I am in the process of researching and writing a (long) piece on the story of how Australia came within a hair’s breadth of introducing compulsory ID cards in 1987, which will be posted either here or to my own blog in the next couple of days. However, while researching this, I ran the following 1986 quotation from then Australian (Labor) Health minister Dr Neal Blewett, who was in charge of the ID card plan at the time.
… we shouldn’t get too hung up as socialists on privacy because privacy, in many ways is a bourgeois right that is very much associated with the right to private property.
Yes, that’s right. This was meant as an argument in favour of ID cards.
On the issue of the (ultimately defeated) proposal for ID cards in Australia, I strongly recommend this article, which was written at the time and gives a thorough overview of what happened. The early stages of the then Australian government’s efforts to introduce the card seem eerily similar to anyone who has been watching the recent efforts of the British government. The later stages – a long drawn out battle on the part of the government to pass the enabling legislation which was blocked by the Australian senate, rising opposition to the scheme as the public learned more and more about the proposal and eventually a defeat for the government due to flaws in the drafting of the legislation – are much less likely here due to the lack of the strong bicameral system, sadly.
That said, the lesson that the more that is known about such proposals the less the public like them is surely an important one. In Britain, we really need to get the message out as fast and as comprehensively as possible. The other encouraging thing about the Australian example is that by the end of the fight the public was so against the idea that no Australian government has even dreamed of suggesting an ID card since, and none will any time soon. (This hasn’t prevented the government constructing extensive databases of information on its citizens, however).