Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Ian Campbell. Given that the government plans to issue 16.5 million access cards and that the card will be needed for any Australian to access medical benefits or other government services, why does the government continue to peddle the myth that the new access card is voluntary? Why won’t the minister be honest with the Australian people and admit what his own backbench is saying—that is, that it is an ID card for all Australians? Does the government acknowledge that the biometric photo and the microchip on the proposed access card will hold more information than was ever proposed with the Australia Card?
I thank Senator Nettle for what is a very important question. We have, as a government, introduced legislation into the other place today to meet the concerns of those who continue to hold fears that the new Smartcard to replace the 1984 Medicare card, which is the subject of substantial fraud against Australian taxpayers, could in some way be related to the Labor Party’s proposal for an Australia Card back in the 1980s. I think they are legitimate fears because Australians do not want an ID card; they do not want to be forced by third parties, as Labor’s proposal for the Australia Card would have done, to produce an ID card if they are to get a mortgage or a bank loan or a range of other services. The draft legislation, if Senator Nettle wants to find it, was released before Christmas when Mr Hockey was the minister, so it has been open for public consultation. I am very keen to maintain a strong and high-quality public consultation because I want to make sure that all 16 million to 17 million Australians who receive this card feel secure that their information is going to be kept private and that this will be an improvement on the level of service that is received. It is very different to the existing Medicare card. The existing Medicare card was designed in 1984. A lot has changed since then. I remind people that back in 1984 the Datsun 200B was a very popular car—and a very good car at that, I am sure—
No, not in 1984. Back in those days I was an active member of the Liberal Party campaigning against the Australia Card, as I would continue to do.
This is a card that will bring Australia into the new millennium. The Greens probably still have a lot of supporters who drive around in Datsun 200Bs, but we believe that the Medicare card needs replacing. We need to ensure that people can get access to their entitlements in a secure environment. We know that the Greens and the Labor Party have defended welfare cheats and welfare fraud day after day in this parliament. They have opposed the Welfare to Work reforms. We are trying to get people off welfare and into work and Labor, through their economic policies and their welfare policies, want to leave them on welfare. We want to ensure that people who are entitled to Medicare get access.
No Australian wants to have a repeat of some of the fraud that has occurred under the existing Medicare card. Maybe Senator Nettle supports it, but only last year a lady—in Victoria, I think it was—produced false identities for 18 phantom children and ripped over $600,000 off the Commonwealth taxpayer. It was fraud against the Commonwealth because the Medicare card does not have the secure environment that is required to protect people’s privacy and to ensure that they get the payments they deserve when they deserve them.
So this is a very important measure. Senator Nettle will see from the legislation introduced in the parliament today that, if anyone sought to use this enhanced Medicare and Centrelink card as an ID card, they would be subject to a five-year jail term or a substantial fine. The legislation we have brought in is actually to ensure that it is not an ID card; it is a Smartcard. (Time expired)
I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Does the minister agree with Mrs Bronwyn Bishop, who in today’s Australian is reported to have asked whether the ID card would have helped the Nazis kill Jews? What is to stop some future government using the ID card and its national database of information to crack down on Australians who dare to criticise its actions?
What we are putting in place, if the Senate will pass this legislation, is a law that will make it an offence to use it as an ID card. I urge the Labor Party to put aside their spokesperson on this issue, Tanya Plibersek, who is basically saying they would tear up the access card and that they are not supporting a measure to end fraud. We hope the legislation will pass with the support of the Greens and Labor but they will have to dump Ms Plibersek if they are to do that, because she is opposing it. If a future government, a Labor Party government, comes in and wants to bring in an Australia Card again, as they did last time, they would have to come in here and pass a law to do so. They would have to overturn this law to do so, so it is a democratic process. The Liberal Party remains opposed the Australia Card. You would have to ask Labor if they have a proposal to bring in an ID card.