[LINK] Dissent over Canberra's card

brd at iimetro.com.au brd at iimetro.com.au
Tue Jan 16 10:22:13 AEDT 2007

Dissent over Canberra's card
Karen Dearne
JANUARY 16, 2007
The Australian

GRASSROOTS opposition to the federal Government's welfare services access card
is building, with campaigners saying Joe Hockey's proposal, despite Government
reassurances, is "indistinguishable from a national identity scheme".

About 120 individuals and groups have made submissions on the draft access card
bill, released on December 13, even though the tight, one-month, public comment
period fell over the holidays.

The Human Services minister plans to introduce the bill into federal parliament
next month, but the draft has been slammed as "seriously inadequate", with many
key issues to be decided later and included in a second round of legislation.

Tim Warner, convenor of Access Card No Way, said the campaign now boasted "an
active cadre of citizens to oppose this illiberal program", with volunteers in
every state.

"We believe that any national ID scheme is a tragic mistake," he said. "The
inadequacies in this draft are deeply disturbing, given the enormous shift this
legislation represents.

"No inquiry, no debate and certainly no parliamentary discussion has occurred on
whether anti-fraud measures require a national register. Instead, the debate is
over what sort of register should be introduced."

Mr Warner said the draft was like a "Lego set", with many key aspects yet to be
decided and introduced by additional legislation or regulation.

"The lackadaisical air is astounding," he said. "Oversight and governance, the
interaction with existing entitlement systems and mechanisms for handling card
suspensions and lost or stolen cards are fundamental to whether this will be an
intolerable yoke around every citizen's neck.

"We need to know now what is intended and whether better ways can be found, or
the whole proposal stopped, before huge sums of public money are diverted from
worthwhile purposes."

The "clear call for data extension at the whim of the minister or secretary"
made public statements about the future of the card "meaningless and
temporary", he said.

The notion that people would own their cards was laughable, Mr Warner said.
"Under the bill, one's own address, telephone number, email address and
photograph are all declared Crown property.

"Granting a meaningless property right in the card plastic is a very tawdry

Australian Privacy Foundation policy co-ordinator Nigel Waters said a key
problem was that information was being "dripped out in instalments".

"As a result, it's impossible to assess the complete package," he said. "A great
many important aspects have not been addressed to date, yet these are
inextricably linked to whether the proposed system will work in accordance with
the stated aims.

"For example, unless issues related to dependants and carers are dealt with,
there's no way of telling if the system can deliver efficient and
privacy-sensitive Medicare services to all citizens."

Until draft legislation was provided on all issues central to the access card's
operation, there was no meaningful basis on which to assess the proposal.

"It is therefore not appropriate to introduce any legislation until these
matters have been dealt with," Mr Waters said. "The APF submits that the bill
cannot be sent forward at this stage."

Access Card Office chief technology architect Marie Johnson said the legislation
clearly spelled out that the card was not a national identity card.

"There is no requirement for anyone to carry the card at all times, or to use it
for identity purposes other than to access health and social services benefits,"
she said.

"The proposed legislation contains severe penalties of up to five years' jail
for anyone else who demands it as a form of identity."

Ms Johnson said the Government's release of the exposure draft "before taking it
directly to Parliament" demonstrated its commitment to wide community

Welfare Rights Centre policy officer Gerard Thomas said the costs of introducing
the card were a problem.

"If the costs rise beyond the $1.1 billion price-tag, as many suggest, will the
funding gap be met by cuts to services and programs vital to the very
disadvantaged people for whom the card is essentially compulsory?" Mr Thomas


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Sydney Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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