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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2725

Senator HAINES(9.51) —As has already been pointed out tonight the Health Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1985, which is before us, amends or repeals some five other pieces of legislation. It amends the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Act 1961, the Health Insurance Act 1973 and the Health Insurance Commission Act 1973. It repeals the Mental Health and Related Services Assistance Act 1973 and makes some what are termed tidying up amendments to the National Health Act 1953. The amendments to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Act 1961 aroused some fervour in Senator Peter Baume, whose main concern seems to have been that the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories was to be placed in a position of being able to compete unfairly against private pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The private sector is never backward in coming forward when it feels threatened and its lobbying techniques as far as members of parliament are concerned are very well organised. I recall having received no complaints from private pharmaceutical manufacturers about this amendment, so I can only assume that there is no concern, not even a hint of paranoia, with regard to the amendments to the CSL Act contained in this legislation. For that reason the Australian Democrats will certainly not be joining the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia in opposing that section of this Bill. As far as the amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 are concerned, as Senator Crowley has already pointed out, the Australian Medical Association is quite happy with the amendments that the Government has introduced to those sections relating to fraud and overservicing and the disciplinary action of medical professionals who are involved in those fields. The changes to the issue of section 3B certificates to allow for some retrospective element is, I suspect, somewhat overdue.

The area which is our main concern is that relating to Part IV of the amending Bill, that is the amendment of the Health Insurance Commission Act 1973. Senator Peter Baume says that the Opposition will be opposing this particular part of the Bill before us tonight, and I am a little puzzled why. If the Opposition has not yet formed an opinion on whether an identity card-whether it is called an Australia Card or anything else-is necessary in this country for a variety of reasons, it should not--

Senator Peter Baume —It may be necessary, but we do not know whether it will work.

Senator HAINES —If that is the way the honourable senator feels, I am surprised that he is contemplating opposing a section of the legislation which in fact gives the Health Insurance Commission the legal right to collect the information that the newly formed Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card will need if it can ever work out whether an identity card system will appropriately and adequately cope with the sorts of problems that we are facing in this country with regard to organised criminal activities, tax and social security fraud. I would not have thought that there was any doubt at all that the community generally, right across the political spectrum, is concerned about the things that I just mentioned-that it is concerned that governments, both State and Federal I would have thought, act wherever necessary to combat things like tax fraud, organised crime and social security fraud. However, our concern was not on that matter but whether the information that we had been given on the proposed Australia Card was sufficient for anybody to determine whether that card was going to be useful at all in this fight.

People who argue in favour of identity cards of some sort claim that there will be a significant cutdown in tax evasion and avoidance, the underground economy and other areas. Eric Risstrom, for example, suggests that the recovery of some $3 billion out of the estimated $5 billion lost at present would be possible if an identity card system were introduced. The White Paper, however, estimates the recovery of $8m three years after implementation of an ID card system. I seem to recall that that figure has been revised since the White Paper was brought down. Proponents of ID cards also argue that they would assist in crime fighting. They suggest that they would be an easy way of implementing some of Frank Costigan's recommendations concerned with the laundering of money by organised crime figures. They also argue that social security cheating with regard to welfare and unemployment benefits would vanish overnight and that the locating of illegal migrants would be facilitated if people were issued with identity cards.

Supporters of ID cards generally argue that we carry numerous pieces of identification already and that ID cards are no different from things like drivers licences, credit cards, Medicards and so on. They claim that only those who have something to hide would object to the introduction of ID cards, that the benefits to the community outweigh any disadvantages and the civil liberties concerns can be dealt with by legislation-for example, by restricting the number of occasions on which proof of identity through the use of an ID card can be demanded. I understand that a Minister in the Queensland State Government has even suggested that ID cards would be a deterrent for rape. I am not quite sure how, except that maybe in the exchange of information he forgot what the original intention was. Anyway, I guess this is a useful suggestion to bear in mind if all else fails.

The arguments against the introduction of an ID card are generally based on two ideas: Firstly, that the claimed benefits have not been demonstrated adequately; and, secondly, that in fact the identity card threatens civil liberties not through the possession of the card or the need to carry yet another piece of plastic but through the centralised collection and collation of information. The data base has to be centralised if it is to be of any value at all, and therein lies the threat. Opponents point out that there is no indication that the system which operates in some European countries achieves any of the objectives claimed for it. For example, northern Italy has a thriving underground economy. Sweden has a similarly thriving black market.

Given that the cash economy by definition avoids any record of transaction, it seems fairly clear that identity cards would make no difference at all in this area. It is argued too that no system is completely foolproof and that it is probable that those who cheat the tax system now, that is, in the main the rich and the powerful, would also have the means to get around ID cards. That is certainly true if the basis of the card is to be production of a birth certificate. At the moment one of the flaws in our passport system is simply that it is based on the production of a birth certificate, and birth certificates are remarkably easy for people other than those for whom they were originally issued to obtain. Cemetery searches, running an eye down the death column, and so on are all fairly reasonable ways of finding out who has recently died. The presentation of a cheque for $8, or whatever it is in the various States, is then sufficient to get hold of those birth certificates.

The civil libertarian argument against ID cards has more to do with the potential for abuse of the card than the Government's well-meaning intentions in introducing those cards. For example, from America we have increasing reports of the manner in which hackers can get into practically any computer system, including I understand that of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which means that the security of the sort of information that is supplied, collected and collated for the purposes of the issue of an ID card would be suspect indeed. Even the supporters of the card acknowledge that for them to achieve their objectives they must facilitate access to a wide range of personal data and links with banking and computer systems. As I have said, it is precisely this that gives rise to the likelihood of serious violations of personal privacy.

Universal identification systems simplify and expedite the surveillance of individuals, and that is another problem. Their movements, their activities, their finances, the organisations to which they do and do not belong, are all readily accessible and I suggest are geared more to the promotion of government bureaucracies than they are to the protection of the rights of individuals. They certainly would facilitate the control over our lives by any state which was so minded, either now or in the future. We have only to look at the way in which pass cards in South Africa and the internal passports in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are used to be instantly aware of the way in which these sorts of things can be abused.

It is worth noting also that the submission to Cabinet of the Government's own Department of Social Security apparently expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of ID cards in combating social security fraud. Both Stewart J. and Kirby J. for the last couple of years have warned against the dangers of such a system and three recent North American studies have concluded against any system of universal identification. The United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare drew attention to the expanded use of the United States social security number for identification purposes, notwithstanding the fact that that use is specifically proscribed in United States legislation. The United States Justice Department's federal advisory committee on false identification stated that counterfeiting would and could defeat the system. The Canadian privacy commissioner's report to the Canadian Parliament revealed that Canada's social insurance number was now being used for numerous other purposes. Australia's only permanent privacy committee in New South Wales is also strongly opposed to the introduction of the card.

In any move to introduce a system with the potential to invade people's privacy and intrude upon their civil liberties there is a very heavy onus indeed on its supporters to demonstrate an overriding benefit and the inclusion of adequate safeguards. That has not been done and was the reason why we negotiated with the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) for the establishment of a joint all-party parliamentary select committee on the issue. The terms of reference of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card include things such as looking at the costs involved in introducing and operating ID cards. Over the last few months those costs have varied considerably, both in the estimates of what it will cost to produce the card and what gains there will be if it comes into operation.

The terms of reference would include things such as looking at the effectiveness of identity cards in combating those things that its supporters claim it would combat; namely, tax fraud, social security fraud and organised criminal activities. They would include determining what means of identification should appear on the identity card to ensure its effectiveness and the appropriate method of establishing the original identity of the holder of the card for the purpose of issuing the card. As I have already said, the proposal to use birth certificates leaves something to be desired. The terms of reference would also include investigating the experience of other countries, some of which I have already mentioned this evening, in using ID cards or similar cards such as social security cards and so on; the inclusion of adequate protection against abuses of civil liberties and invasion of privacy which could arise from the use of the card; the comparable cost effectiveness of alternative proposals to combat tax evasion and social security fraud; whether the card should be universal, compulsory or voluntary and, if so, who gets what choices; and what limits should be placed on the requirement for individuals to produce the card.

I suggest that anybody who knows someone who lived in one of the European countries which was invaded by the Germans during World War II should ask that person just exactly what problems occured there because of their centralised information systems which were much less efficient, perhaps, than anything that could come under modern computer technology systems. For example, the French having experienced what they did during the war, made their identification card carrying system voluntary and people such as the Dutch are very wary indeed at the thought of implementing something in Australia which facilitated the problems that they had during the war when access to information about people was made so much simpler because of the centralised system that was maintained in that country. Therefore, I think it behoves all parties in this chamber to support that section of the legislation which allows the Health Insurance Commission to be put in the position of collecting and collating information that can then be passed on to the Committee so that that Committee can ultimately make a decision with regard to the terms of reference that are before it and come up with recommendations with regard to whether or not there should be some form of identification system operating in this country; if an identification system is in operation, what it should be and how effective it is likely to be in combating what sort of crime; and so on.

The Australian Democrats will not oppose any sections of this legislation. We will not oppose the section on the Health Insurance Commission Act and certainly not those sections which have the approval of the Australian Medical Association with regard to section 3B certificates, fraud, over-servicing and so on; nor are we particularly fussed over the extension of the activities of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission, for the reason that I set out earlier.