Mon, 08 Apr 2024 - 09:30



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




8 APRIL 2024

STEVE AUSTIN: The opposition's Paul Fletcher, uh, is the opposition's spokesperson responsible for the debate. The opposition opposed the bill. 

PAUL FLETCHER: I asked him to tell me why we voted against the digital identity bill that went through the Senate last week, and we did that because we didn't think it had sufficiently strong safeguards cards, so that it is always voluntary for Australians to have a digital identity. We also thought there were some other problems with the particular form of the digital identity bill that labor, uh, passed through the Senate last week But it's important to say that when we were in government, we introduced what's called the Australian Government digital identity system. There's now over 10 million Australians who have a myGov ID that's based on work the coalition did, and we released an exposure draught of the bill we were going to pass in 2021. But that bill was had some significant differences to the bill that labor introduced to the Senate and passed the Senate last week.

STEVE AUSTIN: What are they? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, first of all, Labor's bill does not, in our view, contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that it's always voluntary to have a digital identity if you don't want to use a digital identity, if you want to continue using paper based identity documents, such as a driver's licence when you need to establish your identity to open a new bank account, or to lease a property or to rent a car. In our view, you should be free to use a paper based identity document. We also think the way that -

STEVE AUSTIN: And this bill does not allow that, because that's a key point. Human rights lawyers are warning that digital identity schemes are indeed meant to match subjects with their entitlements. But this very point is a key concern that it is voluntary, not the state saying we will decide what you are allowed entitled, what you are entitled to and what you are not entitled to, and we will use your digital identity to shut you out from it if need be. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, it's the fundamental point as to whether you have to use a digital identity to establish a new account with a bank or to deal with a government department, as opposed to a traditional paper-based document. And the bill contains what it says are safeguards of voluntariness. But we're not satisfied they're sufficient. And in particular, you should have a guarantee that the level of service you're going to get is going to be the same. If you're using a paper-based identity document in the way that we all have been used to for, you know, forever as compared to using a digital identity. So that's why we developed and circulated detailed amendments to increase those safeguards. We were disappointed that the Labor government declined to accept those amendments, and instead, the bill went through the Senate with the votes of Labor and the Greens, with our amendments not being accepted. One of the other things we suggested should have been done, and we proposed an amendment to achieve this, is that the bill, this new law coming into place should have been coordinated with changes to the legislation. They haven't brought them forward. And in our view, it would have been appropriate to have those changes introduced at the same time so they could take account of Privacy Act, which the Labor government has been promising for some time. But as yet, we've not seen those changes in draft of any additional privacy issues that are raised by the use of digital identity. And our third big concern was the way that we were developing this when in government, we saw an important role for the private sector. And that would mean, for example, that as an Australian, you could choose who your digital identity provider would be. Would you use Services Australia or would you use a private sector provider such as,  you know, a company backed by the big banks or indeed a standalone provider? We thought that was important to give people choice and to give people confidence that this wasn't just a case of big government. But again, I emphasise the coalition believes a really critical principle is it must be voluntary if you, as an Australian, want to use the system, if when you hear me explain it or other people explain it, when you hear the minister explain it, or when a company you're dealing with explains this is how it might work, or when somebody advertises and says, we're going to be a digital identity provider and you can get a digital identity from us, and then you can use it when you deal with your bank or when you deal with a state government agency or federal government agency, then you as a citizen can decide, do I like the sound of that? Or do I want to keep doing things the way I have? always done that's what the coalition thinks is an important principle. That's why we moved amendments designed to get that outcome. 

STEVE AUSTIN: And the federal bill, the federal government's bill currently does not guarantee voluntaryregistration?

PAUL FLETCHER: The government would say that it contains safeguards regarding voluntariness. The coalition says those safeguards are not strong enough. We wanted safer, stronger safeguards. We moved amendments to give effect to those stronger safeguards. The government declined to accept them. If this is something that Australians are satisfied, allows each of us to carry out our own lives more efficiently, to transact with businesses that we have to engage with, or when we're dealing with the state or government agency or a council, if it lets us do things more quickly and efficiently, and if we can voluntarily choose to use it, then that's a good thing. But if we're being compelled to use it, and if the privacy safeguards are not sufficiently strong, then that's not a good thing. And that's why the coalition moved the amendments that we did. 

STEVE AUSTIN: I have a myGov account, uh, and I have my vaccination record in my myGov account that links to the myGov account. Human rights lawyers are starting to write that. What's to stop tying digital vaccination certificates to a citizen's ability to travel or to get access to other services? We saw what happened during the Covid 19 pandemic, where people were deliberately and knowingly shut out of their own state. For goodness sake, what's to stop a simple next step of that? Uh, like the World Health organisation apparently attempted to do with their international health regulations, which sought to tie for what looks entirely reasonable reasons, tie digital vaccination certificates to their identification purposes. 

PAUL FLETCHER: These are some of the reasons why the coalition believed that it would have been appropriate to make the long promised changes to the Privacy Act at the same time as this new legislation in relation to digital identity was being passed by the parliament. Because those privacy, those new Privacy Act provisions, could have added new safeguards to deal with, um any new risks that might arise from a digital identity system. The government declined to accept our amendment on that point, but the government has continued to say that there will be changes coming to the Privacy Act. So again, the coalition will continue to watch that very carefully. And when we see that bill come forward, it's been promised for quite a long time. It hasn't materialised yet. But when we see that Bill come forward, we will certainly be looking very carefully at whether we think the government has dealt sufficiently with any additional risks that might arise from a privacy perspective because of a more widespread use of digital identity. 

STEVE AUSTIN: I appreciate so much of your time, Paul Fletcher, thank you.

PAUL FLETCHER: It's a pleasure. Thanks, Steve.