The Federal Government yesterday admitted that its plan for a national identity card, or “Access Card”, is in trouble. Human Services Minister Chris Ellison told a conference in Sydney that the relevant legislation, already postponed once and promised for introduction this month, may not actually appear until after the election.

This comes on top of yesterday’s revelation by The Australian that implementation systems for the card were running way behind schedule, despite the fact that more than $3 million has already been spent on advertising it. The Australian Privacy Foundation described it as “a textbook case of bad project management, and bad policy development.”

Labor has been coy about what it would do if the card was already in place when it came to government, but if the legislation has not been finalised by the election then it seems a Labor victory would kill it. Shadow minister Tanya Plibersek yesterday called the proposal “a turkey”.

This morning’s Age even made the suggestion that a re-elected Howard government might have trouble with the legislation in the Senate, but that only seems likely if it suffers defections from its own ranks — not at all impossible, given that the Senate committee that condemned the Government’s proposals earlier this year had a Coalition majority.

Ellison can’t really be held responsible for the ID card mess; he was only given the portfolio in March after the demise of Ian Campbell. But the card joins a list of projects that the Government seems to have inexplicably convinced itself would be politically advantageous, only to have to backtrack when reality set in.

The initial motivation for the ID card was probably bureaucratic “mission creep” rather than political calculation, but its supporters took comfort from a poll last year that found 53% of people in favor of the idea. However, that compared unfavorably with initial levels of support for the Hawke government’s similar project 20 years ago — a project that eventually became a huge political liability.

It was always likely that the “Access Card” would follow a similar trajectory; that once people woke up to what was actually being proposed, public opinion would turn against it. Facing the electoral fight of its life, that’s one more problem the Government just doesn’t need.