This page brings together quotations from and about the protagonists for a ‘New Australia’ Card, specifically:
- Queensland Premier Beattie
- Prime Minister Howard
- Immigration Minister Vanstone
- Attorney-General Ruddock
- Customs Minister Ellison
These are supplemented by background information on:
- which business interests appear to have prompted the Prime Minister’s re-kindled interest in a national identification scheme
- the discomfort felt by many members of the Liberal Party
Queensland Premier Beattie
Beattie’s comments of 14 July 2005 that launched the latest campaign appear to have been made on ABC Radio in Queensland.
After the Prime Minister had picked up the thread, Beattie appeared on ABC TV’s Insider’s Program on 17 July 2005. Although the title was Beattie puts forward case for Australia Card, no evidence was provided, just assertions, e.g. “”As far as I’m concerned this is about commonsense, national security”. [Correction, Mr Beattie, “common nonsense”]
Back on 7 February 2005, ABC TV’s 7:30 Report had carried a clip of Queensland Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, saying that “The only way I can see how it could have been handled any differently would have been in a set of circumstances that has already been demonstrated, as I understand it, to be unacceptable to the Australian public, and that would be that everyone in Australia had an Australia Card and their fingerprints and/or DNA recorded”
In 15 November 2000, it was reported that “The Queensland Premier, Mr Beattie, yesterday suggested a national identity card as a way of combating electoral fraud. “Maybe if John Howard is serious about stamping out electoral fraud then maybe we should look at the introduction of the Australia Card,” he said. while stressing, “I haven’t completed my thought processes about it.” “. [Nearly 5 years later, it’s clear that he still hadn’t]
Prime Minister Howard
When asked about Beattie’s comments, Howard disparaged Beattie, but his expression was vague, and press reports were along the lines of “A national identity card should not be ruled out as part of a Federal Government review of security arrangements, the Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday. But he was lukewarm on the proposal when compared with its latest champion, the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, whom he accused of grandstanding on the national political stage” (‘Identity card issue returns’, David Humphries and Mark Todd, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 July 2005)
Put on the spot on his arrival in Washington DC, and having been quoted reviving the issue, Howard saw no option but to fuel the fire: “Prime Minister John Howard has defended plans for a national identity card against accusations it would compromise people’s freedoms. Heightened terrorism concerns following the London bombings and the release of a damning report into immigration detention after one woman was mistakenly detained and another wrongly deported have reignited debate on an ID card. After the government last week firmly ruled out such a prospect, Mr Howard has put it back on the agenda. He said the sacrifice of some personal liberties was sometimes necessary. “Whenever you take measures to tighten the law or to require of citizens the availability of more information about them, it could be argued you are affecting their rights. It’s a balance any democratic society requires – a constant readjustment of that balance. If you look at it just as a civil liberties issue you would never change anything. If you just looked at it as a protection against terrorism issue, you would authorise many changes that people would regard as unacceptable”. Mr Howard opposed a Hawke Labor government plan for an Australia Card in 1987. But he said last week’s terrorist attacks in London, which killed 54 people, including Melbourne man Sam Ly, had demonstrated the need for the identity card issue to be debated again”. (‘PM puts ID card firmly back on agenda’ The Sydney Morning Herald, July 16, 2005)
In September 2000, the Prime Minister had regarded the ID Card as being well off the agenda (Transcript of a Radio Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW):
MITCHELL: Were you a supporter of the Australia Card or not? … Originally.
PRIME MINISTER: I was on record way back in the early ‘80s as having once said that, you know, there was some, you know, it ought to be examined. I can’t remember the exact words and I don’t want to sort of recommit myself to them without reading the record. But we then decided to oppose the Australia Card back when I was Leader of the Opposition back when I was leader of the Opposition in 1986/87. In fact the 1987 double dissolution was obtained in part on the Senate’s rejection of the Australia Card legislation.
MITCHELL: Would you change your view on that because the technology and the world has changed so much? I wonder whether something like an Australia Card is inevitable.
PRIME MINISTER: Well it sort of hasn’t come up. I don’t know that I’ve thought a great deal about it because it’s not been something that’s been debated. We certainly haven’t had it in front of us in the four-and-a-half years of being in government.
Meanwhile, the following prophetic words were attributed to Howard in 1987: “As the weeks go by, the proposition will become more and more unpopular and I predict now the [Hawke] Government may well chicken out on the ID card” (‘Same old card trick’, David Humphries, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 2005)
Immigration Minister Vanstone
On hearing about Beattie’s suggestion during a Press Conference on the afternoon of 14 July 2005, Vanstone recognised this to be a difficult issue:
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the idea of a National Identity Card that’s been raised this morning as a way to fix the problem of mistaken identity?
JOURNALIST: National Identity Card. The idea was raised this morning as a way to fix the problem of mistaken identity.
VANSTONE: I’m sorry did someone raise that this morning, I haven’t seen that being raised.
JOURNALIST: Peter Beattie did.
PRIME MINISTER: Who did?
VANSTONE: Mr Beattie.
PRIME MINISTER: On his regular radio appearances and commentaries on federal politics.
VANSTONE: Can I invite you to look at the report and in particular in relation to Mr Palmer’s comments in relation to finger printing? That may work if you had for example a national data base of everybody, but it’s not going to work if you don’t. So it’s a very, very difficult issue.
She continued this line the following day: “A national identity card would not necessarily help to overcome flaws in Australia’s immigration detention system, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said” (‘ID card complicated: Vanstone’, The Australia, 15 July 2005)
She was reported as saying this on the Channel Nine Breakfast Show on 17 July 2005: “It’s a bit like saying, you know, ‘would you like something to eat?’ she told Channel Nine viewers as they tucked into their breakfast. “If you offer me a dead rat, I’ll say no. It really depends on what you put in an ID card as to whether it’s effective” (reported in the Spike column of The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 July 2005)
The same day, under Prime Ministerial pressure, Vanstone increased the strength of her support for the idea: “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. Despite computer experts warning that a single ID system may not prove effective, Senator Vanstone offered the strongest support yet for an identity card.” (‘Vanstone supports ID card idea’, Steve Lewis and James Riley, The Australian, 18 July 2005)
On 21 January 2005, ABC News reported that Ruddock had rejected comparisons of the DVS proposal with the Australia Card: “”Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says the Government has taken into account privacy issues while developing a new system to identify fraudulent documentation. Mr Ruddock says the system cannot be compared to the failed Australia Card – proposed by the Labor government in the 1980s – and will not involve a single number to identify Australians” (‘Identity plan no Australia Card: Ruddock’).
On 29 June 2005, he was even clearer in his dismissal of the idea of a new Australia Card proposal: “After a week of ministerial bickering, the shutter has slammed down on speculation about a single identity document for Australians, with Attorney General Philip Ruddock publicly repudiating the concept of an Australia Card” (‘Ruddock repudiates Australia Card, central database’, Julian Bajkowski, Computerworld).
Ruddock’s 29 June 2005 speech (to a Smart Cards conference in Sydney) included this passage: “There have been recent suggestions in the media that the Government is going to introduce a national identity card. I can assure you that this is not the case. We do not support the approach where all personal information is centralised on one database, and a single form of identification is issued. This could increase the risk of fraud because only one document would need to be counterfeited to establish identity. Instead, we support the use of a range of acceptable documents, with the ability to verify those documents quickly and simply. This approach strengthens our proof of identity process and mitigates the risk of identity fraud”.
On 5 July 2005: Ruling out the introduction of a national ID card like the controversial Australia Card proposal of the late 1980s, Mr Ruddock said government was instead focusing on tighter controls over existing identity documents (‘Spy in the eye driver’s licence’, James Riley, The Australian IT Section)
On 12 July 2005, Ruddock rejected the idea of a national identity card outright, on the basis that it was likely to make the problems of identity theft and fraud worse (speech at the Homeland Security Summit and Exposition in Canberra about the recently announced National Identity Security Strategy).
On the afternoon of 14 July, in his reaction to Beattie’s call on ABC News, Ruddock sustained that stance: “The Federal Government has dismissed renewed calls to revisit the idea of an Australia card. The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, says Mr Beattie is trying to absolve his government of any blame over Cornelia Rau” (‘Govt rules out Australia card rethink’)
But, soon after, Ruddock was the subject of a damaging headline in the AFR (‘PM’s view about identity card at odds with Ruddock’s‘, The Financial Review, 16 July 2005)
Undermined by his Prime Minister’s policy-on-the-run, Ruddock was forced to do an about-turn: “Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, who last week dismissed the idea of an ID card, changed tune and backed Mr Howard’s comments. “It’s something we will be examining … the government cannot afford to be complacent,” he said. At a security conference in Sydney on June 29, he said a national ID card could actually make it easier for criminals wanting to create false identities because they would only need to falsify a single document. Labor says the government is confusing the public. “The Australian public would be forgiven for thinking that the government doesn’t know whether it’s Arthur or Martha on the question of national ID cards, iinternational security spokesman Kevin Rudd said” (‘PM puts ID card firmly back on agenda’, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 16, 2005)
This is all a bit ironic, given the testimonial Ruddock gave the APF as a result of its opposition to the original ‘Australia Card’ campaign: “The Australian Privacy Foundation … has contributed so much to the development of discussion about privacy in this nation” (Hansard, 17 September 1987)
Customs Minister Ellison
Only a few months before the flurry of Beattie/Howard activity, Ellison said that “There were no plans to introduce an Australia Card-style national identification system to tackle identity fraud, the government said today. A spokesman for Justice Minister Chris Ellison said the government acknowledged identity crime was a growing problem and had passed laws earlier this year to outlaw the possession of credit card skimming equipment. “We have no plans to introduce any sort of Australia Card-style, national ID card,” he said” (‘Govt says no plans for Australia Card’, The Melbourne Age, 15 October 2004)
Several years earlier, Ellison has severely criticised both Beattie and the Australia Card: “Special Minister of State, Senator Chris Ellison, today dismissed Peter Beattie’s calls for the re-introduction of an Australia Card as a political stunt to divert attention for serious allegations of electoral fraud in Queensland. “If Peter Beattie is serious about stamping out enrolment fraud in Queensland his Government should support the Commonwealth’s proposed electoral regulations which introduce witnessing and identification requirements for first time enrolees,” Senator Ellison said. ” … An Australia Card as Mr Beattie proposes would be completely unnecessary, and demonstrates just how desperate he has become on this issue. … The Australia Card concept was thoroughly rejected by the Liberal Party, the Parliament and the people at the time, and there is no reason for the proposal to be re-considered now,” Senator Ellison said (Media Release 14 November 2000, ‘Beattie Australia Card Proposal Unnecessary and Irrelevant’)
Who’s Pulling the Strings?
In May 2004, ‘The Bulletin’ disclosed the name of the businessman who was behind a move to rejuvenate the idea of a national identification scheme:
“A high-tech national identity card, originally shelved over public concern on privacy, is back on the government agenda, given new impetus by concerns over terrorism. The ghost of the doomed Australia Card is alive and well. The federal government is considering the introduction of a compulsory national identification card after the next election, according to a former Liberal Party powerbroker. Peter Solomon, the head of a company pioneering smart-chip technology in passports and a former senior Liberal who helped preselect John Howard for the seat of Bennelong 30 years ago, has told The Bulletin that the PM and several senior cabinet ministers have backed the proposal and believe the public is ready to accept the idea”. …
According to Solomon, an Australian ID card will also be implemented in stages over the next few years, beginning with the introduction of a new health card capitalising on the revolution in smart card technology. A new Australia Card would help address the government’s immigration and border security concerns. “Because of the important element of national security, the government – sadly – has come to the view that a multifunction smart card has become a necessity from both national security and efficiency points of view,” he says. Solomon, the executive director of Intercard Wireless, whose chairman is the former National Party leader Ian Sinclair, adds: “Once we have the health card in place, we can add Medicare details, tax file number, driver’s licence and police data, superannuation details, all aspects of social security – the basis of a truly multifunction card.
“The only ones who might fear a national ID scheme are those who have something to hide. Almost all the information relevant for a national ID card is already in the broader government databank. This includes criminal records, driver’s licence and all related infringements, Medicare records, social security details – whatever a government might want to put into the memory of an ID card smart-chip, really. The civil liberty argument is a lot of hype”. …
Intercard Wireless, in which Malaysia’s pioneering passport chip manufacturer Iris Corporation has a 10% interest, is also working with the Australian government on providing smart-chip technology for Australia’s new biometric passport. …
According to Solomon, both HealthConnect and the biometric passport – development of which is being fast-tracked to meet new American passport and visa requirements – will serve as trials for the technologies to be applied to a new-generation Australia Card. …
The Bulletin has been told that, as a forerunner to HealthConnect, the HIC is close to a contractual agreement to trial a national health card in another country, as a possible forerunner to that country’s national ID card. It has a proposal currently before Iranian authorities and is close to signing government contracts to provide systems architecture for a health card to be issued to 50 million Iranians. Intercard Wireless is the primary contractor for systems integration and provision of the smart card. The government has provided federal police back-up for ministerial-level discussions at Solomon’s apartment in Sydney.
Solomon told The Bulletin that “people in high places” – from the PM through to “all levels of government” – were “very happy that I fly the flag with regard to the logical progression from biometric passport to a national ID card”. A Harvard PhD and successor to Howard as NSW vice-president of the Liberal Party in 1974, Solomon confirmed he had been party to a number of meetings and discussions about the government’s plans for a national ID card with Howard and cabinet ministers, including Ruddock. Intercard Wireless had distributed “a massive amount of information at all levels of government”. It was generally accepted that discussion and debate on the highly contentious national ID card issue would “broaden considerably” immediately after the forthcoming poll, Solomon says. Avoidance of pre-election discussion of the issue was “straight politics”.
A spokesman for the PM said Howard had not met Solomon or Sinclair, and had had no talks with either regarding a national ID card. A spokesman for the attorney-general confirmed Ruddock had met Solomon at the start of the year and was briefed on Intercard Wireless’s activities overseas. Ruddock “doesn’t recall any discussions about a national health card or a national ID card”.
(‘Advance Australia card’, Anthony Hoy, The Bulletin, 26 May 2004)
ASIC takes action to protect investors and creditors of Sydney based research and development company – Thursday 12 August 2004:Voluntary administrators have been appointed to Sydney research and development company, Intercard Wireless Limited (Intercard) following an investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). Mr Martin Green and Mr Peter Krejci of GHK Green Krejci Chartered Accountants were appointed by Intercard. ASIC had raised its concerns with the Managing Director of Intercard, Dr Peter Solomon about the directors’ responsibilities to prevent insolvent trading. ASIC commenced an investigation after a surveillance review identified concerns that Intercard was continuing to incur debts when there were reasonable grounds to suspect that it was insolvent. … (ASIC Media Release 04-259, 12 August 2004)
04-314 ASIC urges companies to act early to avoid insolvent trading – Tuesday 28 September 2004: ASIC understands that creditors have approved a deed of company arrangement that will result in a better return to creditors than if the company was wound up. … (ASIC Media Release, 28 September 2004)
In July 2005, it appears that Intercard Wireless is in liquidation. Although its web-site still exists, its telephone number has been diverted to a dead-letter office.
Nonetheless, Solomon’s bluster was followed in October 2004 by a comment from “national manager for economic and special operations”of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Shane Connelly, who was reported to have said at a conference that the problem of fraud and terrorism was such that policy-makers should now revisit the issue of a single identification number and card for all Australian citizens. “That’s the debate that needs to be had, but that’s something for government and for policy-makers”, Mr Connelly said (‘National ID cards urged in terror war’, James Riley, The Australian, 15 October 2004)
Senator Stott Despoja said in the Senate on 29 November 2004: “I was disturbed to read an article in the Bulletin in May of this year, which suggested that —far from introducing a de fact Australia Card —the Government was exploring of the possibility of introducing an actual identification card for all Australians, using smart-chip technology. That article reported that Peter Solomon, a former Liberal powerbroker and current head of a company which produces smart-chip technology, was claiming that “the PM and several senior cabinet ministers have backed the proposal and believe the public is ready to accept the idea”. According to Mr Solomon, a national ID card will be implemented in stages over the next few years, commencing with the introduction of the alreadyannounced HealthConnect Card. Mr Solomon is quoted as saying: “Once we have the health card in place, we can add Medicare details, tax file number, driver’s licence and police data, superannuation details, all aspects of social security— the basis of a truly multifunction card. “It will rapidly become an apolitical issue, and it will not be a very difficult task to convince society on the question of civil liberty”. I acknowledge that the Prime Minister has denied meeting with Mr Solomon, however Attorney General, Phillip Ruddock has admitted meeting with him” (Senate Hansard, Monday, 29 November 2004 , p.14)
Dissension in Liberal Ranks
The ambivalence among the Ministers was even more apparent among backbenchers: “The push for a national identity card threatens to cause more splits in the Government than the mandatory detention brawl after the Prime Minister, John Howard, said the card could be a new weapon against terrorism. Some Coalition MPs said yesterday the card might cause fresh divisions in the Government’s ranks, while the question of embedding fingerprints in the cards could add a volatile new dimension to the debate. … “If it were to be pushed within the Government, it would attract a great deal of resistance,” said one backbencher. “It will probably engage a broader constituency within the party, including conservatives, than were engaged in terms of critiquing the earlier national security [measures].” Asked if it would be more contentious than the bruising mandatory detention brawl, he said “absolutely”. That fight, initiated by four Government MPs, has resulted in the announcement that all children held in immigration detention camps are to be released. Another backbencher said he was not personally opposed to the idea, but there would be concern within the party. A third said it would be “a matter of great debate”, while a fourth was worried about fingerprints being embedded in the card. “You can always change your password but if I nick your fingerprint or your DNA, you’ve got a real problem there,” he said. However, Senator Vanstone said: “My own view is if you don’t have a biometric encased in the card digitally – for example, a fingerprint – then the card can simply be used by someone else.” ” (‘Identity card threatens to split Coalition’ By Joseph Kerr and Mark Metherell, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 18 2005)
On 18 July 2005, Liberal backbencher Steven Ciobo went on ABC Radio to oppose the scheme. Retired Liberal front-bencher Fred Chaney urged caution, and Defence Minister Hill also expressed concern that a scheme would have to avoid undue invasiveness. Many more Liberal and National Party members expressed concerns, some serious.
Hill, by then rumoured to be about to escape to a diplomatic post, renewed his expression of concern, in The Australian on 17 January 2006: ‘Hill pours cold water on national ID card move’.