Tue, 02 Apr 2024 - 14:37



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




2 APRIL 2024

TOM CONNELL: Joining me now is the shadow government Services minister, Paul Fletcher. Thanks for your time. It kind of sounds like an idea that's not that revolutionary, right? Instead of having to put endless documents in and the old 100 points of ID and searching through a shoe box, or if you're a bit more modern, you've got a photo of it somewhere. You have this digital ID is it common sense? What is your issue, if any, with this? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, certainly when we were in government, we committed a lot of funding to what became myGov ID, and indeed there's over 10 million Australians who now have a myGov ID but the bill that the government introduced into the Senate and which passed the Senate last Thursday, is very different from the bill that we had released in 2021. And we had three significant problems with it. Firstly, voluntariness, that is to say, can Australians be confident that it will always be a voluntary decision as to whether you have a digital ID and if you want to keep using paper based identity documents, will you always be free to do so? And can you be assured of having the same level of service when you're dealing with a government agency or with a private sector company?  We also were concerned about this being government only and not having private sector involvement until some considerable time down the track. Certainly the vision we had was that you would have the private sector involved from the outset, because we do think you need those private sector sales and marketing smarts so that you can demonstrate to people why there are benefits in having a digital identity if you choose to. And thirdly, we were concerned that the government's long foreshadowed changes to the Privacy Act should be brought in. At the same time, those are still yet to materialise. So we put amendments to the government to address all of those issues. The government chose not to accept those amendments. 

TOM CONNELL: Look, two of them seem to be timing. If I can park them, there's only so long we get in these interviews the voluntary element. The government says this is voluntary. What are you saying? It's not clear enough that companies in the future might go. We're no longer accepting paper forms. Is it sort of spelling out that there always has to be that option because it is voluntary right now What you seem to be alluding to is, will you always be able to get the same access as someone who is doing a digital ID? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah. We did not believe that the safeguards in the legislation were sufficiently strong so that those Australians who chose not to have a digital identity ID were not going to be discriminated against. So it is important that there be legislative safeguards that people not be required to have it, that it's something that you can use if you choose to. And certainly many people will choose to use it because they'll see benefits in it. But we felt the safeguards were simply far too weak, and particularly this issue of whether you can be confident that you're going to continue to get service from government departments and agencies and from private sector businesses, if you choose not to have a digital ID. So that's what we put into some pretty detailed amendments that we provided to the government. And I might say many of the concerns we identified were based upon on issues that were put during the Senate committee held into this bill. 

TOM CONNELL: Speaking of a Senate committee, it's been looking at this migration bill as well. It's had some concerns, in particular around how much power would go to the immigration minister and also what's not really happened in Australia before being able to just blacklist whole countries. I know the coalition's sort of come at this from a, you know, strong borders point of view. Do you have a concerns about our reputation globally as well and power to the minister if it happens? Is that another part of your concern? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the concern that we articulated last week was that this was all brought on at very short notice. We were briefed 7:30 on Tuesday morning. Dan Tehan, James Patterson, Michaelia Cash, our relevant shadow ministers, were briefed. The version of the document they were briefed on revealed that it had actually been finalised several days before. And the government, in what was a pretty naked political stunt, briefed coalition frontbenchers on the Tuesday morning and said this has got to get through both houses of Parliament -

TOM CONNELL: The timing is two days, you know, covered a lot. But the crux of this, though, as I asked them, are you concerned as well about power and going too far, or are you saying your concerns are just around what the coalition would call strong borders. 

PAUL FLETCHER: Our concerns are about a proper process for the Parliament to consider this legislation. The coalition, of course, will always support strong borders. This is the fourth time in four months that this chaotic government has brought forward legislation and said it needs to be passed within days. We've worked to a system where we can because we are committed to strong borders. And of course, it was the coalition which came up with many of the drafting suggestions in the bill that went through last year. The hapless immigration minister, Andrew Giles, was sitting there completely passively, without any proposals. In fact, for a period they were saying, oh, no new legislation needed. Well, that was clearly unacceptable. So we have engaged very constructively with this government each time that they've produced one of these rushed attempts to get legislation through. But what we have said is this one requires appropriate scrutiny. We will engage constructively as we have been doing, but it is not unreasonable that there should be a Senate inquiry which will report, I think, on May the 7th. And that is why we supported a motion for such an inquiry in the Senate last Wednesday. 

TOM CONNELL: That inquiry, as Andrew Clennell said, starts in a couple of weeks and then budget time will probably be talking about it all over again. Paul Fletcher, thank you.