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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2500

Mr CONQUEST(3.23) —It appears that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) is a little unsure of the position of the National Party of Australia in regard to the Australia Card-the identity card for all Australians. I make it quite clear that the National Party is opposed to the identity card and it will remain so. It is quite clear that the Australia Card-the identity card-will not correct the faults in the system on which the Minister dwelt. All of the problems to which he referred in his speech could be remedied without introducing a card for all Australians. The Australia Card, which this Government is trying to bring in, is supposed to reduce the number of rorts engaged in by people who are cheating the system. Yet the Department of Social Security claims that only 2 per cent of welfare fraud is due to identification problems. How does the Minister reply when his Department claims that only 2 per cent of people will be caught through identification?

If we go back to the introduction of the Australia Card we will find that this Government has been less than truthful in the manner in which it has handled the matter. If one looks at the Outline Plan of the Health Insurance Commission, one will find that it believes that the Australia Card would be used for more than just trying to catch the so-called rorts of the social security system. The Health Insurance Commission, in its Outline Plan for the identity card, which was prepared for the interdepartmental committee, has no doubt that the scheme would be used without restriction by all governments, both State and Federal. If one looks at the number of people who attended the first meeting of the interdepartmental committee, one will see that they represented most of the departments that will in the end utilise the national identification system that this Government will introduce. But the Government knew quite well that it could not sell it to the Australian people if it told them that a profile of each person would be established from birth to death. The Health Insurance Commission in its Outline Plan also admitted this. It stated:

It will be important to minimise any adverse public reaction to implementation of the system. One possibility would be to use a staged approach for implementation, whereby only less sensitive data are held in the system initially with the facility to input additional data at a later stage when public acceptance may be forthcoming more readily.

That is what the Government is trying to do. It is trying to impose this card on the Australian people. It is trying to tell them that it is being introduced for one reason, and one reason only. Yet the Department of Social Security has stated that less than 2 per cent of welfare fraud is due to false identity. Most fraud is due to overpayment and failure of recipients to admit changed circumstances.

How will the Australia Card deal with cash transactions and barter systems? No identity card is useful in the detection of this sort of fraud because both the giver and recipient in barter situations are creating fraud. There is no way in the world that any national identification system can solve it. A national computerised register of births, deaths and marriages and the tightening up of the proof of identity requirements of social security clients can deliver what the Government is trying to achieve without requiring all Australians to be identified with a card. Even the Auditor-General has stated that $2 billion can be retrieved under existing procedures.

Recent utterances by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that the May economic statement will contain cuts in welfare spending have caused considerable alarm in the community, especially to the aged, the unemployed and Australian families. This Government's attack on the family has seen the average family become undeniably worse off. The once philosophical roots of Labor have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Labor in its 1986 platform espoused:

Income support programs for families with dependent children recognise society's shared responsibility for children and complement the care and resources which parents provide.

This basic principle of Labor has been manifested in a perverse way by this Government. In March 1983 a family in receipt of average weekly earnings paid $65 a week in tax. It now pays $102 a week, despite the so-called tax measures that have been introduced by this Labor Government. It has conferred advantages on the higher income earner by way of a reduction of 5 per cent in the top marginal rate of tax, as well as the tax imputation system for dividends. Most average families that I see in my office do not play the stock market. We now see that the Government, to compensate for its poor management of the welfare sector-indeed, the economy as a whole-is again attacking the family and is contemplating means testing the family allowance. Former Senator Grimes stated the position rather forcibly to the National Economic Summit Conference in April 1983 when he argued that the family allowance had never been in any strict sense a welfare program. That is a position with which I agree. He said:

Rather, they are designed to achieve a broad measure of equity on the tax transfer system between those with and those without children. They recognise that at any level of income, those with children have higher costs than those without.

There has been, as I said before, a deterioration in the relative position of the single taxpayer family with children. There has also been a substantial sacrifice in horizontal equity with the elimination of concessional rebates closely allied with the actual expenditure patterns of families with children-for example, in education and for chemists, doctors and dentists. I recall that former Prime Minister Scullin was of the opinion that a system of equal payments without regard to income was the optimum course to follow, but then again it is a different Labor Party today from that of yesteryear. Even former Senator Jim McClelland intimated recently that this Government is barely recognisable as a Labor government.

Mr Slipper —Diamond Jim.

Mr CONQUEST —That is correct. Before I am accused of supporting the wealthy, I would like to acquaint members of the Government with a few facts relating to their support of speculative and unproductive wealth-creating schemes. Under the Hawke Government, a handful of speculators, of whom few have added to the nation's wealth, have been permitted to skim off billions of dollars in profits by playing the stock market with paper. That is legal but unacceptable at a time when families and pensioners are facing deprivation. This Labor Government has made this practice possible by permitting the internationally and financial institutions to provide virtually unlimited loan funds for takeover bids and also allowing speculators to deduct from assessable income interest payments on these multi-million-sometimes billion-dollar borrowing. This is unacceptable at the present time when families are facing such deprivation. The millions of dollars of taxes from which speculators were granted exemption by this Labor Government is revenue forgone. I say to the Minister that the millions of dollars that are being taken out of the Australian economy could better be utilised. It should be ensured that these schemes do not go on in perpetuity.

The Prime Minister has announced welfare cuts. This has caused worry and anguish among pensioners and other welfare groups. Why should it not, because those people are facing problems. We have seen a deterioration in family incomes, as those opposite well know, since family benefits were brought in but not indexed. Those opposite know as well as I do that families with one child are about $27 worse off in real terms than when the scheme was introduced, because that benefit was not indexed. They know that a family with five children is some $93 worse off in real terms. They allow this situation which they should not have. Those opposite should not tell this House and the Australian people that the Australia Card-an identity card-will solve all the problems. It will not, and those opposite know it. The Department of Social Security has said that it will not, and the Australian people do not believe that it will.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.