National ID card now unlikely for Australia

The chances of a national identity card are fading, with business and police voicing concerns over the costs and logistics of implementing a blanket system. Leading business groups say the cost of an "Australia card" could blow out to $15 billion, and Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison has conceded the financial impact could stymie a national approach.

Police have raised concerns as to how effective the cards would be without the use of biometrics technology, involving fingerprints or other identifying features.

John Howard raised the prospect of a national identity card in July after Queensland Premier Peter Beattie suggested such a system would have prevented the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez. Senator Ellison said yesterday the controversial plan was still "under consideration" with some ministers understood to support the ID card as part of the fight against terrorism. But the minister accepted the proposal would have to be better "in essence and cost" than the work now being done on security jointly by Canberra and the states.

Federal and state police ministers have been working on ways to improve identity security as a part of their counter-terrorist measures. "We are bringing all these strands together that could make a difference on ID security," Senator Ellison told The Australian yesterday.

However, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the costs of a national identity card could be as high as $15 billion. The well-connected business lobby is firmly opposed to the identity security blueprint, arguing it would heavily increase their regulatory burden.

Another element of the counter-terrorist framework will be unveiled today, with the Howard Government to force banks, lawyers and accountants to report suspicious financial transactions. Senator Ellison said the national plan was a "significant step" towards preventing money-laundering and the financing of terrorist activity. Suspicious activities will have to be reported to the regulator, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.

But some terrorism experts questioned the effectiveness of the law changes.. Aldo Borgu, a terrorism analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the changes could "force terrorists to become more innovative" in how they financed their activities.


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