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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2728

Senator KNOWLES(10.08) —This evening we have heard Senator Crowley's non-event speech about nothing that was, yet again, scintillating, but all Senator Crowley did was abuse and accuse Senator Peter Baume on his speech. She could prove absolutely nothing about the merits of the Health Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) that is before us this evening. More is the concern about the elements of this Bill when a Government senator can stand up and use about 12 minutes of the time allotted and say absolutely nothing, including about the ID card. We have just had Senator Haines giving a typical two bob each way Australian Democrats speech on a number of the areas of the Bill, but no one would have a clue where the Democrats stand. Obviously we are still operating with the Democrats on a `We don't know where we stand, but we'll try to make it sound good' philosophy. I think it is a bit sad that we have to endure all of that.

I must admit that I rise this evening specifically to express my concern about part IV of the Bill, which amends the Health Insurance Commission Act, in clause 59, to enable the Commission to include in its function planning for the establishment of a national identification system involving the issue of the Australia Card. This whole question involves both the principle of individual freedom and the practical difficulties of using such a system to eliminate taxation and welfare fraud. I do not think that there would be anyone in Australia who would not condone a system that would do exactly that. But the Government itself appears to be at a loss to be able to explain in any specific detail how it will work, whether in fact it will work, how the information will be accumulated, how the information will be recorded other than simply saying that it will be on a computer, whether the register will or will not be cross-linked with data from other government sources-such as Medicare, the Australian Taxation Office, and the Department of Social Security, to name just a few-how it is going to stop illegal immigrants, how it is going to prevent social security fraud, how it is going to prevent tax evasion, and a range of other wild and rather irresponsible and unsubstantiated claims. As a Liberal who believes that Australia should enjoy--

Senator Puplick —And how much it is going to cost?

Senator KNOWLES —How much it is going to cost; precisely. As a Liberal who believes that Australians should enjoy the greatest possible independence from government and bureaucracy in their everyday lives, I would be concerned by the implications of any centralised national identification system until those questions that I have already raised have been answered adequately. In addition, I believe that the Parliament and the people of Australia are entitled to know whether it may be compulsory to carry the Australia Card, whether it will contain a photograph, and whether there will be penalties for failing to use it. It certainly does concern me in sifting through the mish-mash of reports and statements as to the intentions of the Hawke socialist Government and the likely shape of the ID card proposal, the greater the intrusiveness of this card, involving photographs or penalties for non-use, the greater are the proposed savings to revenue. The better the ID card might work, the less free we will all become.

The overseas record of those 53 countries where ID cards or documents are legally required at all times is simply not inspiring. Thirteen of these countries just happen to be communist dictatorships, and let us not forget it. Twenty-nine are less than liberal democracies to the extent of being one-party states. Of the remaining 11 Western democracies, only six are free from internal security problems. While looking at overseas examples, it should be of interest that Sweden, with a comprehensive national identification system, on one estimate still happens to lose 20 per cent of its current tax revenues in the black economy. The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) will have to do better in reassuring us than merely asserting, as he did in Adelaide on 31 October, that:

There are no historical examples of police states being established through national ID systems.

Senator Puplick —Rubbish!

Senator KNOWLES —Precisely, Senator Puplick; rubbish. It states the obvious that ID systems and computers have not been around long enough for such developments to be measured. Rather, the question of ID cards, whether compulsorily carried or not, was foreseen over a hundred years ago by Alexis de Tocqueville in describing how liberty can be taken away by gradual means. He warned:

The will of man is not shattered but softened, bent, and guided . . . till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid industrious animals of which government is the shepherd.

Very relevant to the present context of this Bill is his further comment that such quiet servitude can be combined `with some of the outward forms of freedom and that it might even establish itself under the wing of sovereignty of the people'. It is not a matter of having to prove that the Australia Card will of itself overturn civil liberties on a massive scale. There is, however, a real danger that the increasing use of ID cards and numbers, without all the necessary safeguards-and I repeat, without all the necessary safeguards-will make Australians that much more accustomed to subjecting themselves to government control. The Minister is now telling us that a central data bank is not envisaged, but the fact remains that the proposed national ID system cannot fail to make such a development easier. This is simply the thin edge of the wedge.

Clearly, there is a school of thought within the Government and bureauracy that a national register could save duplication of government agencies and could be extended to provide medical information. This begs the question as to how such information is to be placed on the register.

Senator Crichton-Browne —You can't trust the socialists.

Senator KNOWLES —The honourable senator is dead right; we cannot trust the socialists. We are, of course, entitled to be suspicious as to how any agency under the control of the Minister for Health, Dr-non-medical-Blewett, can be relied on to maintain confidentiality of information, given the leakage of Medicare information regarding doctors' incomes which we saw earlier this year. He did not bat an eyelid over that, so why would he bat an eyelid over the disclosing of information on any one of us?

This already dubious track record of government-controlled data weakens the assurance of the Minister on 31 October that computer matching through Australia Card numbers will be confined to a very limited number of officials. What is more significant is the fact that computer matching can take place. Again, we are entitled to be suspicious of the intentions of this Government when, on 9 August, a report in the Australian newspaper stated that an interdepartmental committee was recommending that all Australians be issued at birth with a national identification number to be used in all business transactions.

Senator Puplick —Shameful.

Senator KNOWLES —Shame!

Senator Sheil —Tattoos on the arms.

Senator KNOWLES —A tattoo on the arm is probably the next step. It would probably solve all the problems for them. Proposals of this kind, together with the original plan that we all had to front up to our nearest Medicare office to be photographed, may have been dropped from sight at the moment, but it is relevant to recall that they were being seriously advocated by this Administration.

There are said to be 49.7 million names in five massive computer banks in Australia: Medicare, the Australian Electoral Commission, Social Security, Australian Taxation Office and passport and citizenship records. The fact remains that the Australia Card could be, according to Professor Johnston of the Wollongong University:

A final locking pin to provide a potential for linking information in a way that is potentially very dangerous.

The argument that ID cards and credit cards are one and the same is absolute rot. Out of all the credit cards that I, along with other people, have, not one carries the information proposed to be included on the ID card. Neither is a credit card's extremely limited information accessible to thousands of people. In fact, it is available only to that particular organisation.

Senator Sheil —And they are voluntary.

Senator KNOWLES —It is voluntary, totally voluntary. No one has to carry a credit card unless he wishes to. What is being proposed here is that one would have it whether one likes it or not.

Senator Peter Baume —And whether it works or not.

Senator KNOWLES —And whether it works or not. Dr-non-medical-Blewett has admitted that there can be no 100 per cent guarantee of security with the ID card. What an admission from the Minister to say that he cannot guarantee 100 per cent security with the ID card! For once he is quite right, because with access by at least seven government departments the risk of abuse can be increased. We are simply saying that we can have an ID card as long as we have the proof that the thing will work and that it will provide the measures of security that are essential to every Australian citizen.

The Liberal Party has most serious reservations as to the effectiveness of an ID card in recouping massive amounts of money obtained by taxation and welfare fraud. If it is to be effective, now is the time for the Government to explain how it is to be effective. The Government needs to come clean. From the time when the Australia Card was first floated in June, official estimates as to cost savings and costs have been distinctly rubbery. We are simply saying: `Let us prove that it will work, then we might consider it'. We do not have any proof from the Government at all that it will work. Until such time as we have some proof, how can we, as responsible members of this Parliament, authorise any introduction of such a nature? From the time this jolly Australia Card idea was first floated, all the facts have been distinctly rubbery. The establishment costs of the ID card were touted as being $38m in the first interdepartmental committee report in June and as $297m in the September statement of the Treasurer (Mr Keating). The figure has gone from $38m to $297m in a matter of months.

Operating costs have done a back flip and doubled from $49m to $100m over the same period. What are we expected to believe? How are we expected to vote on a proposal to introduce an ID card when we have facts and figures such as these? No one in his right mind could do so. Supposed gains to revenue, originally placed without substantiation at nearly $1 billion, were down to $540m in the tax package. We have another slip there. Equally vague is the estimated size of the target of the Australia Card-the black economy. Estimates of the figure vary between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of gross domestic product, or between $7.5 billion and $22.5 billion in 1981-82 figures. I repeat: This Parliament and the people of Australia are entitled to be more precisely informed as to the benefits of any ID card in saving the tax dollar before we proceed any further.

Senator Chipp —That is why we are sending it to a committee.

Senator KNOWLES —Precisely, but we have to be sure. The only time we can be sure is if the committee is looking at the matter in an effective manner. We must make sure that the recommendations that come out of the committee satisfy not only the Parliament but also the people of Australia. Ultimately, if an ID card is to dent the black economy it will be effective only if backed by penalties for failing to use it in certain transactions. We are back to the essential theme, that is, the new system works best as our liberties are diminished. The Minister for Health has admitted that in some cases, such as the opening of a trading bank account, there would have to be a penalty for failure to use the ID card rather than an economic sanction such as a withholding tax. It is not surprising that there has been no official response to the report mentioned in Federal Parliament on 17 October that a Government memorandum proposed a fine of $10,000 or 12 months' gaol for a first offence in failing to produce the ID card and $25,000 in fines and five years, gaol for subsequent offences.

Senator Walters —That is appalling.

Senator KNOWLES —Precisely, it is appalling. Why has there been no official response to the memorandum of 17 October?

Senator Tate —It may not be a correct memorandum.

Senator KNOWLES —If it is not correct, why not deny it? It has not been denied, so why not do so? Moreover, the Opposition is very sceptical and uncertain that the Australia Card will be proof against forgery or other manipulation. If we think logically, it follows that the people with the most to gain from forging ID cards are the major criminals who will be best able to marshal the expertise to do so. I am never impressed by any statements that a system will be foolproof against forgery. After all, bank-notes have water marks and metal threads to prevent duplication, and we all know what happens to them, along with passports and so forth.

In recent months several distinguished Australians have expressed strong reservations as to the desirability and practicality of the ID card. Mr Frank Costigan, QC, hardly apathetic in his concern about organised crime, rejected the concept of a national ID card when appearing before the National Crime Authority on 7 August. Mr Justice Stewart of the National Crime Authority was quoted as saying in June that a system of compulsory identification `would be repugnant to many Australians as resembling too much the apparatus of a dictatorship'. Mr Justice Kirby has warned us:

What is at stake is nothing less than the nature of our society, and the power and authority of the state in relation to the individual.

No less a person than the Auditor-General, Mr Monaghan, told the Australian Labor Party Caucus legal committee that a national ID system would not be effective in cutting tax evasion.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Did he say that?

Senator KNOWLES —He sure did. He said that what was required was to give the Australian Taxation Office greater resources and have it tighten procedure.

Senator Crichton-Browne —The Left leaked it.

Senator KNOWLES —The left right out leaked it too. In truth, the Australia Card proposal the Minister is now outlining has a lot in common with the Keating capital gains tax. Both are touted as harmless and both will raise far less revenue than was originally suggested. Therefore, we are left wondering why they are being introduced, if they are not to prepare the ground for greater changes. I hope that we will not hear the cliche that the only people who should worry about the Australia Card are those with something to hide.

Privacy and liberty must be safeguarded at all costs. We are entitled to know how and whether this proposal will work. It is very shallow thinking indeed to suggest that we do not have to worry about Big Brother because he is fairly benevolent. I rather think that Big Brother should never be trusted.

Senator Chipp —What about big sister?

Senator KNOWLES —Big Brother or Big Sister-whatever makes Senator Chipp happy. A proposal for a national ID card should be shelved until such time as assurances can be given which will protect the rights of the individual and prove to everyone that it will do what it is designed to do. The recommendation to refer this matter to a parliamentary select committee can only be beneficial, because if this proposal ultimately does what it is designed to do, I think that we should all support it. At the moment, I cannot support it because nothing has been put to us in concrete terms that will prove in any way, shape or form that it will stop tax or welfare fraud.