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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1466

Mr HAWKER(11.59) —That contribution from the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) is one of the most unconvincing arguments I have ever heard as to why Australia should have an identification system for every single Australian-every child, every age pensioner, everyone in this country. The honourable member for Canberra talked about the need for this extra cost and burden and then said that it is not a cost or burden. It has already been estimated that it will cost Australians $2 billion on top of the figures she mentioned. She said that the ID card would somehow make all Australians honest. That is one of the most marvellous statements I have ever heard and it ought to be remembered. If we can make people honest by giving them a little piece of plastic, social engineering has nothing on that.

The honourable member referred to the Opposition's policies. It was so difficult for her to talk about the Australia Card that she had to talk about policies that probably do not even belong to the Opposition. She said that improving the policing of the existing social security legislation is somehow worse than the ID card proposal. I remind the honourable member for Canberra that the ID card is the first step towards a police state. All the totalitarian societies require that every person in those societies carry an ID card and in some cases we have heard of numbers being imprinted on the arms of people.

We oppose the ID card because quite simply it will not work; it is a gross invasion of privacy; it will be a costly failure; and it will create a bureaucratic monster. I could go on and on. As has been pointed out by my colleagues on this side, we all know that, despite the assurances of the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), if and when the card is introduced it will be only the first step. Many other uses for it will be found and so it will be expanded and expanded further, as I said at the beginning of my speech, to be a step down the line towards a police state.

Mr Slipper —Big brother.

Mr HAWKER —Exactly. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) today seems fond of the expression `snake oil politics'. This is exactly what this legislation is. We are being told that here is some magical new cure, that if we have an ID card suddenly social security fraud, dole cheats, and tax cheats will disappear. This argument for the ID card system is unconvincing and does not fit. If the Government were fair dinkum, it would tell the people of Australia that the ID card is a cover up for bad administration. There is no doubt that already all the problems that the ID card is supposed to solve can be solved by good, sound administration. We do not even need any more laws; in fact, we probably need fewer. With good administration we could solve all these problems and collect all the revenue that the Government says it needs or wants by stopping those who are either cheating the system or avoiding their obligations. It could all be done with good administration. The Government is covering up its own weaknesses by saying that it needs this very costly bureaucratic intervention with an ID system.

Since the Minister for Health is sitting at the table, I ask him whether he will give an undertaking that when it is proved that this system is a failure-assuming it may get through-he will get rid of it. If he is fair dinkum in saying all the things he has said about this proposal, when it is proved a failure he should be quite happy to give the undertaking that a Labor government-even if it is not the current one, even if it is some years down the line-would get rid of it. I think what the Minister really has in the back of his mind and what he so far has not spelt out to the Australian public, what really is behind his thinking, is that this is the first step towards the socialist state. By using this deception, as my colleague the honourable member for Hinkler (Mr Conquest) has pointed out, by using a nice sounding patriotic name, the Australia Card, and by using Australia's colours, the Minister thinks that somehow he will deceive people about the real reason for the card. The real reason is that it is a move towards a socialist state. As I said before, one has only to look at all the totalitarian societies. What they have in common is an internal passport, an ID card. A Government member, the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent), who has not been allowed to speak this time, called the ID card a Hitler card. He was speaking from first hand experience. This is what the debate should be about-exposing the Government for the real motives for introducing this card.

I would like to talk on a couple of specifics. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) spoke about how people in the country and in remote areas would have to fill in forms and get somebody-he will not say who, of course-authorised to sight an ID card to sign a statutory declaration that the card had been sighted and send that off in the mail. If ever there was a weak link in a system that would have to be it. For those who want to exploit the system, those who want fraudulently to claim an existence, here is their opportunity. All they have to do is get somebody to sign this form and send it in and they can identify themselves in half a dozen different ways. As all honourable members would know, a system is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore those who want to cheat the system will continue to cheat it. The statement of the honourable member for Canberra that the ID card will make Australians honest seems to me to be a rather sick joke.

It is worth looking at a few details about the ID card and what it will mean in practice. What will it mean when Australia's old people in old folk's homes have to have their photographs taken? Can honourable members imagine what it means for the millions of people who will have to have their photograph taken? Do they realise the practicalities of this?

Let us look at what this system will mean to people if they suddenly do not have their ID card, if for some reason there has been a delay in renewal-the card has to be renewed every five years-and they become non-people? What will happen then? They will no longer be able to open a bank account and, if they are eligible for welfare, they will suddenly be denied that, not because they are not eligible but because the practical problems of the system are such, and the system is such an enormous thing, that if for any reason a card runs out of date and renewal has not been made on time the person concerned suddenly will be denied the normal rights that we take for granted in this society. We can see all the little things it could mean to people. Without the card, they will no longer be eligible for Austudy, if the happen to be unemployed they will no longer be eligible for the dole, and they will no longer be eligible to open a bank account.

This problem could arise in other ways, too. If someone happens to lose the card he will have the added problem of going through all the bureaucratic red tape of having to apply for another one. In the meantime, people will not respect that person's identity and it will cause untold headaches. Everyone of us would know just how easy it is to lose a card. The card will not be chained around our necks and the number will not be tattooed on our arms-not yet, anyway.

As has been pointed out already in the debate, the Health Insurance Commission, when it made its submissions back in 1985, put its finger on the real motives behind the ID card. It suggested that the Government should bring it in gradually-bring in the less controversial aspects first-and, once it is accepted, expand it. We also know that it was the Health Insurance Commission, the body for which the Minister for Health, who is at the table, is responsible, which dreamed up all the wonderful ideas such as the name for this identification system, the colours for the card and the general publicity that surrounded it.

The other point about the ID card that honourable members opposite and the Government try so hard to cover up is the question of data linkage. It is data linkage that presents the most dangerous concept of this whole identification system. With modern computer techniques it is becoming so easy to institute data linkage and to use this to build up a profile on a person, for people to have their records searched for totally the wrong reasons, information given in the first place being quite unrelated to what the system is being used for. Despite all the assurances of the Minister about privacy, we cannot in all seriousness believe him because the number of people who will have access to this card will ensure that somebody somewhere will be able to leak that information at the most embarrassing time for the individual concerned.

Mr Braithwaite —That is the hidden agenda.

Mr HAWKER —It is the hidden agenda indeed. Despite all the assurances of the Minister, I do not think he can in all honesty expect anyone to believe him. After all, he knows what leaking is all about. It is done by the Government and by others. Once more than a few people have access to a document-in this case it will be thousands-I do not think the Minister can expect every single person who has that access to be completely trustworthy. That is just being realistic and practical. It does not cast aspersions on anyone. But the Minister cannot say that every person who has access to that data will be subject to a complete integrity test of the type that only the secret service would know about. Naturally, it is to be expected that there will be leakages of confidential information.

Worse than that, as the Law Council of Australia pointed out recently, one of the other problems concerning privacy is that the data protection agency, which the Minister puts so much store on, is not given any effective means of penalising infringements of privacy. It is not just a question of people having access and being able to abuse it; they will be virtually free to do so anyway. There will be no real penalties. I suggest that the Minister try to give an answer to the Law Council on that matter.

As time is limited, I conclude by saying that this is one of the most cynical exercises that a government has ever done. The Minister himself admitted a couple of months ago that he should amend the original legislation introduced into the Parliament last year. He has now been overruled and is bringing in this legislation for ulterior reasons, namely, to try to cause some embarrassment in the Senate. But the fact is that once all Australians see the real motives behind the introduction of the ID card and are aware that it will not work, that it will be a costly failure and that it is the first step towards a police state, not only will they reject the idea of an identification card but, what is more, they will reject this Government.