Human Services Card

This Government project and APF campaign ran from April 2005 until 26 April 2006. It was then subsumed into the Government’s ‘Human Services Access card’/ ‘SmartCard’/ ‘ConsumerCard’ project and APF’s New national ID card campaign.

See also the predecessor project on a Medicare Smartcard, and the related projects re Australia Card Mark II and the Document Verification System

Current Status

During 2005 Human Services Minister Joe Hockey several times flagged the creation of a card that would be required to access all services provided by the newly-formed mega-Department of Human Services. DHS combined Centrelink, the Health Insurance Commission (now Medicare Australia), the Child Support Agency, the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service (now CRS Australia), Australian Hearing, and Health Services Australia (an incorporated government business enterprise).

In an address to the National Press Club on 20 April 2005, Hockey referred to the Huamn Services Card as: “one set of keys to open a number of doors to a range of government services and benefits”. He was quoted as saying that requisite legislation would be introduced in the Winter sitting of parliament (i.e. June-September 2005?), by which time the coalition would have a majority in the Senate.

Liberty Victoria president Brian Walters immediately criticised the proposal as an attempt to revive the controversial Australia Card.

In July 2005, Hockey confirmed that he was considering ways to replace the Medicare card with a new “government services” card. This could include a photograph of the holder, allowing commonwealth – and eventually state -government agencies to check the identity of individuals.

In September 2005, junior minister Abetz was reported as saying that he and Hockey were working on a project that could see the first cards including smart chip technology rolled out to Australians in about two years’ time.

In January 2006, it was reported that a new identification number for every Australian, that would become the backbone for any proposed national identity card scheme, would be used to roll out both a government services smartcard and a national identity card, but not the existing Medicare card. But tokens such as Medicare cards, driving licences and passports would be “coordinated” against the Human Services numbering scheme. Queensland and NSW were reported to be looking to use it for driving licences.

Hockey repeated that the Human Services card would be a compulsory form of ID for all welfare recipients. He appeared to assume that it would include biometrics.

In February, Hockey tried to tie the card to EFT/POS terminals. It also emerged that only 2,450 Medicare smartcards out of an anticipated 40,000 had been issued since the national rollout began in Tasmania in early 2004. It was reported that the new card-type stores the same data as a standard magnetic-stripe card, although the holder can choose to add a digital photo.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd responded that a new Medicare smartcard should not be allowed to become a national ID card by default.

Again in February, the inter-linkages and clashes among multiple government programs were highlighted by Hockey’s denial that the Human Services smartcard is in any way connected with the national ID card proposal. But “We have been in regular contact with the Attorney General’s Department because it is attracted to anything that improves proof of identity,” Mr Hockey said. The Attorney-General’s Department has been driving improvements to the security of identity documents across federal and state departments as part of its national security agenda. “That’s why they have been talking to the states about upgrading driver’s licences”. Hockey said that a national ID card would have much tighter identity requirements.

And on 25 February, Hockey began beating the ‘dirty, cheating foreigners’ drum, and touting the strong ‘proof of identity’ processes to be associated with his smart Medicare card as the antidote to that evil.

On 3 March, Hockey claimed credit for what appeared to be a quite extraordinary intrusion into public freedom of movement, which involved “Centrelink officials … manning roadblocks to catch taxi drivers claiming the dole”.

Continuing his energetic spruiking, on 9 March Hockey suggested that a photo on the card could stop hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims, despite the fact that he had no statistics available about Medicare fraud, and no explanation as to how a photo would make any difference. He declared that the new card “would not be presentable on demand”, and “not everyone in the country would have one”.

Meanwhile, in the context of AGIMO’s draft Australian Government Smartcard Framework of 19 December 2005, smartcard suppliers were pushing for multi-application cards, and the Victorian Privacy Commissioner was fighting back against that presumption.

On 27 March, Michelle Grattan reported that Hockey’s proposal for a new smartcard costing more than $1 billion was to be considered by Cabinet this week, with “readers” for the card to be installed in all doctors’ surgeries, chemists and ambulances. “It’s not an ID card but comes close to one”. (Michelle really should avoid repeating rubbish like “The smart card system, which is used throughout Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong and in many American states …”).

“It is estimated the card would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually by curbing health and welfare fraud. The smart card would replace the Medicare card and up to 19 other cards, and cover dealings with Centrelink”. “Once it was operating, most people would not have to go to Medicare and Centrelink offices for transactions”. (KPMG’s review is reported to have found that without a photo on the card, there was limited chance of effectively cracking down on fraud and it would not be worth the cost. But if it’s all done over the phone and the Internet, how does the photo help?). “Although the smart card will not be compulsory, most people will need one because it will be the only way to get money from government”.

And a new warming expression emerged from the spin-doctors: “Government sources say [it] will act like a ‘safety deposit box’ for a person’s identity”. And “a smart card system would have meant people hit by cyclone Larry would have been able to obtain government services faster, and removed the need to ferry huge amounts of cash into the [Innisfail] region”.