The Federal government has insisted that a new Centrelink debit card is not a precursor to a national ID card, but a policy expert has claimed that it maintains some similarities to the previous government's failed Access Card.
The government announced last week that an EFTPOS-based welfare debit card is being introduced in tomorrow's Federal budget as a measure to curtail the inappropriate spending of government assistance benefits by recipients.
After it emerged in March that the government was looking into a services card to combat health and welfare fraud, the office of the Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig, issued a strong response to those suggesting the scheme would pave the way for a de-facto national ID card.
Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig
Credit: Australian Government
"The Australian government has delivered on our election commitment and abolished the Access Card and we have no intention of reintroducing such a card," said a spokesperson for Ludwig.
A spokesperson for the Queensland senator told ZDNet.com.au today "the card will not have a photo and won't have a chip. It will be a debit card".
"We will be watching the developments of the new welfare card carefully to see if it has the potential to evolve into a new identity card," said Dale Clapperton, chair of online privacy and civil liberties group, Electronic Frontiers Australia.
"We'll be making representations to government about privacy or any other civil liberties issues the card may create," he said, adding that the government's announcement has "piqued the interest" of other civil liberties groups.
The card will be rolled out by the Department of Human Services and Centrelink — in conjunction with the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs — to prevent welfare payments being used for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco or illicit materials. It will only allow cardholders to purchase products such as food and children's clothing.
Executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, David Vaile, believes that the new card may re-implement a small number of the "core functions" of the previous government's Access Card.
"The Access Card was intended to be used as a payment card as well," he said, adding that "if the purchase data from this card goes back to the government they may use it as justification for a number of other letters that intrude on the privacy of its users".
Under the plan, cardholders will be able to make EFTPOS purchases at any businesses which have agreed not to sell prohibited goods as part of the "income management" scheme.