The federal government's introduction to parliament today of its controversial Access Card Bill has already attracted criticism from privacy advocates and the Democrats political party.
The Access Card Bill -- presented by Human Services Minister Ian Campbell today -- lays out a new national card slated to replace 17 health and social service cards, including the Medicare card. It is set to become commonplace by 2010.
The government has claimed the card was not an ID card because anyone that demanded it for identification purposes could face a five-year jail term. However as the legislation was introduced today, the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) pointed out the similarities between the proposal and the failed Australia Card project from two decades ago.
"This is a national ID card, plain and simple ... It has all the same features as the much-hated Australia Card proposal from the 1980's -- plus biometric photos to boot," said APF spokesperson Anna Johnston in a statement issued this afternoon.
"The government promised us that they would listen to the public on this one -- but today they've rushed a Bill into Parliament before they've even published all the submissions they received, let alone addressed them all ... The government keeps assuring us that privacy is foremost in its mind -- and yet the key recommendations of their own Consumer and Privacy Taskforce have been rejected," said Johnston.
In a separate statement, the Democrats slammed the government for attempting to bring in a national ID card "by stealth", and called for the Access Card legislation to be referred to a Senate committee.
Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, Democrats Senator for South Australia and Australian Democrats spokesperson for Attorney Generals, called for support for a Senate inquiry from the National Party.
"I hope the National Party, given their public concern about the proposed card, will support the Committee referral ... Such an inquiry would also provide an opportunity for government backbenchers to raise questions about the card, and explore their concerns. A departmental inquiry, which only accepted submissions over Christmas and only on the Exposure Draft is not adequate," she said.
The senator also expressed her concerns about the proposed card's links to Medicare and how it could impact the cost of health care.
"The concerns of organisations such as the Australian Medical Association and Australian Privacy Foundation must be listened to and addressed ... When the head of the government's own Consumer and Privacy taskforce is raising concerns, we all have reason to be afraid about the risks associated with this card," the Senator added.
Looking to the future
Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock told journalists at Parliament House in Canberra today that the government of today could not guarantee how future governments would use the Access Card. He said he hoped those seeking to change legislation would seek a popular mandate through the electoral process beforehand.
Ruddock added he had had the opportunity in his role as the Attorney-General to make sure the national Privacy Commissioner was involved in the legislative process to form the Access Card Bill, as well as advising legislators on standards in respect to identification.
"We don't want people to be able to establish fraudulent identities," he told journalists.
ZDNet Australia's Renai LeMay contributed to this article.