Labor to dump billion dollar Access card if it wins federal election

Democrats welcome move but say response was too slow

The Australian Labor Party has confirmed it will not proceed with the proposed $1.1 billion dollar Access Card project if it wins the forthcoming election on November 24, 2007.

The project has been a debacle from day one with the government's implementation timetable put on hold as it struggled to get the legislation through both houses of parliament.

Under the original timeline legislation should have been passed by April. This was extended to June, but the proposal continued to be dogged by privacy and security concerns with civil liberties' activists branding it an "Australia Card".

The federal government blamed an additional 40 submissions for the delay. Registrations for the Access Card were supposed to begin next year with the card fully operational by 2010.

The smart card was introduced to streamline health and welfare benefits by replacing 17 cards currently in use including Medicare.

Australian Democrats privacy spokesperson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, said it was about time Labor confirmed its position on the proposal.

Stott Despoja said t it is yet another example of the Opposition being driven by opinion polls over principles.

"The ALP consistently refused to take a principled stand against the Access Card until it became clear that the government would put the project on the backburner," she said.

"Despite genuine privacy and security fears being raised at every stage of the project, the Opposition took the politically convenient line that its support for the project would depend on whether the contracts had been signed prior to the election."

While the government may be languishing in the polls, Senator Stott Despoja said there is still a real chance that the Coalition will be returned to government and proceed with this flawed project.

"It is an ID card in disguise, I urge all Australians who are concerned about the card to sign our online petition," she added.

When details of the card were made public in 2006, the executive director of the NSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, David Vaile, said the government's timeline was impossible.

Vaile said it could cost $5 billion and take up to five years to implement an Access Card, accusing the government of being unrealistic.

IT projects, he said, tend to be "grossly underestimated" in terms of cost and timing and scope creep is likely.

So far Vaile has been on the money. What do you think? E-mail sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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