The first of a number of bills concerning the National Access Card, the Human Services (Enhanced Service Delivery) Bill 2007, passed the Federal House of Representatives this week. Debate extended over three days with Government speakers largely supporting the legislation and Opposition speakers pointing out major problems, particularly privacy and fraud. The Government backbencher Stephen Ciobo, who has immersed himself in the detail, helpfully informed us all that he had "no doubt that the access card will, and can, be fraudulently reproduced in future".
Those interested in the fine detail can access the Hansard record of debate here. You will find the Government's second reading speech on pages 2-5 of the Hansard for 7 February, the Opposition Shadow Minister's response and other comments on pages 57-96 of the Hansard of 26 February, and the final stages of the debate on pages 24-61 of the Hansard of 27 February.
Those who want the short summary could do no better than read what Peter Andren, the Independent Member for Calare and widely recognised for his integrity, had to say (page 46 27 February):
"When considering this government's track record on manipulating truth or dispensing with it altogether and when thinking about attempts to silence dissent on government policy, and the attacks on the freedoms to protest against unethical or unscrupulous behaviour by both government and corporations, my gut feeling is to go looking for a rat in the bill".Andren voted against the legislation. He said that there were many concerns and issues about privacy and security, and until all the relevant details about process and security were available, and identified weaknesses in the scheme addressed, it was premature to even consider the proposal before Parliament.
Andren concluded: "How can any member be required to support such a legislative shambles".
One of Andren's points was that the House of Representatives was being asked to consider part of the scheme before the complete framework had been laid on the table, and before Parliament's only investigation via the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee had commenced, let alone reported. The Committee has three days of hearings scheduled in the next few days and is due to report on 15 March.
Juggling the Parliamentary process isn't the only Access Card challenge. This report in the Australian IT says that successful bidders for the systems integration and card issuance projects will be be asked to lodge financial guarantees of the order of $100million against project delays, breaches and failure to meet agreed service levels. Understandably some potential bidders (tenders are about to close) are seriously considering their degree of interest.
Meanwhile the Australian Privacy Foundation has reorganised and augmented materials available on its website regarding the proposal (which it opposes) and provides some great FAQs and links to other useful sources of information.