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Campaigns: the National Identification Scheme


The Federal government calls it a ‘Human Services Access Card’

We call it for what it is: a National ID Card System


This very successful campaign ran from the beginning of 2006 until late 2007.

The weight of evidence eventually resulted in a (Coalition-dominated) Senate Committee severely criticising the project. The Coalition all-but gave in, and the incoming Labor Government scrapped the project and the Office of Access Card very shortly after its election.

Congratulations to Campaign Director, Anna Johnston, whose efforts over an extended period were instrumental in the Access Card's defeat; and to the many others who made significant contributions, especially Tim Warner of the Access Card No Way Campaign, other members of APF, and Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA)!

There has been a succession of attempts by bureaucrats and misguided politicians to impose a national identification scheme on Australians.

All have been resoundingly defeated, with the APF playing a crucial role in analysing the proposals, making formal submissions, and providing large numbers of media interviews and backgrounders.


Here is the most comprehensive source of information about the 'Access Card' – far more comprehensive, and far more reliable, than the Howard Government and the succession of Ministers for Human Services (Joe Hockey – 9 months, Ian Campbell – 3 months, and Chris Ellison – 8 months) were ever prepared to provide to the Australian public:

'What we do (and still donít) know about the proposed 'Access Card': An Information Paper with questions for the Government, and answers for the public' Version 2, Australian Privacy Foundation, May 2007

Postscript: On 26 February 2008, The Australian reported that "smartcard maker Intercard Wireless ... yesterday ... entered liquidation". This was the company whose CEO Peter Solomon (a sometime senior Liberal Party member) and Chair Ian Sinclair (a former National Party leader) was linked by The Bulletin in May 2004 with the revival of the plans for a national ID card. So, of the main players in the fiasco, Solomon, Sinclair, Howard and Vanstone have all departed the scene, so has Beattie, Ruddock will retire shortly, and Hockey and Ellison are on the backbench. As they say, 3 or 4 years is a very long time in politics.


Contents


Overview

The ‘Access Card’ proposal, as announced by the Australian Government in April 2006, is to introduce a new card to replace a number of existing cards, including the Medicare card and various benefit cards issued by Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Those agencies currently run separate programs. This proposal would break down the vital privacy protections that are inherent in separate schemes.

The Government proposes to use a ‘smart card’, meaning there would be a computer chip inside the card, and special card-readers would need to be installed by any person or organisation wanting to read the information from the chip. In addition, some information would be clearly visible on the face and back of the card.

But the crux of the proposal is the creation of a unique identification number for every Australian, combined with the imposition of a new concept called a person's 'official name' or 'legal name'.

And not only would personal data be held on the card and be accessible at readers throughout the country, but that and even more information would also be held on a national population database to be created by the Department of Human Services.

There is to be a "rigorous" (i.e. intrusive and onerous) registration process, requiring every adult in Australia to prove who they are to a government authority.

This is a proposal to establish a National Identification Scheme.

The APF opposes it, and urges all Australians to oppose it.


Brief History

Following lobbying by businesses and an opportunist intervention by a State Premier, several projects were in train during 2004-06 that sought to create a national identification scheme. One trial (the Medicare Smartcard) failed dismally. Two others (the Human Services Access Card / ConsumerCard and the National Identification Scheme project under Attorney-General Ruddock) were folded together in early 2006.

The so-called ‘Access Card’ proposal was approved by Cabinet on 26 April 2006, and received a huge four-year budget starting 1 July 2006 totalling $1.09 billion (9 May 2006).

The two most senior project executives promptly resigned, citing privacy, information security and accountability concerns. Many independent commentators, experts, newspaper-editors and letter-writers have expressed similar concerns. Cartoonists have summed up the cynicism with which the Australian public regards promises by politicians and secret cost/benefit analyses by bureaucrats.

A Consumer and Privacy 'Taskforce' was announced on 24 May 2006, to shield Human Services Minister Joe Hockey and his super-ministry from contact with advocates. At the announcement, Hockey called the proposal a ‘Consumer Card’, which ‘the private sector would almost certainly be allowed to read’. He has since pulled back from that proposition, indicating that its uses are limited to (scores of) government programs. But any politician's statement needs to be regarded as at best a work-in-progress, opportunistic and untrustworthy.

Key information about the proposal remains secret.

A Business Case was delivered by KPMG in February 2006. Hockey at first promised to publish the Business Case but then refused to release it at all. Under pressure, he eventually released a shortened and edited version on 6 June 2006. But critical parts were missing, including:

A Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) was prepared by Clayton Utz. Hockey promised the Australian Privacy Foundation on 9 May 2006 that he would "shortly" release it. Soon after that, on 24 May 2006, he refused to release the PIA, calling it "redundant". However government officials giving evidence before the Senate on 25 May 2006 said the PIA was prepared in conjunction with, and on the same basis as, the business case prepared by KPMG used by the Government to justify its budget and Cabinet’s approval.

The Australian Privacy Foundation continues its call to have both documents published, in full. If the PIA is "redundant", then so is the government’s whole "Business Case" for the project.

The 'Taskforce' released an Issues Paper in June 2006. In November 2006, it delivered a report some of which appeared to be strongly expressed. But it made extremely weak recommendations. Despite that, the Minister simply rejected the recommendations that didn't fit to his agenda. The members of the Task Force failed to resign, but instead accepted the snub and continued with their well-paid work.

On 13 December 2006, the Department released a block of information about the proposal. An Industry Briefing was held for 3 hours in the morning. A secondary 'consumer and privacy' briefing was held for 2 hours that afternoon; but it was attended by more businesspeople than advocates, because the Department refused to provide travel assistance to advocacy organisations located outside Sydney.

Also on 13 December, a draft Bill was released for comment. It represents only a fraction of the legislation, and is a completely unacceptable basis for Parliament to proceed. The Government set a deadline for submissions of 12 January 2007. Limiting the available information to a small sub-set of the proposal, and limiting the time available to the summer holiday period, represent a calculated endeavour by the Government to impose the maximum difficulties on public interest advocacy organisations, to stay 'below the radar', and to 'snow' the public. By 30 January, only about one-third of the declared 120 submissions had been made available.

On 30 January 2007, Hockey was moved up and out of the Human Services portfolio, and Ian Campbell demoted, to inherit what The Australian IT Section referred to as "the poisoned chalice".

The lightly-amended Bill was rammed into the House of Representatives. Labor moved amendments, which the Government rejected. It forced passage of the Bill through the House on 28 February 2007. But the Senate referred the Bill to a Committee, with the impossibly short reporting date of 15 March 2007.

On 4 March, Ian Campbell was sacked as Minister (for unrelated reasons, to do with WA's Brian Burke), and Chris Ellison was appointed.

On 9 March, ASIO's O'Sullivan undermined the credibility of the Head of Human Services, Patricia Scott, by stating unequivocally to the Senate Committe that ASIO would have access to the Access Card Register. The Head (and her Minister) had said the opposite.

On 15 March, the Senate Committee Report was published. The Report was remarkable, because the majority of Government Senators joined Labor, the Democrats and the Greens in recommending withdrawal of the Bill, substantial changes, and re-submission of the complete package of legislation. Ellison agreed to withdraw the Bill (reflecting serious concern among backbenchers). But he was highly equivocal about addressing the massive array of problems in the proposal, and declined to withdraw the tenders (which by then had already closed!). Peter Martin in The Canberra Times wrote an excellent summary, for which we provide a mirror.

During this period, the level of criticism, and the number of directions from which it was coming, grew to a new level. On 27 April, the Head of Human Services, Patricia Scott, was abruptly replaced. An article by Julian Bajkowski in the AFR of 12 May interpreted this as signalling misgivings by the Prime Minister about the wisdom of proceeding with the project.

On 4 and 5 June 2007, the Department and then the Minister quite suddenly changed their tune, and indicated that legislation to introduce a national access card could be delayed until after the federal election due in late 2007. This was widely interpreted in the media as at least a major setback for the project, and quite probably the death-knell. Only time would tell, however, and the APF and many other public interest organisations remained ready to resume combat.

During June and July, the Fels Task Force continued to have many of its Recommendations rejected by the Minister, but trundled along the path set down for it by the Minister and run by the Office of Access Card. The ANAO was reported as considering an audit of the project, and in particular the highly irregular contracting process.

By August, with the Minister continually sending junior executives to deliver his speeches on the matter, it was evident to all concerned that the Bill had been side-lined. On 23 August, Minister Ellison admitted that "I think the timeline we set was an ambitious one", and that there was no way he would put forward legislation before 2008, i.e. until after the election. That confirmed that none of the multi-million dollar tenders called earlier would ever be let, and suggested that the current design contracts would be allowed to run down as well, wasting further millions of taxpayers' funds. The cost? An astounding $52 million, for effectively nothing.

On 29 August, Tanya Plibersek committed an incoming Labor Government to scrap the project. Labor has argued that the way the Access Card is designed, it would turn into a de facto identity card much like the failed Australia Card. Ms Plibersek said Labor was not against the use of smartcard technology to deliver some government services. But a single card required by everyone who wanted to access services — and supported by a database holding information about all card holders — was simply an ID card by another name, she said. Under a Labor government, there would be "no super-database that contains all the information about a person and no effective ID card that you have to carry all the time," she said.

On 24 November 2007, the Howard Coalition Government was soundly defeated in the federal election, and the Rudd Labor Government took office. By 7 December 2007, the Access Card project and the Office of Access Card were closed down.

All of this can be followed in the APF's list of significant media articles and key extracts from them.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


APF Policy Statements

Statements in relation to the predecessor schemes included this one:


APF Media Contributions

Contributions in relation to the predecessor schemes included these:


Earlier Government Projects and APF Campaigns

The previous versions of this campaign-page were:

A closely related Government project is the Document Verification System.

But this isn't the Government's first attempt to implement a National Identification Scheme. Here are the campaign-pages against the predecessor projects:


Resources Provided by other Research and Advocacy Organisations

Resource Sites and Policy Statements:

The Australian Democrats 'Stop the Access Card Now' Campaign Page

Submissions re Registration (April 2007):

Submissions to the Senate Committee (Feb/Mar 2007):

Submissions re the Exposure Draft of the first Bill (Jan 2007):


Media Reports

There have been hundreds of media reports. The more important ones that came to our attention are listed here, together with extracts of key quotations from them:


If you are aware of errors or omissions in this document, please let us know.


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Created: 22 January 2006 - Last Amended: 26 February 2008 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 24 January 2005
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