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

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

Frequently Asked Question No. 2

What benefits is it supposed to provide, and will it?

Is it about Terrorism?

Originally, the Government claimed that the National Identification Scheme it was designing would help in the fight against terrorism, and could prevent wrongful detention of citizens. Based on the Privacy Foundation’s long experience, we were waiting for some more old favourites to emerge – drug-runners, organised crime and illegal immigrants.

All of those claims are spurious. We can show that’s the case, and the public knows that’s the case, and the Government has realised that the public knows that’s the case. So the Government hasn’t been using those pretences since about April 2006.

Who is meant to get the Benefits?

The current version is claimed to be about ‘access to Human Services’. DHS is a mega-department or super-ministry formed in order to bring under one umbrella:

  • the vast benefits-provider Centrelink (which is the processing scheme for about 100 benefits schemes whose policies are administered by a dozen or more different agencies)
  • the vast health insurer Medicare (which has been expanded over the years to run several additional programs)
  • the large Child Support Agency (which administers payments by one estranged parent to another)
  • several additional agencies

The scheme actually extends beyond DHS, however. It also includes the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), which is in a different ministry entirely.

The Government also claims that customers of those agencies will gain benefits.

They may also be claiming that service-providers (including hospitals, doctors, bus-operators, local councils) may get some benefits as well; but that remains unclear.

What benefits are there for Card-Holders?

One claim that is repeated many times is that ‘this card will replace up to 17 cards’, and hence there will be a decrease in people’s ‘wallet-bulge’ or ‘purse-clutter’. As we discuss in FAQ3, no-one actually has 17 cards. In fact, it appears that a large majority of people may have only 1 card that will be replaced (a Medicare or DVA card), and many have only 2 or 3. There are certainly some people who have 4 or even 5 cards (e.g. Medicare, PBS Concession, Centrelink and DVA). So most people will not experience any such benefit.

The Government also repeatedly refers to increased security, and reduced risk of identity theft. In the view of APF, this is completely wrong. The scheme gathers more personal data, concentrates it in a card and a Register, makes the data on the card accessible to card-readers in tens of thousands of locations, and enables thousands of people to access the data in the Register. The scheme creates a ‘honey-pot’ of information that will be impossible to protect, reduces security, and increases the ease of performing identity theft.

The Government claims that the scheme will “eliminate re-keying of data”, and enable “one-time update” or people’s records in multiple agencies. In doing so, it relies primarily on the idea that advising change-of-address to government agencies is a drain on members of the public. Firstly, this has been attempted multiple times (a decade ago by the Victorian government), and the public has shown very little interest in such services. Secondly, this is not a major issue that justifies a billion dollars of investment and abandonment of privacy. And thirdly, it can be achieved without a national identification scheme.

Another claim the Government makes is that it will make it easier to do business online with the government. No details are provided. And it’s clear that agencies are increasingly moving to online services without any such scheme being in place.

A further claim, invented by the Minister rather than by public servants, is that the scheme will enable emergency payments. Hockey suggested at the time of the North Queensland cyclones that people could have had cash issued to them if only they had a national identity card. The suggestion was dumb, and shown to be dumb within hours of him saying it. (In disaster areas, there is commonly no electricity to drive card-readers and cash-dispensers, and too little cash available anyway; and it’s unclear what advantage such a card would have over conventional debit-cards and credit-cards, which are designed for the express purpose of providing access to money).

In short, this scheme is emphatically not designed for the benefit of card-holders.

What benefits are there for Service-Providers?

The Government has refused to provide any meaningful information about the scheme’s benefits, and hence it’s necessary to interpolate.

The participating government agencies (Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support Agency, DVA, etc.) will be forced to adapt their systems and business processes in order to use a standardised central scheme instead of one designed for their own purposes. When the disruption eventually settles down, they might see some internal cost-savings. But much more money will be spent centrally by the Government (and hence by taxpayers) than will be saved in the participating agencies.

State Government and private sector service providers, in health-care and other aspects of human services, will also face considerably increased costs and dislocation. It is feasible that they might eventually see some benefits in the form of easier ways to do their back-end business processes (such as collecting payments from the Government for services that are subsidised by central government). But that could be achieved by much simpler schemes that cost far less and that are far less privacy-intrusive.

What benefits are there for the Government?

Repeated assertions have been made that the scheme will give rise to “fraud savings”. These claims are so exaggerated as to be thesmelves essentially fraudulent. The reasons APF has this view include:

  1. the Government indulges in serial double-counting of benefits. Every privacy-invasive initiative in the last 20 years has been justified this way. If any of the inflated claims had ever been true, we’d have stopped fraud in its tracks eons ago
  2. no systemic explanation has been provided as to how the savings will be made
  3. the Government has refused to release the taxpayer-funded cost/benefit analysis. (So we’re expected to believe what a mere politician tells us??)

Another hoary old chestnut that the Government has trotted out is improvements to operational efficiencies. Many of the large agencies are already colliding with ‘diseconomies of scale and scope’, meaning that they’re so big and complex that they’re unmanageable. This scheme blunders well beyond the point at which efficiencies can be achieved. It will recover only a fraction of the vast sums of money expended in creating it.

What’s worse, the kinds of efficiencies that the Government has in mind involve reducing people to objects. Public servants have to function like automatons, with no scope for treating clients as though they were people. And the 20 million of us are expected to act like widgets on a production line, calmly accepting that our existence is granted to us by a munificent government.

The real benefits of the scheme for the Government are the public service executives is the enhancement of social control. They want to be able to exercise more power over the unruly public, so that trouble-makers can be readily identified and their behaviour chilled.

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

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