While the Access Card project continues to push ahead, losing out on the first tranche of legislation does add new complexity to an already complex project.
Many were surprised when the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration published a bipartisan Report critical of the proposed Access Card Legislation.
The Report itself was a carefully worded document. On one hand, it offered clear support for “any policy that will facilitate access to (Commonwealth benefits for) those who are eligible while forestalling access for those who are ineligible”. At the same time it raised many concerns about the Card’s architecture and its enabling legislation.
The Committee noted that it could not properly deal with these concerns given the short time available, and without access to the detail of the second tranche of legislation. In the end the Report delivered a single recommendation that the Government should come back at a later time with a consolidated Bill rather than two separate pieces of legislation. The government has now accepted the Committee’s recommendation and Senator Ellison is personally undertaking consultations to deal with the Committee’s concerns.
The Senate Report drew heavily on advice from the Government’s own Consumer and Privacy Taskforce chaired by Professor Alan Fells. The Committee compared a number of differences between the Taskforce recommendations and the contents of the Legislation. It is clear the Committee will be looking more closely at these differences when the combined Legislation is tabled at a later date.
With the ink still drying on the Senate Committee Report, Professor Fells has just issued his next discussion paper on Access Card Registrations. This Paper provides a wealth of information on both technical and community issues, ranging from the logistics of registering 16 million people, to concerns for minority groups. Clearly Professor Fells’ Discussion Paper will be getting some serious consideration in the lead up to presentation of the combined legislation.
The crucial lesson from the failed first tranche of legislation, is that support from the Senate cannot be assumed, even with a Government majority. The Senate Committee system has a key role in reviewing legislation, particularly to ensure proposed legislation does not have unintended consequences. It is therefore quite reasonable that a Senate Committee should pass a critical eye over such important legislation. While this high level of scrutiny might be frustrating for the Office of Access Card project team, in the end democracy must surely be the clear winner.