the Committee voted five to three against the Goverment's proposals. One of those against included one of the Government's members.

Mr Slipper —He had principles.

Mr HALVERSON —One of the very few. The findings of the Committee, plus evidence and information available from other countries where some form of ID card is used, proved beyond doubt that the Government's proposal is ill-advised and misguided. The Australia Card will not provide efficient, cost-effective, workable or proper solutions to the difficult problems that currently exist. It will, however, undoubtedly destroy or encroach upon many of our fundamental rights and freedoms.

Faced with all the indisputable evidence of the present vulnerability and shortcomings of the system and the potentially disastrous consequences for society as we know it if this or any future government decides to change its mind about what will and will not be included in the Australia Card Register, the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) still maintains that one must question the motives of those who oppose the Australia Card proposal. I respectfully and sincerely suggest that one must instead be questioning the motives of those who wish to impose it. It is not a matter of what those who oppose the system are trying to get away with, but what those who would oppose the system are trying to do away with.

Mr Slipper —Freedom.

Mr HALVERSON —Freedom is such a rare commodity in this difficult world. As children we often played two innocent and entertaining games: `Who am I', where the clues are revealed one by one until at last there is no doubt in anybody's mind as to who the person in question is; and `I spy', where persistent questioning is used to uncover the identity of the thing or person being spied upon. Suddenly these games do not seem so innocent and entertaining anymore, now that the Government wants to play and is prepared to legislate so that it and its agencies will be the ones asking the questions, with the rest of us having no choice but to provide the answers.