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Monday, 21 September 1987
Page: 422

Dr KLUGMAN(8.37) —Madam Speaker, I commence by congratulating you on your well-deserved re-election to the position of Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member.

Dr KLUGMAN —I share some of the pessimism of the previous Opposition speaker, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), as far as our economic future is concerned. I must admit that most of my pessimism as far as this country is concerned lies more at the geopolitical level. I do not want to go into that tonight. I would like to comment on the reaction to the so-called Australia Card which has developed into little more than an hysterical, illogical outcry from people with very vivid imaginations who struggle to outdo each other in scaremonger tactics and in grim religious and Orwellian phrases.

I was one of three foundation members of the Council for Civil Liberties in New South Wales. Twenty-five years ago, three of us-the late Mr Justice Sweeney, Professor Ken Buckley and I-started the Council for Civil Liberties. It was one of the Councils for Civil Liberties in Australia which was clearly non-political in any party political sense. I was treasurer and a member of its executive for many years and finally resigned two or three years ago when it decided to support an investigation into the so-called Age tapes, which I considered to be extremely inappropriate for a Council for Civil Liberties to do.

I was a member of the original Caucus committee-not the parliamentary committee, the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card-which looked at the proposal for an identity card. I mention one point which does not seem to have been repeated; at least, I have not heard it repeated. For the year for which we gathered evidence from the Australian Taxation Office, financial institutions in Australia-I think it was probably the 1982-83 year, but it could have been 1983-84-paid $13 billion in interest. Tax returns reported only $6.5 billion. I am not suggesting that the other $6.5 billion concerned so-called tax cheats. Obviously, there are people-kids, elderly people, people with no other income-who never earned the amount necessary to have to make out a tax return. However, I would suggest that a large amount of money is not declared for taxation. Suggestions have been made that similarly many rental payments are never declared. If one totalled up the amount of rent that was paid in Australia and the amount that appeared on tax returns, one would find that the figures were nothing like each other. Financial institutions provide the Taxation Office with print-outs or computer tapes of interest paid. The document says, `Roger Shipton'-his address would not be included-`received $173.50 last year'. The Tax Office can match the amount which a person declares and the amount given by the financial institution in only 16 per cent of cases. I find that extremely depressing.

Mr Shipton —I agree; they should be able to do more but without the ID card.

Dr KLUGMAN —The honourable member suggests that more people should be employed. One of the arguments against the ID card is that we will increase the size of the bureaucracy. I am convinced of two things: firstly, a huge amount of money is not being declared for tax purposes and, secondly, there is a large amount of social security fraud, even though the Department of Social Security, which is always quoted now, has said that fraud amounts to only $20m. It is obvious to us all that the total amount of fraud is much larger. What really concerns me about the debate on the ID card is the hysterical reaction that has come out. It is depressing that in a country which claims to have a reasonably high standard of education people can be aroused by that sort of thing. Mike Steketee, who is not one of my favourite journalists, stated in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last Friday:

Susan Ryan realised she had entered the lion's den in Launceston last Tuesday when a speaker at a public meeting said that, in Sweden, 6,000 people had had numbers tattooed on their foreheads by laser.

Mr Lee —Was that Launceston?

Dr KLUGMAN —Yes. He continued:

Closer to home, she has had to handle claims that, under the Australia Card legislation, babies will have to have their wrists tattooed. Others see dark Biblical portents in the Government's action.

Letters to the Government quote Revelation, Chapter 13-

I have received similar letters, thankfully not from my constituents-

on the evil beast which ``required everyone, great and small, rich and poor, slave and free, to be tattooed with a certain mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no-one could get a job or even buy in any store without the permit of that mark, which was either the name of the Creature or the code number of his name''.

For emotional claptrap, it is hard to go past the present debate on an identity card. There has seldom been a subject on which there has been so much misunderstanding, so much misrepresentation and so much downright irrational fear.

You would think that no Australian had ever been given a number; that drivers' licences, passport, credit cards and tax file number still had to be invented.

People are scared of numbers. I realise that a vast proportion of the Australian population is innumerate. I have mentioned that on many occasions in this House when I have spoken about our education system. Because we talk about a number, this fear is put into people. I cannot understand why it is terribly different to give a person a number rather than use his name. There is no doubt that the Government is currently losing the argument by saying that information given to governments is safe and will not be leaked. I do not believe that for one minute. Any information given to governments or to anybody possibly will be leaked. There will be unauthorised access no matter how many bits of legislation we pass to prevent it. The important point to put is that with the identity card there will be no new information on people. If a person registers himself for inclusion on the electoral roll, he has to give the same sort of information-in fact, more information than he will have to give to obtain an identity card.

Mr Ronald Edwards —Or if you want to borrow money.

Dr KLUGMAN —Certainly if he wants to borrow money. Some people who are allegedly concerned about privacy are utterly hypocritical. Frank Costigan, QC, comes up as an upholder of civil liberties and privacy. He conducted an extremely slipshod inquiry which hurt the civil liberties of many people in Australia. He and his staff leaked to the media and worked with the late National Times. There is no doubt about that. He is allegedly concerned with privacy, yet he advocated very widespread telephone tapping. He advocated that all police forces should have the right to tap phones. He advocated that there should be all kinds of interference with privacy. Yet he worries about the Australia Card. We have the hypocrisy of the sort of people who were associated with the National Times. They complain about the possibility of interference with privacy but they were prepared to publish transcripts of illegal phone taps. What utter hypocrisy it is for those sorts of people to behave in this way. Honourable members opposite supported that concept at odd times. I am not saying that all honourable members opposite supported the publication of transcripts of illegal phone taps, but many did.

In a different spectrum, many academics oppose the proposition of the identification card. However, the same academics have made representations to me, and I am certain to many Ministers-possibly the Minister for Science and Small Business (Mr Barry Jones), who is at the table-that they want to increase the sort of information that must be given by Australians for census purposes. They want more and more information so they can publish more and more papers about the private behaviour of Australians. The information that is required for the ID card is completely non-intrusive, but academics want private information for census purposes and they oppose the current destruction of census forms. Currently the forms are destroyed to ensure people's privacy. All we do is take the information without taking the name of the person who has given the information. The complete and utter hypocrisy of some of those people amazes me.

For some weeks the people running the campaign against the so-called Australia Card were the only ones making the running. Slowly other people have become upset, if nothing else, by the utter hysteria that has been created. I will quote some of the people who have given a more rational view. An Australian Financial Review commentator called Peter Ruehl-I do not know the gentleman but he seems to write a reasonable column-stated:

The current wave of paranoia over the proposed Australia Card has the basic ingredients for a classic battle in this vein. First, you must have an issue that has all the relevance, in societal terms, of, say, the Lindy Chamberlain case. Second, the presence of a small gaggle of monomaniacs is required to insure sanity doesn't prevail too quickly.

That is a perfect summing up of what is happening in the discussion currently. David Potts-I think that he is the economics editor of the Australian-put this rational point:

OK, so there are other alternatives to the ID card. But how different are they?

Obviously I am not entitled to speak on behalf of the Government and I have not discussed it with any member of the Government, but I would not be surprised if, in the end, we came to some compromise about using taxation file numbers for which honourable members opposite are pushing. What is the difference? Mr Potts continued:

Many have suggested that it would be better to use our tax file numbers when opening a bank account and the like. For this to work, the bank would have to know the number you have given is genuine.

But how does it find out? By ringing the Tax Office? How do we know what the Tax Office tells it? Do you want the bank to find out how much you owe in tax? Which government department knows more about you than any other?

Alternatively, there would have to be some certifiable card or piece of paper with your tax file number on it, in which case there'd be no difference between it and the ID card except perhaps the number or the design.

Besides, if the whole point of the exercise is to stop tax avoidance, what happens to the people who don't have a tax file number because they've never paid tax. Are they still let off scot free?

Appropriately, the title of Alan Mitchell's column in the Sydney Morning Herald is `The crazies against the ID Card'. First, he refers to Dr Shepherd, and Ben Lexcen who fears for the future of European Australia. Apparently it will be all right for the Aborigines. He writes:

Oh, and Mr Howard, who also fears for the future liberty and privacy, warns that the Australia Card would impose an enormous extra cost on small business.

I suspect Mr Howard is right about small business-because small business is where most of the tax evasion occurs. The last major anti-evasion measure targeted at small business-Mr Howard's Prescribed Payments System-has netted a small army of new taxpayers and a fortune in previously-evaded tax, much of it from the building industry.

I will leave part of the column out where he gives a serve to the Australian Chamber of Commerce. The article goes on:

What information do they imagine the Government would have that it does not have now? The Tax Office would be better informed. But it would have no information that either it is not entitled to under the present law or that it would not be entitled to under the alternative proposed by another leader of the campaign against the Australia Card, Senator Janine Haines.

One can only expect the Australian Democrats to be involved in any irrational and populist campaign because they are the experts on irrational populism.

Mr Smith —Say it again.

Dr KLUGMAN —I would be happy to repeat it. I suppose most people in this chamber at least would agree with it and I suppose the majority of those in the other chamber would too. Tom Connors in the Canberra Times of last Sunday week, said:

You'll have to excuse me, but I am not going hysterical over the possible introduction of the Australia Card. Furthermore, I am not impressed by the weird coalition of Far Right, Far Left and Centre who are conjuring up the spectre of a police state and the end of the Australian way of life as we know it.

The fact that people like the Queensland Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Rugby coach and Far Right supermouth Alan Jones, and some people on the loony Left oppose the card should induce more to look for virtues in it.

We have extremists, people who can always see terrible things--

Mr Ronald Edwards —Joan Coxsedge.

Dr KLUGMAN —Exactly. She thinks it is an American plot; somebody else thinks it is all a Russian plot. We have idiots. I do not usually agree with Don Chipp, but this is what an article in last Sunday's paper said:

. . . Mr Don Chipp . . . yesterday said he thought the issue-

that is, the issue of the Australia Card-

did not warrant the ``obsessive'' debate it was receiving from his party-

that is, the Democrats-

and others.

Mr Chipp . . . : ``Too often the wrong things are on the agenda up here in Canberra. Today we seem to be obsessed with the Australia Card.

``I don't think Australia will go down the tube if we have an Australia Card or don't have an Australia Card''.

``I think I was probably one of the first members of Parliament to suggest an Australia Card. This was about eight or nine years ago.

I do not know whether Janine Haines has read this comment, but I am sure she will not quote it. Anne Summers who has returned-I think only temporarily-from the United States said in yesterday's Times on Sunday:

My identification number is-

and she gives the number-

I need it to get paid, to open a bank account, to sign a lease, to claim medical benefits, or to apply for a credit card. It is my US Social Security number, and having lived in the US for almost two years now I confess that I am not only used to it but, even though I can never remember the number without consulting the card, I do not find it much of an intrusion on my liberty.

. . . .

Perhaps because I have been out of Australia for a while I confess to not being able to understand the passions that have been directed into opposing the Australia Card. Perhaps because I have become used to having an ID card I cannot appreciate the extraordinary paranoia its proposed introduction has aroused.

I am sure all honourable members have received exceptionally literate votergrams from constituents.

Mr Ronald Edwards —Do you open them?

Dr KLUGMAN —Yes, I even open them. I have one here but I will not give the person's name because it may be someone pretending to be him. I often write to someone and say somebody is pretending, and I think this should be checked because the man is an idiot and it is a bit rough. But listen to this; this is supposed to convince me:

Cancel certain citizens right-dark side Australia Card. Low interest housing works. Make dole repayable-thumb print tax number. Discipline young, save 25%, voucher education. Re-invest privatization, don't revenue. Semi-privatize defence equipment. Simulators aren't secret, nor is pilferage.

It is signed. It is a convincing letter for many, obviously, in this House, but it is not convincing to me. I would like to make the point again that whether one believes that the ID card is the best possible way of dealing with taxation avoidance and social security fraud or not, let us have a rational argument about it; let us not get involved with groups of people who do not believe in democracy, who do not believe in rational argument, who do not believe in any of the sorts of things that a civilised parliament ought to be standing for.