April 26, 2006

Australia stops short of national identity card

By Michelle Nichols

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister John Howard
unveiled plans on Wednesday to introduce a national health and
welfare access card after the government decided against
creating a compulsory full-scale identity card.

Howard said the card would replace 17 existing cards and
save the government at least A$3 billion ($2.2 billion)
annually, as well as reducing fraud by incorporating security
features including a biometric photograph. It will not carry

"It will not be compulsory to have the card, but by the
same token it will not be possible to access many services
unless one is in possession of the card," Howard told a news

The access card is likely to cost about A$1 billion over
four years to introduce, said Howard.

Howard had raised the possibility of a compulsory
full-scale identity card last year, similar to the one planned
for Britain -- that proposes using fingerprint, face and iris
recognition -- following the July bombings in London.

He said times had changed since a national identity card
was last debated in Australia in 1987, pointing to the
September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, war on
terrorism and globalized economy as reasons for the idea to
have been tested again.

Critics are concerned that the health and welfare access
card could quickly transform into a national identity card.

The British plan to introduce identity cards is still being
debated after the House of Lords overturned a government plan
in March for anyone applying for or renewing a passport to also
pay for an identity card as well from 2008.

Identity cards are used in about a dozen European Union
countries, but are not always compulsory. Britons have not
carried ID cards since their abolition in the 1950s.