Senator scuttles 'Orwellian' national ID card

Attempts to exhume the concept of a national identity card backed by a central database have been effectively shut down by the National Party's Senator Barnaby Joyce (Queensland).

Joyce, who now effectively controls the balance of power in the Senate by virtue of his preparedness to vote against government legislation, has told Computerworld he is "very largely unconvinced as to whether a piece of plastic in your pocket" is capable of stopping either terrorist attacks or immigration bungles such as the Cornelia Rau or Vivian [Solon] Alvarez incidents.

"You would want to see some extremely good reasons [to justify a national ID card]. I haven't seen those yet," Joyce said.

Joyce's indication he is not prepared to merely wave through any future ID card legislation at the expense of his constituency comes after the outspoken senator previously indicated he has real difficulties with both the forthcoming sale of Telstra and proposed industrial relations legislation.

Asked if he thought a central database backed by biometrics would need to be created by the federal government to make a national ID card viable, Joyce said the suggestion of such a concept "sounds almost Orwellian".

Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone raised the idea of biometric national identity cards late last week when she told the Nine Network that biometrics on a national identity card would be necessary "if you want it for proof of identity".

Responding to the scathing Palmer Report on bungles at Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs that have seen Australians illegally detained and wrongfully deported because their citizenship could allegedly not be verified, Vanstone said biometric information was one way of securing a person's identity on a document.

"Well it's a bit like saying would you like something to eat. 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," Vanstone said.

"You do need to be able to say the person who's got this card standing in front of me is the person to whom this card was issued, otherwise it's like past proposals for example for ID cards - or perhaps even the tax file number, that [the cards] won't have the identity integrity you want them to have." However, Joyce dismissed any suggestion national ID cards, biometric or otherwise, may have prevented the now-infamous immigration bungles because the errors were essentially human in nature rather than systemic.

"Cornelia Rau would have had a tax file number. She would have had a Medicare number. [Any identity checks] slipped through the system regardless." Joyce added it was "contrarian" to suggest a national ID card may have prevented what was a difficult situation compounded by human errors.

As for whether the federal government could persuade or compel the states to hand over source identity document registries - particularly for births, deaths and marriages and drivers' licences - to create a central, federal identity database, "The [rights of states under the Australian constitution] represent greater freedom and representation for Australia as a whole," Joyce said.

"You'd have to start opening up parts of the state government as casinos - because there wouldn't be much going on there".

Joyce said he had supported then-opposition leader John Howard's successful campaign against the Hawke government's Australia Card proposal in 1987, and would continue to oppose government intrusion into the lives of private citizens.

"The main thing is, where people are free, you limit the amount of participation the government has in your life".

The Labor Party has branded the national ID card debate as smokescreen for government incompetence, but refused to give a formal position on where it stands.

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