Stuart Braun writes:

The Howard government has
commissioned a massive PR campaign to hedge against a backlash on its smartcard
– it will spend $50 million on advertising to support the card, nearly a third of
its overall advertising budget. But was it even necessary?

John Faulkner criticised this
unprecedented ad spend during last week’s Senate estimates committee, but again
the media barely raised a whimper. Then came news that ex-ACCC chief, Allan
Fels, has been appointed to oversee privacy concerns over the smartcard, lending
further legitimacy to the government’s under-the-radar introduction of the
card.

When it was first announced, the planned “access” card, which will use smart card technology to
replace 17 other cards used for government payments (health care concessions,
pensions, unemployment benefits, child care, Austudy, family tax benefits etc)
by 2008, was predictably described by Natasha Stott Despoja as a “national id
card by stealth”.

But at the time – and more particularly, in wake of the announcement
that the government will spend big bucks promoting it – the media and
public response has been strangely timid. In 1987 we had a debate about
a national ID card – the so-called Australia Card – that nearly
devastated the Hawke government. The scare campaign was orchestrated by
none other than John Howard, with the media weighing in on associated
paranoia about significant infringements on privacy rights.

In an age of terrorism, and increasing big government, has the
public come to accept government incursions on their privacy? Peter Costello
says yes, noting that Australian’s are willing to cede privacy in the name of
national security. In the wake of the London bombings, John Howard admitted that
a national id card might be “one of the things that is needed to be added [to]
our armour, maybe.” This is a significant about face on a very significant
issue. So why aren’t we debating it?

Peter Fray

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