Massive smartcard plan confirmed

Government confirms massive smartcard plan

The federal government today confirmed work was underway on a proposal to deploy smartcards to millions of Australians under a project to slash administrative costs and crack down on identity theft.

Senator Eric Abetz, the Special Minister of State, told ZDNet Australia today he and the Minister for Human Services, Joe Hockey, were working on a project that would see cards incorporating smart chip technology and a photograph of the bearer replace a raft of government services and concession cards, including Medicare cards.

Senator Abetz said in all, 26 government services and concession cards could be replaced if and when the new card was distributed.

The project under consideration is believed to cost around AU$500 million -- two and a half times the figure quoted in some newspaper articles on the topic. It is understood the government is hoping to have the first cards rolled out in around two years.

Senator Abetz told ZDNet Australia he planned to say more about the government's plans in the area over the next few months.

The Minister told a Sydney conference this morning smartcards had the potential to "revolutionise" government service delivery.

"For example, in health care, a smartcard would help citizens to get better care and better service, faster.

"It would help healthcare providers to manage their business more efficiently and be paid more quickly for their services.

"And it could also benefit the taxpayer, by providing government with a powerful anti-fraud weapon.

"Similar benefits could be gained by applying smartcard technology to other government services, such as Centrelink," Abetz said.

Only 10 percent of the 180 million client transactions undertaken by Centrelink each year are undertaken online or via self-service facilities, the Minister said. Smart chip technology could drive this percentage upwards, "freeing up staff for more difficult situations that require the human touch".

"Potentially, a smartcard would also help us counter the insidious and growing threat of identity theft, a matter to which the Attorney-General and I, in my capacity as Minister for e-government, are paying a great deal of attention.

"In fact, I have no doubt that smart chip technology would actually improve the security of an individual's identity, given the relative ease with which the data on a magnetic strip card can be stolen".

Senator Abetz also signalled plans to roll out "a standard card of some type, perhaps using smart chip technology" across the Australian public service to replace the "plethora" of identification tokens presently in use.