This page catalogues the stated positions of Parliamentarians on the question of re-opening the ‘Australia Card’ debate. Please advise us of additional sightings, including reference to the source:

Liberal Party:

The Comments that started it all:

John Howard, Prime Minister: “The world is very, very different since then and maybe this is one of the things that is needed to be added to our armour”. It’s in the context of Australians being terrorism targets “that we’re looking at this issue and a number of other issues” More …

Philip Ruddock, Attorney-General, suddenly on 16 July, after Howard changed policy on the fly: “It’s something we will be examining … the government cannot afford to be complacent”; and “The question is, would a single form of identifier add to that process? In other words, if you had something like a passport, and so we’d want every Australian to have one, would that be unreasonable? That’s what an ID card would be” (7:30 Report, 19 July 2005). More …

The ‘Fors’:

Amanda Vanstone, Immigration Minister, on 18 July, : ‘Australians could be fingerprinted or photographed as part of a national identity card, with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone giving conditional support to the controversial plan’ More …

De-an Kelly, pro (ABC Radio News, 19 July 2005)

Peter Dutton, Workplace Participation Minister: “a national ID card would help stop welfare cheats who cost taxpayers “hundreds of millions of dollars” ” (Courier Mail, 19 July 2005), and “I am in favour of the introduction of a national security identification card for a couple of reasons. When we look at terrorists, whether they’re home grown or not and when we look at major organised crime syndicates and individuals who are funding these terrorists, we know that they use multiple identities, we know that they travel on illegal documents and we know that even within one’s own country that those people are determined to carry on their affairs under a number of identities, so I think that is the first compelling argument when we’re having this debate. I think secondly, from my perspective, we have issues in this country in relation to social welfare fraud and I think that this card would lend some weight to addressing those concerns as well. … Like 99 per cent of Australians I have nothing to hide, I’ve got nothing to fear by my information being recorded in databases, most of which is already in existence in Government and financial organisation databases anyway” (AM 19 July 2005, and ‘Identity cards can be forged, says Costello’, David Humphries, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2005). [This is noteworthy because it was the first sighting of the next round of spurious justifications and pleas for function creep]

Cameron Thompson: a national card could replace driver’s licences and other common cards and a new watchdog could ensure people’s information is secure (Courier Mail, 19 July 2005)

Most Queensland Coalition MPs yesterday voiced support for a new card using biometric technology, such as fingerprinting or facial recognition” (Courier Mail, 19 July 2005)

Representing the Fence-Sitters:

Eric Abetz, Special Minister of State: changing circumstances justified reexamination, although he was “philosophically cautious” about it (18 July 2005)

Brendan Nelson, Minister for Education: “At this stage I have my reservations about Australia adopting a national identity card,” he said. “I think there are many things in this country we take for granted, that we enjoy and one of them is the relative freedoms that we have. “But as the Prime Minister said, and I support this, I think it’s something that we do need to examine” (‘ID cards could infringe on privacy: AMA’, ABC News, 20 July 2005)

Robert Hill, Defence Minister: “I might have a different view” if the ID card was a demonstrated lifesaver against terrorism but “if the card was unnecessarily intrusive, I don’t think I would support it” (ABC TV News, 18 July 2005, and 18 July 2005). And again in The Australian on 17 January 2006: ‘Hill pours cold water on national ID card move’.

Tony Abbott, Health Minister: has warned publicly that “fears of Big Brother should never be underestimated (‘Advance Australia card’, Anthony Hoy, The Bulletin, 26 May 2004)

Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs: an ID card needed to be carefully looked at.
“We’ve never had an identity card (because) . . . we feel it’s . . . ‘big brother’ putting his hand on our shoulder to a greater extent than we’d like,” he told Nine’s Sunday program. “I think the arguments would have to be very persuasive.” (The Melbourne Age, 25 July 2005)

And of course, John Howard, repeatedly, e.g. “Nobody should assume that I am committed to an ID card. They shouldn’t. … What I’ve said is that the new circumstances of terrorism required that we look at the thing again. That does not mean that we are definitely going to do it. It does not mean that I’ve decided that we should do it” (‘Howard not committed to ID card’, The Sydney Morning Herald Online, 24 January 2006)

And then the ‘Againsts’:

Peter Costello, Treasurer: “I’m not saying I’m in favour. I’m just saying it’s worth having a look at” (18 July 2005). But later, “If your ID card is based on evidence which itself can be forged in some ways, then the ID card is not of any great use,” Mr Costello said. “I am somebody who is open to new information but certainly won’t be supporting it until such time as I heard persuasive information” (‘Identity cards can be forged, says Costello’, David Humphries, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2005)

George Brandis, Senator: “instinctively” opposed the ID card and “would need to be persuaded of overwhelming reasons … not apparent to me” (18 July 2005)

Steve Ciobo: the terrorist threat is better met with well-resourced intelligence agencies whose tools “should not include mass biometric collection into a central database of private information” because it is too open to abuse (18 July 2005), and “said he was significantly concerned about the prospect of a single government agency holding everyone’s fingerprints and other information. “It’s not a path that I believe the Australian population wants to go down, it’s certainly not a path that I’d want to go down” (‘ID card ‘not a magic cure” Courier Mail, 18 July 2005 and 19 July 2005)

Wilson Tuckey: only if it was a genuine weapon against terrorism (ABC Radio News, 19 July 2005)

Bronwyn Bishop: “I think if you have a national identity card you do sacrifice rights of individuals and I always find that a grave concer” (AM 19 July 2005) and: greatly concerned that national identity cards inevitably meant sacrificing individual rights (‘Identity cards can be forged, says Costello’, David Humphries, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2005)

Santo Santoro, Senator: would strongly oppose any “Big Brother” style identification system. “I am opposed to the theory, practice and implementation of an ID card system” (The Australian, 20 July 2005)

Christopher Pyne, Parliamentary Secretary: “former US president Ronald Reagan would be “turning in his grave that a government led by John Howard would consider a compulsory national identification card”. He said: “How would it have affected the London and New York terrorist attacks? The first were perpetrated by UK citizens, the second by killers legally in the US on valid visas. “Importantly, the killers in London and New York weren’t planning on being around after their attacks. They were suicide bombers – they weren’t trying to hide their identity.” My Pyne said the only winner from a compulsory national ID card would be the company that won the contract to implement it. “Australians are tagged in so many ways now . . . identification in Australia is hardly a problem.” (The Melbourne Age, 25 July 2005)

National Party

The ‘Fors’:

Mark Vaile, New Party-Leader and Trade Minister (N.S.W.): “I supported the concept of an ID card in 1987. The debate we’re having at the moment is probably timely and it’s appropriate that we have a discussion. The thing that has changed dramatically in that time since we had the last debate about ID cards is the use of biometrics, which delivers a much higher level of security in terms of personal information and that needs to be factored into this discussion” (The World Today, 19 July 2005, and The Australian, 20 July 2005)

John Forrest: pro (‘Identity cards can be forged, says Costello’, David Humphries, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2005)

The Fence-Sitters:

Warren Truss, Transport Minister: “I need to be convinced yet … but I’ll listen to the arguments” (18 July 2005)

Ron Boswell, Senator: against (ABC Radio News, 19 July 2005); or maybe not: “Things have moved on, there’s been so many atrocities committed in the past two or three years. I’d want to look at it and I’m prepared to look at it with an open mind, but I’d need to be convinced” (AM 19 July 2005); and he had opposed the Australia Card in the 1980s but was now prepared to consider a national identity system. “Because of what’s happened, I would be prepared to look at it again” (The Australian, 20 July 2005).

Again, on 11 January 2006, reported in The Australian IT Section, “Senator Boswell said that although his party had campaigned against the Hawke government’s 1987 proposal, the London and Bali bombings last year were reason enough for the issue to be looked at again”.

The ‘Againsts’:

Barnaby Joyce, Senator: national identity cards would not prevent a terrorist attack in Australia (‘ID card ‘won’t stop terror attack” The Australian, 18 July 2005); and is “very largely unconvinced as to whether a piece of plastic in your pocket” is capable of stopping either terrorist attacks or immigration bungles such as the Cornelia Rau or Vivian [Solon] Alvarez incidents. “You would want to see some extremely good reasons [to justify a national ID card]. I haven’t seen those yet”. “A central database backed by biometrics] sounds almost Orwellian”…. Joyce dismissed any suggestion national ID cards, biometric or otherwise, may have prevented the now-infamous immigration bungles because the errors were essentially human in nature rather than systemic. “Cornelia Rau would have had a tax file number. She would have had a Medicare number. [Any identity checks] slipped through the system regardless.” … As for whether the federal government could persuade or compel the states to hand over source identity document registries – particularly for births, deaths and marriages and drivers’ licences – to create a central, federal identity database, “The [rights of states under the Australian constitution] represent greater freedom and representation for Australia as a whole,” Joyce said. … Joyce said he had supported then-opposition leader John Howard’s successful campaign against the Hawke government’s Australia Card proposal in 1987, and would continue to oppose government intrusion into the lives of private citizens. “The main thing is, where people are free, you limit the amount of participation the government has in your life”.(‘Senator scuttles ‘Orwellian’ national ID card’ Julian Bajkowski, Computerworld, 19/07/2005 12:37:29). [Joyce has previously indicated his preparedness to vote against government legislation, in the context of the sale of Telstra]


Duncan Kerr: Told ABC radio it is unlikely a national identity card would help solve the problems that led to the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau for 10 months (‘ID card ‘won’t stop terror attack” The Australian, 18July 2005)

Kim Beazley, Doorstop Interview, Perth, 18th July 2005:

“The first is there’s a lot of things that we can do to be more effective in the struggle with the war on terror before we get to worrying about ID cards. How about the holes in aviation security? How about the holes in railway security? How about the holes in maritime security? …

The second thing is, understand this about the ID card. It is a Howard smoke screen to cover the fact that in the counter terror area he has two bungling, incompetent Ministers: Ruddock and Vanstone. Now he has floated out this thought bubble in the knowledge that that shocking report from Palmer was coming down on the Rau case that spilled the beans on grand scale incompetence under the administration of Ruddock and Vanstone. …

“The third thing that I would say about that is simply that the Government is all over the place on this. Ruddock’s had two views on it, Costello seems a bit hostile to it, a number of their backbenchers seem a bit hostile to it, and Vanstone is out there with another extreme proposal fingerprinting all Australians. What does Howard think about that? We need to hear a bit from Howard on this.

“I’ll tell you what a competent government does, that’s not cynical about arranging its own smoke screens. What a competent government does when it’s proposing some new extraordinary suggestion for the Australian people, is they put out a position paper. They put out an argument. Some controversial proposal has an argument. When we decided that we wanted the Australian people to debate having a Republic we put out a comprehensive explanation of how it would work and what the various alternatives were. If you’re going to do something as controversial as an ID card, and you are being serious, you’d put out a paper on what all the options were. Have Australians understand what bio metric meant. Have them understand what fingerprinting meant. Have them understand all those sorts of issues and I don’t want to let Howard get away with this. He is, you know, as soon as he’s out of the woods as far as Vanstone and Ruddock is concerned you can expect this to quietly drift away to no conclusions because he’s not being serious about it.

The Democrats

Natasha Stott Despoja, Senator, Media Release of 15 July 2005

Identity Card Would Not Stop Terrorism

A national identity card would be extremely unlikely to offer protection against a terrorist attack on Australia, according to the Australian Democrats.

“The existence of a compulsory national identity card system did little to stop terrorist attacks in Spain,” Democrats Privacy Spokesperson Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said.

There are no compelling reasons for such government intrusion into the private lives of individual Australians. It is vital that we find a balance between security and privacy.

“Such a scheme is inappropriate, particularly given the inadequacy of our current privacy laws.

“The recent Senate inquiry into privacy which I initiated found that Australian privacy laws are inconsistent, confusing, full of exemptions, and years behind technology.

The implications of a national identity card for individual privacy are even more grim than those surrounding the failed Australia Card. Due to advances in technology, the most private and sensitive information about who we are as individuals can be stored in central government databases.

“It is extremely disturbing that such long held rights to privacy are being so persistently eroded.

“The privacy rights of all Australians are being assailed from every quarter, with a raft of proposals threatening to dramatically undermine our privacy.

“Not only is debate continuing on indefinitely extending the powers of ASIO to question and detain suspects for up to seven days without charge, but Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has proposed that ASIO be placed above the scrutiny of Parliament.

“It would appear, given the number of contradictory statements on the issue, that the Government is testing the waters of the electorate. It is my fervent hope that Australians will vocally express their contempt for such an unwarranted government intrusion into their private lives,” Senator Stott Despoja said.

Natasha Stott Despoja, Senator, Second Media Release of 9 August 2005

Eroding civil liberties no guarantee against terrorism

Privacy-intrusive measures such as a national identity card will not necessarily prevent terrorism, according to the Australian Democrats.

“Of the 25 countries most adversely affected by terrorism since 1986, 20 have national identity cards,”(1) Democrats’ Attorney-Generals and Privacy Spokesperson Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said.

“Given Peter Beattie’s vocal support for such a system, identity cards will be a key item of discussion at the upcoming counter-terrorism summit involving Prime Minister Howard and State and Territory Leaders.

“However, we must remember this is not simply about a card, more importantly, it is about the system that will accompany it. An identity card would involve a complex and universal identification system with a huge central database, elaborate communications networks, card readers and millions of cards.

“The cost, both financially and socially, could be enormous.

“Greater centralisation of personal information is likely to cause more problems than it solves. Security experts have warned that creating a single identifier or a single centralised database is likely to become a target for hackers, as only a single source needs to be targeted (2). It could also become a target for terrorists.

“Currently, personal information is held on numerous sites in many forms. This actually makes it much more difficult to access this information, which can only be accessed in the most unusual circumstances.

“Privacy must of course be balanced against the wider interests of the community and the nation. However, in this age of increased terrorism, we run the very real risk of losing the right balance, of letting fear rule our lives.

“We must resist the idea that by giving up certain rights we will somehow have greater protection.

“I will strongly oppose any move toward further centralisation of personal information,” Senator Stott Despoja said.

The Greens

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle today said the recommendations from the Palmer report were unlikely to prevent future human tragedies being played out in detention centres whilst the policy of indefinite mandatory detention remained in place. She also raised concerns that a national database threatened privacy protections. “National Identity databases are not going to prevent the vast majority of tragedies that the current system generates because these tragedies are not about identity they are about indefinite detention” (Senator Nettle, 4 October 2005)

Iemma’s backing of a national ID card is little more than a distraction and a bankrupt, non-solution. NSW’s privacy laws are weak and need an overhaul. But the government is over a year late in tabling a review of the Privacy Act, due 30 November 2004. In the last three years the government has crippled Privacy NSW by robbing it of expert staff and failing to appoint a permanent Privacy Commissioner” (‘Iemma dumps privacy for national ID card‘, Lee Rhiannon, NSW MLC, Media Release, 18 January 2006)

Family First

Stephen Fielding, Senator: said the debate about a national identity card was worth having, but families would have “grave reservations” about any identification system that included biometric information. “I have very particular concerns about Australians being fingerprinted” (The Australian, 20 July 2005)