Deb Foskey, ACT Greens MLA, invited interested members of the public to a lunchtime forum on the Federal Government's proposed health and social services access card. As I was in Canberra, I went along. My own views on the card, which must have set a record as the shortest submission to the inquiry.
Someone who I assume is a Greens politician did an okay introduction (I don't think it was Deb Foskey).
Guest Speakers: Anna Johnston 'No ID card' Campaign Director, Australian Privacy Foundation (APF)
Anna outlined the origins of the APF in the fight against the Australia Card proposal (which was successful).
ASIDE: One memorable part of the Australia Card debate was seeing Roger Clarke and others in a dinner table discussion broadcast by the ABC. The discussion was edited down to less than an hour, but obviously was held over several courses and the discussion got more interesting as the evening progressed. ;-)
The APF is opposed to the access card and see it as an Australia Card II. Anna gave a good summary of the access card proposal and issues, such as the creation of a photo database associated with the card. The card is to be issued to every adult and anyone over 15 who requests one. The database will have what is on the card, plus more data and link to agency databases. The APF is concerned that the Federal Police and ASIO will have access without a warrant. Anna did not mention it, but presumably with access to the database the police could track almost everyone in the streets of the CBD of all Australian cities, using the existing security cameras and face recognition.
Anna suggests the Government deflected criticism of privacy by referring them to Allan Fells office. This is a little unfair as Professor Fells seems to be doing a workmanlike job of dealing with privacy issues.
It was a well written speech and will read well. But reading it out in a forum only attended by like minded people will not achieve much.
Anna criticized the Government for cutting some optional functions from the card. This is unfair as these functions would have compromised the security of the card and dropping them is justified.
Anna suggested that the current Medicare card could be upgraded instead of a new Access Card. Other initiatives, such as the on-line portal system, got a mention (I am not sure if this is the same as single sign on for government online services.
In practice an expanded Medicare card is probably what will happen, after those involved in the project recheck the costs and benefits, some time after the next election. It will not much matter who wins the election, the political climate and the costs will most likely set the direction of the project. While proposing a visionary hitech project is a boost for politician and bureaucrat's careers, actually having to get it to work is not. A Liberal government will brand an improved Medicare card as "Access Card Lite"; a Labor government will say they are scrapping the Access Card. But they will likely both implement essentially the same thing.
Julia Nesbitt Director General Practice and eHealth, Australian Medical Association (AMA)
Julia gave a less partisan, and less speech like, presentation.The AMA opposes many of the details of the card, but not the idea of a health access card. She noted there have been problems with several other e-Halth projects, which does not give confidence in the Access Card being executed successfully.
Julia argued that any Medical Emergency Information on the card should be verified by a doctor, as is done with the MedicAlert bracelets. What she didn't say was if having this on a card provided any benefit over a MedicAlert bracelet. Presumably a smart card is much less robust than an engraved metal bracelet and less likely to remain with a patient.
The forum did a good job, but was essentially preaching to the converted. Of the twenty or so people there, most seemed to be from an organization opposed to the Access Card. About the only use for the forum was to provide a media event. I felt a bit used, being just a prop for the TV cameras.
ps: I thought I would do a "live" report but did not bring my wireless modem. I turned on the WiFi but the only access point showing was "Panasonic", which was the video projector for the room. I resisted the temptation to hack in and project my own slides behind the speaker. ;-)