Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:43): My question is to the Minister for Finance, Minister Gallagher. Minister, you recently announced your government’s plan for a national digital ID by mid-2024 or thereabouts. There is significant concern in the community around this potential rollout. Australians are concerned about their privacy, their data security and the potential for misuse in the future. Minister, it has been said that this digital ID will also be accessed by private corporations and institutions. Can you confirm, if you know, which private corporations or institutions will be granted access to personal identification information?

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for Finance) (14:43): I thank Senator Babet for the question and for the heads-up on a question about digital ID. The short answer to Senator Babet’s question is: none, in relation to the digital ID. I think there is a level of education we have to do about what the digital ID program is. I welcome the coalition’s strong support for this important reform. I’ve seen Mr Fletcher out strongly endorsing it, and so I look forward to working across the chamber to deliver this important reform. But it will be a voluntary—that’s important—secure, convenient way for Australians to verify their identity online. As we know, Australians are frequently asked to verify their ID for various activities, such as changing jobs, renting a house or taking out a phone plan. And, of course, there are many government services where they are required to do so.

We have our MyGov ID system, which is already in place now and used by many people. The next step is to put in place legislation to regulate that system. We have 10½ million government digital IDs that are being used to access 130 services provided by almost 40 government agencies now. It has robust protections and consent rules to ensure personal information is protected through this, but it is actually only a way of verifying identity. It actually gives more control to the owner of that information, who keeps that information, but it is used to verify your identity. It’s not a card or a number; no-one holds the information. In order to get a digital ID, you provide a certain amount of information to be verified, but you are the retainer of that
information. In many ways, that should address some of those concerns that you’ve raised. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a first supplementary?

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:45): Thank you, Minister. Basically, you have
said that, with people’s personal information on this digital ID system in whatever shape it takes, private institutions, private businesses and private corporations will never, ever be able to access this information to find out particular details about people out in the community? Is that correct?

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for Finance) (14:46): Private organisations already hold a lot of information about people and, in fact, in some cases are required to hold that information, such as your 100-point check to open a bank account. These organisations already hold a
lot of information. The idea with a digital ID system, and the interoperability between a public and a private network, we are looking to phase it. But, obviously, this is legislation that will come to this chamber. I have no doubt it will go through a committee process as well. We are going to release an exposure draft, hopefully around September, so that people will be able to involve themselves in that. The idea is that once you are verified that gives you access to a whole range of services. It’s about proving your identity, being verified and then using that verification to access programs. It actually reduces the amount of information you have to provide to other organisations.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a second supplementary?

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:47): Minister, you said it would not be
compulsory, and I hope that is right, but the COVID-19 vaccine was not compulsory either, and look what happened there. Take it or you don’t get a job, right? What guarantee do we have from your government that this will be 100 per cent not compulsory? Will you write it into the legislation itself, in black and white: this is not compulsory, forever and always, the end?

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for Finance) (14:47): We’re certainly making it clear that it’s voluntary. As part of that, the government has to maintain systems that allow people to use and engage with the government without a digital ID. They are currently doing it. Ten and
a half million people, or a million accounts, are used across 130 different programs. I think people understand, because of all the breaches we have had, about the need to look at secure ways to retain your own information and put strong privacy arrangements around it. Because people are so connected and using devices all the time, they are more comfortable with ideas around digital ID. But it is absolutely voluntary; nobody can force anybody to have a digital identity at all. Government systems will have to be maintained, and should be maintained, to ensure that people are able to interact with government as they choose.