The consultants Booz Allan Hamilton earned $33 million in the last 18 months advising the Commonwealth Government on its Access Card project. The most recent instalment was a purchase order for $2.5 million signed with the Human Services Department on 3 October to cover advice in the period until 1 February next year. Alas for Booz Allan payments under that order will be the last.

The new Labor Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has confirmed that the Access Card project will be scrapped. The reason given is that it will save money – some $1.2 billion in total according to Labor.

Interestingly enough the Coalition did not try and defend the project during the election campaign. While Labor was too scared to make an issue of it, there was clearly uneasiness in the ranks of the Howard Government about the Big Brother aspects of the plan. It was thus one of those “sleeping dog” issues.

Prime Minister John Howard originally announced plans for the Access Card back in April last year when he said it would “enable people to obtain Government benefits in a straightforward, convenient and reliable way without having to re-register and repeat the same information each time they visit a different Government office.”

There was scepticism at the time that this Access Card was not the first step towards a compulsory national identity card. It is a pity that the Labor decision to kill it is being made on budget grounds rather than as part of a broad defence of civil liberties.

On this subject of the way government “ploughs on with numbering, classifying and examining us at every turn”, the story in The Spectator this week from which that quote comes is well worth reading. It is headlined “Too Much Security Makes us Less Secure” and the first paragraph gives the flavour:

Here is a little paradox. For 30 years during the Troubles you have been taking the Belfast to Stranraer ferry. No one asked you for identification: you just bought your ticket and off you went, even though it is quite possible that among your fellow passengers on one of those journeys was a terrorist smuggling bomb-making equipment into mainland Britain.

Eventually, peace is restored to Northern Ireland. And what happens? Suddenly you can’t travel without a passport or ID card, and all your luggage is scanned. Once in Belfast you decide to take a train to Dublin, a journey you have been making unhindered for 30 years. When you book your ticket you are, for the first time, asked your name, address, credit card number and 50 other pieces of data, including the purpose of your visit and details of accommodation you have booked. When you ask a security officer why the sudden need for the formalities you are told it is all because of the “terrorist threat”.

You want to ask him where he was for 30 years of the Troubles.