QUESTION TIME – Personal Information and Privacy, Thursday December 7th, 2023

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:45): My question is to the Minister for Finance.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT: Just a moment, Senator Babet. Please resume your seat. Senator Brown and Senator Hughes, order across the chamber! Senator Babet is on his feet. He’s entitled to ask his question in silence. Senator Babet, please begin again.

Senator BABET: My question is to the Minister for Finance. Minister Gallagher, we meet again! Minister, your recent social media post on X, formerly known as Twitter, claimed that digital IDs are not compulsory. Now that post was labelled as ‘potentially misleading’. Minister, did you mislead the Australian public? Can your digital ID be compulsory, or are the fact checkers perhaps wrong on this one?

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital Territory—Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Finance,
Minister for Women, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:46):
I thank Senator Babet for the question. Just for the record, we don’t meet often! At all! I haven’t seen the post that he refers to. But the digital ID legislation makes it clear that the digital ID is voluntary for individuals accessing government services. The legislation makes that clear. I have also been on the record saying that, for businesses, it is a requirement to use myGovID for certain engagements with the ATO, and that is for security reasons and to minimise the risk of fraud relating to businesses and their transactions with the ATO. But the legislation is very clear that digital ID is voluntary and that options for individuals to access government services must be maintained for those who choose not to have a digital ID.

But the idea behind a digital ID is to improve security for personal information, and we know that Australians are very worried. About three-quarters of Australians are worried about theft of identity, cybercrime, scams et cetera, and this is a really important way of reducing the risk by reducing the amount of personal information that’s required to rent a house, to engage with government at times and to engage with the private sector as well. It’s about reducing it and allowing the person to control that verification of their identity.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, first supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:48): The bill does indeed state that the ID is voluntary, but with multiple exceptions. Section 74, as you would know, grants the regulator the power to compel the use of digital ID if they are satisfied that it is appropriate to do so. Is that true? Does the bill grant the regulator the capacity to mandate digital ID if they deem it appropriate to do so?

Senator GALLAGHER(14:48): I think this goes to the point I’ve just made about the fact that digital ID is required for businesses engaging with, say, the ATO at the moment—or a director’s ID to minimise the risk of fraud. But, in relation to a person, creating or not creating a digital ID for themselves for their personal engagement with government remains voluntary. In fact, the bill states that government services—because of course we can’t mandate in the private sector—must maintain an option—

Senator Canavan: A point of order on relevance: the question went to the specific terms of the bill in section 74 and the terms of the exemption. The minister hasn’t answered that part of the question.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Canavan, I will remind you that you can’t, as I’m sure you know, ask about the detailed provisions of a bill that is before the parliament. I think the minister is being relevant to Senator Babet’s question. Minister, I’ll ask you to continue.

Senator GALLAGHER: I answered that at the outset, which was reflecting the current arrangements at the moment for myGovID to be mandated for certain engagements with business or corporations but not for individuals.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, second supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:50): Minister, in the 1980s your party proposed the Australia Card. A Labor Party backbencher at the time, Lewis Kent, said the card was un-Australian and should be more appropriately called the ‘Hitler card’ or the ‘Stalin card’. Many have compared your party’s digital ID to the Australia Card. Minister, how will you ensure the centralisation of ID federally will not be misused by any future governments?

Senator GALLAGHER (14:50): The digital ID—and I said this before—is not a card, an ID scheme or a new number. It’s a voluntary, secure—

Senator Canavan interjecting—

Senator GALLAGHER: I don’t think Senator Canavan understands what it actually is. It’s about verifying your identity through your own control of the information that you share online to access services. Senator Babet, you are a business owner, a real estate agent. You would know, from dealing with rental properties and things, the amount of information you have to collect to verify potential tenants. This has the opportunity and the potential to significantly reduce the information that you, as a business holder, would hold in your own records about individuals that may rent properties off you. That protects you as a business owner, and it protects tenants of those rental properties. (Time expired)