Ruddock repudiates Australia Card, central database

After a week of ministerial bickering, the shutter has slammed down on speculation about a single identity document for Australians, with Attorney General Philip Ruddock publicly repudiating the concept of an Australia Card.

Speaking at a Smart Card conference in Sydney today, Ruddock explicitly ruled out a single, Australian identity document and buried previous suggestions by Health Minister Tony Abbott last week that "a central database" could be created to manage Australians' identity on health and Medicare records.

"There have been recent suggestions in the media that the government is going to introduce a national identity card. I can assure you that this is not the case. We do not support the approach where all personal information is centralized on one database, and a single form of identification is issued," Ruddock said.

"Such an approach could actually increase the risk of identity fraud because only one document would need to be counterfeited to establish an identity," he added.

Government sources said Ruddock's public identification of increased risk of fraud from centralized public ID registries indicated "an awareness at the highest levels" of the so-called keys to the kingdom syndrome and is likely to see a "more measured approach" from key ministers looking for quick wins on major government IT consolidation projects across health, employment and social security.

The speech also appears to mark a line in the sand in terms of how the government intends to prosecute its service delivery agenda, indicating it wants to see the results of the National Identity Security Strategy (NISS) it outlined in the May Budget before it proceeds with any substantial identity consolidation initiatives.

So far the NISS has received funding of $5.9 million for identity data reconciliation projects across the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Immigration as well as state births, deaths and marriages and motor registries.

However, it also raises questions as to whether Health Minister Tony Abbott or Human Services will be able to deliver their stated objectives of major service improvements - including an electronic health records or a so-called Human Services smartcard - to Cabinet within the next 12 months.

Abbott last week bet his political reputation on delivering electronic health records in 12 months, saying if patients were not seeing a visible difference in 12 months, he and his department will have failed.

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