The Deceptive History of the ‘Australia Card’

Conclusion: strategic retreats and long-term goals

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Conclusion: strategic retreats and long-term goals

We have argued that the reduction of the scheme from thirteen agencies to three has merely been a strategic retreat by proponents of the Australia Card. When legislation is introduced, it may include further concessions on specific criticisms of the scheme. These may cover such areas as the security of the Register, the offences for unauthorised use or demands, the relative strength of the Data Protection Agency, and strengthening of privacy protection principles such as access to one's own file. Such concessions may be used to convince one of the Opposition parties that their previously legitimate concerns have now been addressed, so that they may now support the Australia Card in good conscience.

We have seen that, in one of the earliest documents concerning the Australia Card, the HIC cautioned the Government that

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.

It appears that the Government has heeded HIC's advice: we are to get a general purpose national identification scheme in instalments.


[Sorry, links are lost in the conversion from a 1986 Word document: GG]

  1. Britain is, in fact, about to introduce a computerised passport, as part of a European Community proposal.

  2. Dr Neal Blewett, former President of the South Australian Council For Civil Liberties.

  3. At the time of writing, legislation has not been introduced into Parliament.

  4. Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Report of the Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card (2 Vols.), the Parliament, May 1986; the Government's response is contained in a Parliamentary statement by the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, incorporating a paper stating the Government's response to each of the Committee's recommendations, Hansard 5 June 1986, 4715-4726.

  5. Senator Terry Aulich (Chairman), Bob Brown MHR, and John Brumby MHR (all Labor).

  6. Senator Chris Puplick (Liberal), Senator Janine Haines (Democrat), Charles Blunt MHR (National), James Porter MHR (Liberal) and John Saunderson MHR (Labor).

  7. Mr Porter MHR, Hansard 5 June 1986 4730; the National Conferences of the National Party and Liberal Party have since reaffirmed their opposition.

  8. The proposal was rejected by the ALP's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Policy Committee, but endorsed by the ALP National Conference in July 1986.

  9. Statement by the Minister for Health, Hansard 5 June 1986, 4717

  10. Mr Blewett, Minister of Health, Press Release 4 June 1986

  11. The Committee minority also included the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs; The Committee majority included the Department of Veteran's Affairs in its tax file number scheme, but excluded HIC.

  12. the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Institute of Health (AIH) will also be able to obtain statistical information

  13. Privacy Committee Annual Report 1982 p 27

  14. C. Porter, M.H.R., Hansard, June 5

  15. Privacy , Report 22, A.G.P.S., 1983 (hereinafter ‘ALRC Privacy Report ’); see p138, note 12 for one passing reference.

  16. Auditor-General Reports of the Auditor-General on Efficiency Audits (December 1984), A.G.P.S. The Auditor General also criticised ATO's statement of the extent of evasion which claimed that up to $500m was lost to the revenue through this problem. Another major reason for Australian Tax Office's difficulties in matching so much taxpayer information was that it had failed to spend some $40 million allocated to it in the last five years to purchase computer equipment - ATO was still matching much of the information manually.

  17. Auditor-General Efficiency Audit Reports (August, September 1986) A.G.P.S. The Commissioner of Taxation described the Auditor-General as “residing in an ivory tower, emerging only to shoot the wounded when the major battle is over”: p64, September Report.

  18. Auditor-General Report of the Auditor-General upon Audits, Examinations and Inspections under the Audit and other Acts (September, 1985), A.G.P.S., 118. Unlike ATO, DSS had started to review its procedures and had introduced new proof of identity requirements, and had also introduced a more sophisticated computer system.

  19. Who Calls Australia Home? Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure, A.G.P.S., November 1985

  20. Sun Herald, April 28, p3

  21. Joint Select Committee on an Australia Card, Official Hansard Report, p3489 (evidence of Professor P.Groenewegen).

  22. Reform of the Australian Taxation System AGPS June 1985 (hereinafter White Paper)

  23. White Paper, p40, and see Tax summit brochure to confirm that the figure was an annual one. FOI requests by the Privacy Committee revealed that around 50% of this estimate was undisclosed business and primary producer income. Only about a tenth related to job ‘moonlighters’ where most of the public attention was directed.

  24. White Paper, p40

  25. Sydney Morning Herald, June 21, 1985; June 28, 1985

  26. A schedule released to the Privacy Committee pursuant to a request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) identified 26 documents associated with the proceedings of the first IDC report. They covered the period 23.5.85 to 20. 6. 85 (referred to hereinafter as ‘FOI material’). We have no copy of the report of the first IDC because the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet chose to exempt it from release under the FOIA, on the grounds that disclosure could compromise the “frankness and candour” of advice to government. Most of the documents which were released were heavily censored, often to the extent of 95% of the document. Some of the quotations in the following paragraphs are therefore, inevitably, ‘out of context’.

  1. HIC Outline Plan [3.3]

  2. id [3.5]

  3. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Summary Record of IDC Meeting Dated 23 May 1985

  4. Outline Plan, pp15-16

  5. 5 June 1985

  6. The position of the the Electoral Commission is unclear from the documents.

  7. See above quotes from the Outline Plan .

  8. AGPS, Canberra, 1983

  9. See later ‘A powerless Data Protection Agency?’ for comment on the extent to which the bureaucracy had gutted the ALRC information privacy principles.

  10. HIC Outline Plan [2.7]

  11. FOI material, folio 111

  12. Foi folio 132

  13. Sydney Morning Herald, 28/6/1985

  14. 'Australia Card' brochure, produced by the Commonwealth Government for delegates to the National Tax Summit, July 1985.

  15. Tax Summit brochure

  16. [311]; ABS access would be to data in aggregate form only.

  17. [533]

  18. IDC Report, p36

  19. ie HIC, ATO, Foreign Affairs, DSS, DVA, Electoral Commission,

  20. this last was proposed ‘in principle’, and for the purpose of tracing maintenance defaulters.

  21. {5.2.3, G4.2.2}

  22. IDC Report, p8

  23. ‘the Government has agreed’: Hansard 5 June 1986, 4726

  24. The majority also included the Department of Veteran's Affairs here, and proposed that DSS administer all educational benefits, therefore bringing both those classes of beneficiaries within the scheme.

  25. The Government's principal reason for rejecting the majority's recommendations was that

  26. The simple truth is that an extended tax file number cannot be made as secure as a new high integrity, high security numbering system with cards.... Because of course a tax file notice, as opposed to a card, has no real security features, it would be relatively easy to steal or otherwise deal with in a fraudulent way. (Dr Blewett Hansard 5 June 1986, 1717)

  27. This question cannot be debated in this article.

  28. Report , Vol 2, p225

  29. 4 June 1986

  30. The most recent Government restatement (Hansard , 5 June 1986, 4718) is:

  31. With the recognition of the continuing existence of enormous revenue losses through tax evasion and welfare fraud came the realisation that crucial to any reform in these areas was the need for proper identification processes, preferably by means of a numbering system, which would enable all sources of income to be linked. So the concept of an Australia Card was born.

  32. The evidence concerning social security payments was, more accurately, that DSS had no idea whether there was a fraud problem caused by false identities.

  33. Recommendation 12(c)

  34. Hansard 5 June 1986, 4724

  35. Report , Vol 1, p165

  36. Hansard 5 June 1986, 4726

  37. Hansard 5 June 1986, 4720

  38. Hansard 5 June 1986, 4722

  39. Hansard 5 June 1986, 4719

  40. See below.

  41. Hansard 5 June 1986, 4726

  42. see Government Submission [4.2.1; 14.3.10; 17.2.3(xi)]

  43. IDC Report [218]

  44. Report , p123; Despite these perceptive comments, the Committee majority recommended that minor's cards should contain D.O.B., so as to allow ‘voluntary’ proof of age. This just goes to show that everyone, no matter how opposed to general purpose ID cards they are, will have some pet project which they think is justifiable.

  45. According to recent press reports.

  46. Hansard , 5 June 1986, 4721

  47. Hansard , 5 June 1986, 4721

  48. Privacy , Report 22, AGPS, 1983

  49. The Commonwealth Government's proposals are set out in Privacy Committee Privacy Issues and the Proposed National Identification Scheme - A Special Report , the Committee, March 1986 (NSW Privacy Committee Submission to the Joint Select Committee), Appendix 4, pp129-134; see principles 2 (collection), 10 (disclosure) and 11 (use).

  50. Whether it breaches other laws or confidentiality requirements is a different question.

  51. HIC Outline Plan [2.7]

Text of uncertain location:

n of the Card or UIN, or unauthorised use by organisations entitled to demand the card (such as banks or employers) to record the UIN for purposes other than reports to the ATO, or to disclose it to other organistions (such as credit bureaus). It will be illusory to make such matters offences if the specialist ‘watchdog’ set up to oversee the scheme cannot investigate whether some of the most likely forms of abuse of t

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