Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, University of New South Wales
Interpreting Privacy Principles research project
About us | Disclaimer | Privacy | Sitemap | Contact us   

Hansard from Senate - 13 March 2008

Access Card

Senator COONAN (2.24 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Ludwig. Minister, why from opposition did Labor oppose the coalition’s smartcard yet now supports it, wasting $1.1 billion of taxpayers’ money in the process? What will the new card cost?

Senator LUDWIG—I am surprised that the Liberals have fallen into the early trap of opposition of in fact believing everything that they read in the paper without checking the facts of the matter—but that is what I expect from an early opposition. The Australian government is considering a range of measures to tackle welfare fraud. But let me tell you what we are not considering: we are not considering reviving the Liberal’s doomed billion dollar access card. The access card was touted as a magic card that would solve all the problems in health and welfare service delivery. This was a fantasy built on Mr Joe Hockey’s fondness for glitz, glam and sideshows at the expense of hard facts and numbers.

The article claims that the government’s plans are expected to be informed by the KPMG business case. There is a slight problem with that. The business case was never made public and remains cabinet-inconfidence. If we were planning on using that business case to inform the process, we would have to wait 30 years for it to be made public, because the Liberals took the business case to cabinet. That means that not even as minister can I see the full version of that. But there is one thing that we do know about the business case, and that is that Finance never agreed to the costings. Something that we know about the access card project more generally is that it was also not running on time or on budget. For that, you only have to look across the aisle at Senator Ellison.

The previous ministers, Hockey, Campbell and Ellison, and now the shadow minister want us to take it on trust that they are competent, capable and trustworthy enough to implement large-scale projects, but I am afraid that that is not what the record shows, quite frankly. Imagine if Senator Coonan, the Liberal spokesperson on human services, was responsible for the access card today. Senator Coonan, as Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, could not roll out a carpet, let alone a broadband network. As I said before, the cabinet embargo on the business case lasts for 30 years. Based on her record with broadband, if Senator Coonan were responsible for rolling out the access card, Australians would probably get to read the business case before they got the card. They would probably be paying it off for that long, too. The article is wrong and misinformed on many levels. A simple check by Senator Coonan might have provided a factual basis for a question.

This government has made the right decision in terminating the doomed access card project, which we do not have a business case for and which was little more than an ID card by stealth. That is all it was. The Rudd Labor government has delivered on our election commitment to abolish the Liberal’s national ID card and in the process we have saved the taxpayer more than $1 billion dollars. That places downward pressure on inflation and downward pressure on interest rates. That is the right thing to do. (Time expired)

Senator COONAN—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister seems very confused. He will recall saying in answer to a dorothy dixer question from Senator Polley on 13 February that he is not proceeding with the access card because he is focused on the practical things that will make a real difference rather than a card. Do you now rule out any version of a smartcard?

Senator LUDWIG—After listening to that supplementary, I remind the opposition—as we had to remind ourselves occasionally—that it is well worth listening to the answer to the question before you ask a supplementary. I will draw the attention of the Senate to the answer that was in Senator Coonan’s press release. The answer by the human services minister, me, to the question without notice asked on 13 February 2008 was:

I can confirm that the government has terminated the Liberal’s much flawed access card.

…… …

It is the financially responsible thing to do. It is the fiscally conservative thing to undertake.

That is the statement I made. Nothing has changed since that time. That is the position that has been outlined. I am not sure whether the opposition are trying to find something to hide behind—maybe they are looking for a fig leaf. In this case there is no card to hide behind. The access card has been abolished. It will not be continued with. A billion dollars has been returned to the budget.








The University of New South Wales   UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre ARC