Medicare Smartcard

This Government project and APF campaign ran from 2004 until 2006. It was then abandoned and/or subsumed into the Government’s ‘Human Services Access card’/ ‘SmartCard’/ ‘ConsumerCard’ project and APF’s New national ID card campaign.

See also the related projects on the Human Services Card (2005-06), Australia Card Mark II and the Document Verification System


During 2004-06, a project was running that was intended to convert Medicare cards from magnetic-strip to smartcard technology.

The Minister also signalled the possibility that the Medicare card could then also work as a more general “government services card”, for example for accessing social security benefits through Centrelink, or for storing or accessing a consolidated health record.

A Pilot was run in Tasmania. It was originally to be provided to 40,000 people. But few were interested, and only about 2,500 appear to have ever been issued. (A media report said “It is understood only 1 per cent of eligible Tasmanians expressed interest in registering for the card”). Moreover, some of those who tried to get one fell foul of what appear to have been substantially increased registration requirements.

No clear announcement appears ever to have been made, but it came to light in a Senate Estimates Committee hearing in May 2006 that the Pilot had been abandoned. The Government switched its focus to the national ID card (dubbed by Hockey the ‘Human Services Access Card’), but without taking any account of the lessons that the abortive Pilot should have taught it.


  • Health smartcard fizzles (Karen Dearne, The Australian IT Section, 30 May 2006)
  • ‘Medicare smartcard pilot in slow lane’ (Karen Dearne, The Australian IT Section, 21 February 2006): “MEDICARE Australia has issued only 2450 Medicare smartcards out of an anticipated 40,000 since the national rollout began in Tasmania early last year … 3619 Tasmanians (this number included family members who may be listed on one card) had expressed interest in taking up a smartcard … some people had been unable to provide the necessary proof of identity documents, [Medicare Australia e-business manager] Mr Trabinger said … more than 13,000 invitations had been sent to people … Medicare smartcards are not supposed to be used outside the health system, or for general identification purposes”
  • This invasive card anything but smart (Op-Ed piece by Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja, Adelaide Advertiser, 2 January 2006)
  • Hockey readies govt smartcard (James Riley, in The Australian 28 December 2005)
  • Privacy warning on Medicare smartcard (Selina Mitchell, The Australian, 22 November 2005: “The Privacy Commissioner has told the federal Government that protection against function creep is essential to win community confidence in a proposed Medicare smartcard”)
  • Government confirms massive smartcard plan (Iain Ferguson, ZDNet Australia, 28 September 2005: “Senator Eric Abetz, the Special Minister of State, told ZDNet Australia today he and the Minister for Human Services, Joe Hockey, were working on a project that would see cards incorporating smart chip technology and a photograph of the bearer replace a raft of government services and concession cards, including Medicare cards. Senator Abetz said in all, 26 government services and concession cards could be replaced if and when the new card was distributed. The project under consideration is believed to cost around AU$500 million. … Senator Abetz told ZDNet Australia he planned to say more about the government’s plans in the area over the next few months”)
  • Medicare lays blueprint for ID card (Simon Hayes and Steve Lewis, The Australian IT Section, 19 July 2005: “”People will have a choice of a photo on the front of the card, or stored on the chip,” Human Services Minister Joe Hockey told The Australian. “We are looking at something a little more complex than a dumb Australia Card.””)
  • Abbott crash tackles e-Health program (Julian Bajkowski, Computerworld, 27 June 2005: “Abbott told a stunned audience he saw “no reason why the relevant information [electronic health records] could not be copied to a central database and then onto an appropriately secure system””)
  • Medicare ‘smartcard’ raises privacy concerns (ABC News, 6 June 2005: “The AMA and Australian Council for Civil Liberties (ACCL) have raised concerns about the privacy of personal medical data on the Medicare ‘smartcard’ as the Federal Government today launches a new push to expand its uptake”)
  • Tasmania’s new Smart Card causes privacy concerns (The World Today, 6 June 2005)
  • Centrelink and HIC thrown open to outsourcers in national smartcard push (Julian Bajkowski, Computerworld, 21 April 2005: “Computerworld understands the new smartcards will be branded as Human Services cards and are intended to enable some 3.6 million social security recipients to conduct transactions across Centrelink, Medicare, Tax and other government entities. The card will not be called the Australia Card, despite its stark resemblance”)
  • New smartcards could keep track of welfare (The Melbourne Age, 21 April 2005, reporting on a speech by Minister Hocket the Press Club that announced function creep even before the card’s design has even been made public)
  • Cleaning dirty data (James Riley, The Australian 15 March 2005: “When the federal Auditor-General’s Office reported that the Health Insurance Commission had allowed up to 500,000 dead people to retain active Medicare numbers, it managed to put the complex issue of data quality into layman’s terms”)
  • Postie piloting medical e-card (Karen Dearne, The Australian, 8 March 2005: “AUSTRALIA Post has emerged as the surprise leader of a consortium testing Medicare smartcards in Tasmania. If the pilot is successful, the consortium will be in the box seat for a national roll-out of Medicare smartcards. The 12-month project is based on the smartcard technology developed by French payment and security card developer Oberthur … To date, 800 Tasmanians have registered for the trial and received smartcards … With a 32KB chip, it’s envisaged the smartcard could be used for immunisation records and organ donor information”)
  • Hackers on Medicare smart card waiting list (Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia,
    24 February 2005: “Privacy advocates have slammed the new Medicare Smartcard, describing it as an insecure and technologically inept implementation”)
  • The HealthConnect trial in Tasmania featured the issue of smartcards, but the HealthConnect site seems to offer no information about it, with Media Releases of 24 June 2004 and 28 July 2004 apparently purged from the web-site
  • Media Release ABB085/04 on ‘New Medicare smartcards’ by Health Minister Tony Abbott, 24 June 2004, mirrored here