The Australia Card

On 24 June 1985 Cabinet considered the report of an interdepartmental committee on the introduction of national identity numbers. The committee found that an efficient national identity system would require the issuing of a card with number, name, photograph and signature to all citizens and permanent residents over the age of 18. Cards could be generated by matching data in existing government databases (of which the Health Insurance Commission's was the largest), while people who could not be identified by data matching would be required to provide additional information. Health Minister Neal Blewett told Cabinet that while there appeared to be general support for a national identity system, it was doubtful if its tax benefits alone would secure its acceptance among significant community groups, particularly the Australian Democrats. The government should therefore emphasise the benefits of identifying illegal immigrants, which might release 60,000 jobs for legitimate residents, and combatting welfare fraud. Cabinet agreed to seek the Tax Summit's views on introducing a national register and card for all adult Australians, emphasising privacy, security safeguards, significant revenue and other benefits the card would provide.

Cabinet agreed on 17 September 1985 to proceed with the introduction of the Australia Card and it was announced in Keating's tax reform statement on 19 September. The card would be developed by the Health Insurance Commission in cooperation with the Australian Taxation Office and its primary focus, as proposed at the Tax Summit, would be to combat tax and welfare fraud. It would not include a photograph, its functions would be defined precisely in legislation and its use in private databases would be prohibited. Legislation to introduce the Australia Card was introduced in 1986, but it failed to pass the Senate and was abandoned by the government in 1987. Some of the intended functions of the Australia Card were realised in 1988 when legislation was passed to establish the Tax File Number system and in 1990 when legislation was passed to regulate data matching between government databases.

Selected documents

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019