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)!
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 dont) 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.
- Brief History
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- APF Policy Statements
- APF Media Contributions
- Earlier Projects and Campaigns
- Resources Provided by other Research and Advocacy Organisations
- Media Reports
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.
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:
- the cost/benefit analysis itself
- the explanation of how the proposal are meant to reduce fraud
- any discussion of the privacy implications for Australians
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)
- FAQ1 – Briefly, what is the Government proposing?
- FAQ2 – What benefits is it supposed to provide, and will it?
- FAQ3 – How many of your cards will be replaced?
- FAQ4 – What will it cost? – Short Answer: $1 billion, and that’s just to start with!
- FAQ5 – What does the APF say is wrong with the Government’s proposal? Short Answer: a huge amount. The Government lets information out in dribbles, and consequently our analyses have to be revised from time to time. For details, see the succession of APF Policy Statements. We characterised the proposal in 4 July 2006 as unjustified, unprecedented, unpopular, stupid, wasteful and discriminatory. It hasn’t got any better since then
- FAQ6 – What does the Federal Privacy Commissioner say about it?
- FAQ7 – What does the Victorian Privacy Commissioner say about it?
- FAQ8 – What’s a ‘National Identification Scheme?’
- FAQ9 – Why does the APF say that the ‘Access Card’ is a ‘National Identification Scheme’?
- FAQ10 – If I’ve got nothing to hide, why should I be afraid of a National Identification Scheme?
- FAQ11 – What does the APF say should be done instead?
- FAQ12 – Does the public support the Government’s proposal?
- FAQ13 – Do smartcard schemes work?
- FAQ14 – How can I help prevent the introduction of a national identification scheme?
- FAQ15 – How do editors, letter-writers and cartoonists see the ‘Access Card’?
APF Policy Statements
- The Access Card – Submission re 2nd Exposure Draft (24 August 2007)
- Joint PIAC-APF Briefing Paper (5 August 2007)
- The Howard Government’s Proposed National ID Scheme, Slide-Set Presented to U3A, Canberra (17 July 2007)
- What we do (and still dont) know about the proposed Access Card: An Information Paper with questions for the Government, and answers for the public (Version 2, May 2007)
- The Access Card: Registration, Submission to the Task Force (13 April 2007)
- The Access Card – A Way Forward, Letter to Incoming Minister Ellison (30 March 2007)
- The Access Card fallacies and facts (12 March 2007)
- Responses to Questions on Notice from the Senate Committee re the Bill (5 March 2007)
- Opening Statement to the Senate Committee re the Bill (2 March 2007)
- Submission to the Senate Committee re the Bill (28 February 2007)
- A comprehensive set of FAQs, to fill the void left by the Government’s refusal to publish crucial information (4 February 2007)
- Submission to Dept of Human Services re the Draft Bill (12 January 2007)
- Speech at public forum ‘The Access Card – fallacies and facts’ (9 November 2006)
- Submission to Taskforce, with covering letter (31 July 2006)
- Information Paper: What we do (and don’t) know about the proposed ‘Access Card’ (14 July 2006)
- Why every Australian should oppose the so-called ‘Access Card’ proposal (4 July 2006)
- Spot the Difference – Comparing the two National ID card proposals (13 June 2006)
Statements in relation to the predecessor schemes included this one:
- Media Release: Access Card fast resembling a train wreck (4 June 2007)
- Media Release: New Minister contradicts his own Department on ID fraud (6 March 2007)
- Media Release: Access Card: What’s the rush Mr Howard? (28 February 2007)
- Letter to the Media: The Dirty Big Secret (11 February 2007)
- Letter to Editors: Easy remedy for card fears (9 February 2007 in The Australian and 12 February in the AFR)
- Media Release: What does the Government have to hide? (7 February 2007)
- Media Release: National ID Scheme Information Site Released (4 February 2007)
- Letter to the Editor: Access Card will be our national ID card (9 November 2006 in the AFR)
- Media Release: Hockey shows his true colours on ID Card (9 November 2006)
- Media Release: Rights and wrongs in smartcard debate (2 October 2006, Letter published in AFR)
- Media Release: So-called ‘Access Card’ worse than the Australia Card (13 June 2006)
- Media Release: ‘What does Joe Hockey have to hide?’ (25 May 2006)
- Media Release: ‘Will the real ID card please stand up?’ (28 April 2006 )
- Media Release: ‘ID card flaws in budget strategy’ (8 May 2006)
Contributions in relation to the predecessor schemes included these:
- Why ‘Australia Card Mark II’ is still a dumb idea (Australian Policy Online, 27 Jan 2006)
- Open Letter to Coalition MPs (28 Jul 2005)
- Letter to the Editor of the AFR (25 Jul 2005)
Earlier Government Projects and APF Campaigns
The previous versions of this campaign-page were:
- ‘Access Card’ – Phase I (May 2006 to December 2006)
- ‘Australia Card Mark II’ (April 2005 to April 2006)
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:
- the A/G’s National ID Card project (July 2005 – 26 April 2006)
- the Medicare Smartcard (2004-2005)
- the Australia Card Mark I (1985-1987)
Resources Provided by other Research and Advocacy Organisations
Resource Sites and Policy Statements:
- ‘Access Card No Way’ Campaign
- UNSW Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre, incl. ‘Function creep: defined and still dangerous’, by Prof. Graham Greenleaf, in Australian Policy Online on 28 August 2007
- N.S.W. Council for Civil Liberties
- Civil Liberties Australia – A.C.T.
- Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA)
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre
- Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia
- Melbourne Indymedia
Submissions re Registration (April 2007):
- Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFF) (April 2007)
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) (April 2007)
Submissions to the Senate Committee (Feb/Mar 2007):
- Access Card No Way Campaign
- Prof. G. Greenleaf (UNSW Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre):
- Supplementary Submission: ‘The Australian Government’s Submission is seriously misleading to the Senate’ (2 March 2007)
- Submission (25 February 2007)
- Greenleaf G. (2007) ‘Access All Areas: Function Creep Guaranteed in Australia’s ID Card Bill (No. 1)’ Computer Law and Security Report 23 (25 February 2007)
- Submission to the Senate Committee
- Liberty Victoria
- Lockstep Consulting (Stephen Wilson)
- N.S.W. Council for Civil Liberties (NSW CCL)
- Australian Medical Association (AMA)
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
- Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner (OVPC)
- Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner (OFPC)
- ACT Government
- Generally, see the Commitee’s site
Submissions re the Exposure Draft of the first Bill (Jan 2007):
- Australian Medical Association
- Northern Territory Information Commissioner
- Victorian Privacy Commissioner
- Commonwealth Privacy Commissioner
- Women’s Electoral Lobby (WA)
- Health Consumers’ Council (WA)
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.