Concept: The Australia Card (1985 - 1987)



The Australia Card was a proposal for a national identification card for Australian citizens and resident foreigners. The Card was first suggested by the federal Labor government in 1985, and became the subject of public controversy and a double dissolution election before the idea was eventually abandoned in 1987.


The Australia Card proposal was first raised at the 1985 national Tax Summit convened by the federal government. The card was suggested as a means to amalgamate other government identification systems and act against tax avoidance and health and welfare rorts.

The Labor government introduced the Australia Card Bill in the parliament in 1986, but it did not have a majority in the Senate and was repeatedly blocked by the opposition and minor parties. In response, Prime Minister Bob Hawke asked the Governor-General for a double dissolution, which was granted in June 1987, followed by an election on 11 July. The government was returned, but still without a majority in the Senate. The bill was reintroduced, and blocked in the Senate for a second time. The constitutional criteria for a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives had now been met.

If a joint sitting had gone ahead, the Australia Card bill would have been assured of passage due to dominant numbers of the Labor Party in the parliament overall. However, a retired public servant, Ewart Smith, drew attention to a flaw in the drafting of the legislation that had not previously been noticed by either the government or the opposition. Even if the bill were to be passed by the parliament, there was little likelihood of the Australia Card being introduced, because certain regulations necessary for the functioning of the system required the concurrence of the Senate (which was hostile to the Card). In the face of public opposition to the Card the government now chose to abandon the idea.

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