Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Questions without Notice


2:01 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to Senator Ellison, the Minister for Human Services. Can the minister confirm that the government is continuing to evaluate the two access card tenders before the actual access card bill has passed? How can the government be effectively evaluating these tenders when the regulatory framework for the access card has not been established? Will the minister be signing contracts for these two tenders before the bill has become law? What does the minister’s department estimate the value of these proposed contracts to be? Is the minister exposing taxpayers to a financial risk by rushing the implementation of the access card?

Photo of Chris EllisonChris Ellison (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

As previously announced, evaluation of the two tender processes is continuing. That was announced some time ago. What I have said recently is that, in response to the Senate committee report, instead of having the bill brought before parliament in two tranches I have agreed to deal with it as one package. That does not change anything as far as the evaluation of the tenders goes. That evaluation is ongoing. Of course, the signing of any tender would take place after the passing of any legislation.

This is not an unusual practice. We have seen examples previously, such as with the Australian business number. When that was introduced, systems were largely finalised prior to the bill being passed. The systems design work on the maternity payment and maternity immunisation allowance also commenced before the legislation was passed in that case. Another precedent is the working credit initiative under the Australians Working Together initiative, which started in early 2001. Systems design work on that commenced prior to legislation being passed.

So there are certainly precedents for this being done. There is nothing untoward in it. In fact, I think it was Senator Lundy who acknowledged during the public hearing on the access card legislation that the separation of the tender process into components was sound practice. That is what we have done: we have separated that tender process into components. There is no reason why that evaluation of tenders cannot continue. The selection of preferred systems integrator and card issuance and management tenderers will occur later this year.

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm whether any evaluation has been made of the potential risk of any funds following this process of moving tenders forward? Also, given the significant concerns raised by the community during the recent Senate inquiry, why is it that your government is so intent on putting Australian taxpayers’ dollars at some risk by rushing the implementation of this card?

Photo of Chris EllisonChris Ellison (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The simple answer to that is that the government is not putting at risk taxpayers’ money. What we are doing with the access card is providing the Australian community with a more efficient means of accessing government benefits, a saving to taxpayers by way of enhanced security against ID fraud and fraud against the government and also a more robust protection of individuals’ identities.

I am sure those opposite and other senators would agree that the Medicare card, which is 23-year-old technology, is susceptible to fraud. It proved to be so just last week—in a Melbourne court we saw someone charged with some 40 counts of fraudulent activity involving Medicare cards. This is what we are trying to do: crack down on fraud, provide Australians with greater efficiency and a streamlined process for accessing government benefits, and provide savings to the Australian taxpaying community. This is a benefit that will bring a great deal of advantage to all Australians. (Time expired)