Health and social services access card (Australia)

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The health and social services access card was a proposed Australian Government non-compulsory health and social services access card. John Howard, the then Australian Prime Minister announced its introduction on Wednesday 26 April 2006. Any Australian Citizen or Permanent Resident wishing to access services administered by the Department of Human Services, Department of Veterans Affairs or (from 2010) the universal Medicare system would have needed to acquire one. The card was to be phased in over two years, beginning in 2008. The election of the Labor Party in November 2007 terminated the project.


Services to be accessed with the HSSAC include:

One of the criticisms of the Access Card was that the need to use the card to access welfare and medical services made the card, in effect, compulsory. It was suggested that this was another attempt establish an Australia Card.[1] On the other hand, Department of Human Services Secretary, Patricia Scott, told a Senate committee on 16 February 2007 that the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau - who was held by immigration authorities for 10 months, despite being a legal resident - would not have occurred if the Access card was running.[2]


The Government established a Consumer and Privacy Taskforce under former competition commission head Prof Allan Fels.[3] This taskforce issued a discussion paper raising privacy concerns on 15 June 2006.[4] The first report by the Taskforce was released in September 2006[5] and the Government rejected or partly rejected four recommendations of the 26 made by the taskforce in November 2006.[6]

The Bill to implement the first stage of this scheme was the Human Services (enhanced service delivery) Bill 2007. The Bill was offered as an exposure draft on 13 December 2006 for a four-week period during which submission would be take. Some minor changes resulted. The Bill was tabled and a Senate Inquiry started on 8 February 2007,[7] run by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration.[8] The Committee called for submissions and heard testimony, then wrote a report all in six weeks. The Report[9] delivered on 15 March 2007 was scathing of the Bill in the form presented, demanding it be withdrawn and key provisions be re-thought. It also strongly recommended that the oversight and privacy provisions not await a later unseen Bill but be included in one package. The Minister, Senator Chris Ellison, withdrew the Bill to implement the Committees recommendations.[10] A notable feature was that the Majority Report was written by Liberal Senators Mason, Fifield and Watson, recognised by some commentators as a striking case of Senatorial independence.[11]

Similar programs in other countries[edit]

The United Kingdom introduced a non-compulsory identity card in 2006: the British national identity card. France has had a similar, but less sophisticated, card for many years: the French national identity card. Other European and Asian nations have national identity cards; for example, Singapore's National Registration Identity Card has been in use since 1965.

Function creep and unintended outcomes[edit]

The Card was to be the physical manifestation of the National Identity Register, containing the 17 classes of information outlined in the Act. The supporters of the Bill pointed to prohibitions within the Bill and the invoking of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 to protect this information. At hearings in March 2007, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Federal Police confirmed that all such information would be available to them without warrant.[12] This was not put forward as part of the original case, and if anything was denied as a possible outcome. The Australian Bankers Association also called for limited access to the database to help prove identity of new customers.


On 22 January 2007, Joe Hockey, who had been heading the Access Card project, was appointed Workplace Relations minister. Former Environment minister Ian Campbell took over the Access Card program to implement the card in an election year.[13] On 3 March, Ian Campbell tendered his resignation which was accepted.[14] The new Minister was Senator Chris Ellison formerly the Justice Minister.[15] The project's chief technology officer was Marie Johnson.[16]

The Office of Access Card issued a systems integrator request for tender (RFT) closing on 1 March 2007, with the contract expected to be signed between May and June 2007[dated info] .[17]

Card description[edit]

The Access Card was a Smartcard. Smartcard technology differs from ordinary magnetic strip cards in that the card contains a microchip rather than a simple magnetic strip. This means that instead of the card containing a number that relates to a record in a database, the data (usually encrypted) are actually stored on the card.

The Card was intended to have a photograph, the usual name of the holder - it did not have to be the legal name - the signature, the expiry date and the ID Number all visible on the front or rear of the Card. The chip was expected to include legal name, address, date of birth, details of children or other dependants, digitised photo, signature, card number, expiry date, gender, concession status and the cardholder's Personal Identification Number (PIN). Additional personal information could also be added at the will of the card holder. Such information may have included next of kin, organ donor status or drug allergies and also, according to Joe Hockey the former responsible government minister, shopping lists and perhaps MP3s. This extra information was to be secured with the user's PIN, so only those who needed it had access to it.[18]

The card was to have two card software platforms:[19]

  • a card management system (CMS) to manage and track access cards throughout their seven-year lifecycle.
  • a key management system (KMS) to provide security protections for card data.


Registration was to have required an interview, planned to average 12 minutes, during which a bio-metric photo would have been taken. Applicants would have been required to produce full documentation to prove who they were, similar to what was required for the 100 point financial services test: birth certificates, credit cards, bills showing address details, etc. This documentation would have been copied or scanned for permanent storage. Registration was to have occurred at special offices in the initial two-year registration period, then after that at selected Post Offices at every seven-year renewal.[citation needed]

Closing of Project[edit]

In November 2007 the incoming Labor Government announced it was terminating the Access Card project,[20] the Office of the Access Card and all associated entities. The Labor Party had initially supported the Access Card in principle, but with caveats over its implementation. However, in October the half way house policy was abandoned and a complete repudiation was decided upon.[21]


  1. ^ Greanleaf, Graham (2007). "Still Quacking Like a Duck". Computer Law & Security Report 23. SSRN 951358. 
  2. ^ "Card could have prevented Rau case". 16 February 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2007. [dead link]
  3. ^ "Consumer & Privacy Taskforce". Australian Government. Retrieved 9 March 2007. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Consultation on the Australian Government Health and Social Services Access Card - Discussion Paper Number 1". Australian Government, Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "Report Number One" (PDF). Consumer and Privacy Taskforce. Retrieved 9 March 2007. [dead link]
  6. ^ "Australian Government response" (PDF). Australian Government. Retrieved 9 March 2007. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Press release announcing Senate Inquiry" (PDF). Australian Senate. Retrieved 15 March 2007. [dead link]
  8. ^ "Home Page of SFPAC". Australian Senate. Retrieved 15 March 2007. [dead link]
  9. ^ "Report on Access Card Bill". Australian Senate. Retrieved 15 March 2007. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Smart Card legislation on hold". The Australian. 15 March 2007. Retrieved 16 March 2007. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Access Card Bill - hit for six". Access Card No Way Campaign. Retrieved 16 March 2007. 
  12. ^ Stafford, Annabel (7 March 2007). "Security agencies could access health card data". Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved 9 March 2007. 
  13. ^ Mckenzie, Scott (23 January 2007). "Cabinet reshuffle: Access Card project gets new head". ZDNet Australia. Retrieved 9 March 2007. 
  14. ^ Foo, Fran (4 March 2007). "Access Card chief falls on sword". ZDNet Australia. Retrieved 9 March 2007. 
  15. ^ Dearne, Karen (6 March 2007). "Ellison gets smartcard keys". The Australian. Retrieved 16 March 2007. [dead link]
  16. ^ Dearne, Karen (30 January 2007). "Clock ticking for access card". The Australian. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  17. ^ Deare, Steven (5 January 2007). "Government seeks access card integrator". ZDNet Australia. Retrieved 9 March 2007. 
  18. ^ "What is the Access Card?". Australian Government. Retrieved 9 March 2007. [dead link]
  19. ^ Woodhead, Ben (31 January 2007). "Federal smartcard open for business". The Australian. Retrieved 9 March 2007. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Canberra to cancel Access Card". The Australian. 27 November 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007. 
  21. ^ "Labor to dump Access Card". The Australian. 16 October 2007. Retrieved 27 November 2007. 

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