Australia’s corridors of power are buzzing with talk about a possible new national ID scheme. ID cards were last debated when the controversial Australia Card was proposed by the Hawke government in 1987. However, discussion about ID cards has moved on from the heated debates of the 1980s.
Today, the focus is on how ID cards can help the authorities to crack down on identity fraud and fight the threat of terrorism.
Ever since the attacks on the US on September 11 2001, the Australian government has been increasing security and implementing tighter anti-terrorist laws. The possibility of introducing an ID card was raised by prime minister John Howard following the July 7 2005 bombings in London.
Although the debate has moved on, it is by no means over. Critics of the potential scheme include defence minister Robert Hill, who is reported to be cautious of a compulsory domestic ID card and who has said that he would “need to be convinced that it did not undermine civil liberties”. Other critics have argued that such a scheme could create more problems than it solved by putting privacy at risk. Australian businesses are also opposed to the plan, because they believe it could cost around $A15 billion to implement.
Those in favour of the scheme include New South Wales (NSW) premier Morris Iemma, Queensland premier Peter Beattie and Australian federal police commissioner Mick Keelty. Mr Iemma says an ID card would be a useful tool in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and fraud. He is also reported to have said the review of a national ID card should be conducted in conjunction with work already being done in state and federal governments to improve the security of other identity documents such as driving licences. Mr Keelty is quoted in local media as saying that a national ID scheme could be helpful in combating identity theft.
Later this month, the country’s attorney general, Philip Ruddock, will announce the terms of reference for an independent cost-benefit analysis of the proposed national ID scheme. He has already told local media that the debate is now less about whether Australia needs an ID card and more about how to protect the data on the card and who would be allowed access to it.
In a separate move, federal ministers are discussing creating a new ID number for all Australians that could be used in a government services smart card being established to clamp down on health and welfare fraud. The uses of this smart card could be expanded to drive the national ID card proposals and would enable the government to coordinate other forms of ID such as Medicare health cards, driving licences and passports. Consultation on aspects such as what biometric details should be stored on the card is still taking place between the country’s Human Services department and the attorney general’s department. The business case is being prepared by KPMG and will be delivered in February 2006.