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Wednesday, 16 September 1987
Page: 120


Mr SIMMONS(11.11) —The last few weeks have seen a very successful campaign to scare the living daylights out of the Australian population. To some extent this campaign has been both masterful and, in my view, sickening. Some of the contributions by the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Jull), the previous speaker, certainly fit into that criterion of trying to scare the daylights out of the population. This campaign has as its central theme the objective of turning a legitimate, harmless and well-intentioned government policy into what is potentially the most divisive issue in contemporary Australian politics.

I will indicate some of the nonsense that has been coming into my electorate office in recent days. I use the term `nonsense' advisedly because obviously many of the people writing to me, although well-intentioned, certainly have been somewhat misled by the half-truths, deceptions and downright lies that have been told in this debate. There have been numerous references or appeals in this letter-writing campaign to biblical emotions. I was told by one person last week, `We have to get back to the Bible and not bring in this abominable card'. Another person said, `God is in control of our country, not man. He just allows us enough rope to hang ourselves if we choose to do so'. Someone else was kind enough to say, `I will be praying to God-maybe you have heard of him-to stop it getting through Parliament'.

There have also been some incredible sexist appeals based on the fact that the Special Minister of State (Senator Ryan) has carriage of this legislation. As we would expect in a campaign like this, and with some of the rednecks in the community, there has been an appeal to racist attitudes: `Why won't Aboriginals be required to carry an ID card-aren't they Australians too?- discrimination in reverse'. This is a repetition of, and continual reference to, the lie put forward in this debate-despite the fact that there is a specific provision in the legislation that people will not be required to carry the card-that people will have to carry the card with them at all times.

I have been talking about the Australia Card, I guess, for 2 1/2 years. I raised the issue in a debate within the parliamentary section of the Australian Labor Party in April 1985 in an attempt to have the parliamentary Party look at the feasibility of having a national identification system. The debate has rolled on from that point. I have even debated such people as the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey). I debated him in Bathurst in February this year in front of a couple of hundred people. I have issued countless dozens of Press releases and answered hundreds of letters, as I am sure many of my colleagues have done. In my view, the Government's intentions have not been the sort of well kept secret that is now alleged.

Until six weeks ago all the polls indicated that between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of people support the card. What has happened since that time to drastically change those figures? I happen to believe, as I am sure most people here believe, that the statistically reliable and valid opinion polls that have been conducted are fairly accurate. In my view, the popular support has changed simply because of the emergence of a very odd coalition of opposition to the Australia Card with cult-like figures, such as Peter Garrett, whipping up hysteria about the card with a disgusting collection of distortions and half-truths about the card.

I am pleased to see that the honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb) has entered the chamber. He has had some rather interesting attitudes. I noticed that the Orange Central Western Daily newspaper of 26 August this year stated:

Two Molong Central School students will lobby against Federal Government plans to introduce the Australia Card.

The article pointed out:

The girls prepared the petition from information supplied by Member for Parkes Mr Michael Cobb on bureaucratic procedures and legislation attached to the card.

According to the newspaper, the girls said, no doubt in good faith:

Most people have no idea of what the card is all about. It is our aim to educate them. We got all the information we could from Michael Cobb so when the petition was presented we wouldn't be shot down in flames by politicians.

That is the same Michael Cobb, the same honourable member for Parkes, who was quoted in an article in the Dubbo Daily Liberal of 7 May 1985 under the headline `Cobb backs plan for identity cards' as saying:

While some groups may reject the proposal, it must be recognised that it has merit. People should remember we already carry a driver's licence and a variety of cards for Medicare, Credit Companies, and the like. Photo identification would be just another card to carry.

The honourable member for Parkes has joined his colleagues in running around the place scaring the living daylights out of people. The honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) has said many times in this House that what we need in Australia to fight effectively all forms of abuse is a proper identification of each Australian with a number, photograph and even a fingerprint. That is what he said on 16 May when he was the shadow spokesman for social security.

I put it to the House that something has happened to make those people change their minds. Also, something has happened to make people change their views in terms of the popular support for the legislation. The reason there has been a change in public attitude as measured by public opinion polls in recent days is that we are seeing a polarisation within the community based on the fact that many people in the Liberal and National parties who were once public advocates of the Australia Card are now saying that they are opposed to it and people who normally support the conservative parties are saying that, if they are opposed to it, perhaps there is something wrong with the legislation and they should fall in line with the people for whom they normally vote. It is significant that many of the Government's traditional supporters, who are incensed by what they see as the obscenity of tax and welfare abuse within the community, are very supportive of what the Government is doing in this regard.

Let us consider some of the comments that have been coming in about what the legislation purports to contain and the steps that have been taken by opponents of the card to whip up paranoia and hysteria. We have been told that the card will be necessary for a whole host of purposes which are absolutely untrue. For example, I have heard stories that the card will be required to be produced when a person applies for a job, when he goes to the beach and every time he uses his bank account. Some people came to my office and said that they had heard about the Government's secret plan. When I questioned them further they said that a person will have to produce his Australia Card every time he deposits funds in or withdraws funds from a bank account. I said, `If that is the case, how will people use automatic teller machines?' and they replied, `Aha, that is the secret plan; the Government is going to outlaw automatic teller machines in the Australian community and use the Australia Card as an excuse to do so'. That is the sort of nonsense talked about in the community at present. We all know that such a campaign of disinformation is often very difficult to turn around. At this stage I congratulate the Opposition on its relative success, but I can assure it that the Government has not changed its resolve on the Australia Card in any way. I believe that, once people have been given an opportunity to hear the real facts and to understand what the Government seeks to do, public opinion will change in time.

One of the more unsavoury elements of the Opposition's scare campaigns has been its campaign to scare the most vulnerable people in the community-the sick and the elderly. People have told me that a person will not be allowed into a hospital if he does not have the card with him. The legislation talks about the card number being produced as soon as practicable after the admission of a person to a hospital as an out-patient. The same thing applies essentially with admission to public hospitals under the current system, without an Australia Card. If someone turns up at a hospital for a normal admission he is usually required to produce his Medicare card number or show evidence of private insurance. Surely no one suggests that at present, if a person has a horrendous car accident, he must undergo a body search to find out whether or not he has a Medicare card on him before anything is done to remedy the situation. Yet when we have the Australia Card, the Opposition suggests that there will be some sort of body search for the Australia Card before any surgical procedures are performed.

The public has been told by our opponents that central dossiers will be kept on them so that the Government will be able to keep watch over them. But only the basic identifying information such as a person's name, address, date of birth, signature, photograph and identifying documents will be recorded on the Australia Card Register. People will have ready access, on an annual basis, or at any other time, to make any alterations or to see who has accessed the Register and why. The data bases of the Department of Social Security, the Australian Taxation Office and the Health Insurance Commission will not be linked. They are barred by Government legislation from such a linkage. The honourable member for O'Connor and others have told us that hackers will move around the system and will destroy its integrity. The opponents of the card have told the people of Australia that they will no longer have any privacy. Yet, if people examined the privacy principles enshrined in the establishment of the Data Protection Agency and the accompanying privacy Bills, I am sure that most of them would dismiss that claim for what it is-one of cheap politics and an appeal to emotional rhetoric.

Another interesting document that came across my desk the other day was a document circulated in the name of the New South Wales State member for Orange, Mr Garry West. It was a memorandum addressed to all members of the National Party of Australia in the Orange and Blayney sub-divisions dated 18 August 1987 and the subject was the Hawke Government's ID card. In that document, which comprised eight pages, Mr West pointed out some of the arguments that the National Party is using among its supporters to try to scare the living daylights out of the Australian population. I find it somewhat intriguing, when I read through some of the National Party's views on the Australia Card, to consider how they square with its views on privacy considerations. For example, under the heading `Under National Policy', I read:

We will set up a centralised register of births, deaths and marriages to greatly assist in reducing the opportunity to create false identities.

If the National Party's policy is to set up a centralised register of births, deaths and marriages, I suggest that, for a start, it talk to the Queensland Premier because I understand that he has some reservations about that. Obviously Joh is doing his own thing in that regard. More importantly, if the National Party has made the effort to suggest, as its policy, that we should set up a register of births, deaths and marriages, it must be for a specific purpose. However, we are not told in the document what the specific purpose is. The same people who are concerned about privacy considerations also indicate in the document that they:

. . . will streamline administrative arrangements, in co-operation with the States, to ensure maximum co-operation between relevant authorities and the Department of Immigration, to identify illegal immigrants in Australia.

We will improve co-operative arrangements between Federal and State Police forces to ensure more efficient action in the detection and apprehension of people involved in organised crime, illegal immigration and tax evasion, especially in the black economy.

When I read through this document it seems that a lot of it really does not square with the opposition that the National Party of Australia has been mounting to what the Government is proposing for the Australia Card. As I said a few moments ago, I find it a case of cheap politics with rhetorical appeal.

The Australia Card legislation has been debated in this Parliament on two occasions. It has been before the Senate on two occasions. It was the technical reason for the Governor-General granting this Government a double dissolution for the 11 July election. I remember reading full page newspaper advertisements on the Australia Card on the first Saturday of the election campaign. Yet the Opposition and the people around Australia who are now raising a lot of noise in opposition to the ID card were very silent during the election campaign. I do not think that it is incumbent on this Government, having raised the issue in the first instance, to continue talking about it when the Opposition did not want to talk about it during the election campaign. I find the Opposition's claim that we somehow do not have a mandate for the Australia Card pure nonsense. We certainly have a mandate. If the Opposition chose to ignore the matter in the course of the election campaign, so be it. I ask honourable members opposite not to claim that since the 11 July election somehow or other we have not got a mandate. Every honourable member knew that if this Government were returned on 11 July it would have an opportunity to have a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives to ensure that the legislation was passed. Honourable members opposite, irrespective of their comments today, cannot run away from that fact.

The Senate's first rejection of the Bill delayed the implementation of the Australia Card program by at least six months. That delay has meant the loss of about $440m in revenue. Every additional six months delay will cost honest Australians $440m. The mathematics-just like the Australia Card-are very simple. I am sure that most people in the Australian community if given a chance to hear the facts during the debate will be convinced of that, as is the Government. I commend the Bill to the House.