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Access Card should be ordered off the field for good

By Natasha Stott Despoja - posted Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Access Card debate so far has all the drama of Australia’s shattered 2006 World Cup Soccer hopes when Italy was awarded the controversial penalty in the dying seconds of the game that saw the Italians seize victory.

Although it looks like the Government is hoping to quietly drop this controversial proposal off the agenda until after the election (and possibly indefinitely), we must be mindful that the government could just as easily snatch victory from the jaws of defeat despite the valiant efforts of those who oppose the Access Card.

Those of us who oppose the card can not be complacent. This campaign could come down to extra time.


The campaign against the Access Card has had some great successes to date. We have achieved a significant extension of the timeframe for analysis of the proposal, allowing for increased scrutiny.

For now, the Access Card’s fate rests on a second round of consultations in an election year. Some readers will remember the Australia Card that became the trigger for a double dissolution election in 1987.

This time round, the look and feel of the Access Card differs significantly from the Australia Card and is capable of being more privacy invasive: the Access Card will contain a three-dimensional photograph, an e-signature and a tiny microchip the size of a thumbnail. The chip will be broken into potentially three spaces, the government’s space, the individual’s space, and the health space.

About 50,000 card readers will be scattered in various locations ready to read the information off the chip. Information contained in the chip can be as benign as your name and as private as your delicate health information.

Connected to all this will be six Commonwealth government agencies’ databases. When consumers update their address with one agency it will register with all six participating agencies. There will also be a thinly applied coating of security to the whole system including the limited use of a PIN only if the cardholder chooses to protect certain information.

The controversial Access Card proposal has been found wanting more than a few times in its ability to produce a card system that will improve access to government services and minimise fraud in the welfare and health benefits systems.


First, there are the principal documents upon which the scheme was founded and which are to this day still somewhat of an enigma. The business case, delivered by KPMG, and the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) written by Clayton Utz are the cornerstone documents of the proposal. Traditionally, documents of this nature are circulated as a form of public consultation to address the question of independent scrutiny, but also to generate public confidence that costs, projected savings, and privacy have been considered.

The government has chosen not to widely circulate these documents. Only a redacted version of the KPMG report is publicly available and the PIA has not been released at all. Attempts by observers to obtain a copy of the documents under freedom of information laws has proved challenging. Could such silence mean that the original business case overstated the potential savings?

Second, there has been the issue of a never ending substitution of “players” over the life of the proposal which has impacted on its timeliness and effectiveness. The Hon Joe Hockey, who announced the scheme with some fanfare, was moved up and out of the Human Services portfolio in January this year. But not before the stewards of the original project had quit amid concern over the government’s failure to take seriously concerns about privacy, security and accountability. Did they have insider knowledge of something that the government was not telling us?

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More information about Senator Natasha Stott Despoja's NO ID campaign is available here.

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About the Author

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja was the Australian Democrats spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Attorney-Generals, Science & Biotechnology, Higher Education and the Status of Women (including Work & Family). She is a former Senator for South Australia.

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