Australia budgets A$1.1B for smart-card development

But there are concers about unrealistic budget, timeframe, and money going overseas

The Australian federal government has laid out nearly A$300 million (NZ$371 million) to reduce social security fraud and lessen the amount of incorrect payments before introducing the "access card system using smartcard technology".

The 2006-07 Federal Budget will see A$1.1 billion directly committed to introducing an access card or national smart-card system aside from the A$282 million package to reduce social security fraud.

This package is slated to build on Australia's fraud and compliance framework currently in place and deliver savings of A$548 million over five years.

The access cards will be phased in from 2008, replacing 17 different health and social services cards and will hold limited personal information such as name and signature while a microchip will store a digital image of the card holder as well as their address, date of birth and details of family.

Human Services Minister Joe Hockey confirms that individual government agencies would not have access to information stored by others under the smart-card scheme; however, this week the privacy debate has been sidelined by the resignation of James Kelaher, former head of the smart card technology taskforce.

Kelaher quit the project last week saying he disagrees with the rushed way in which such a sensitive project was being approached. However, Hockey says Kelaher resigned after being turned down following his offer to head the taskforce for an additional six months. Kelaher has not returned any correspondence by Computerworld to confirm the issues surrounding his resignation.

David Vaile, executive director of the New South Wales Cyberspace Law and Policy Center, says it could cost A$5 billion and take up to five years to implement, adding that A$1 billion and an 18-month implementation timeline are unrealistic goals.

The Australian Computer Society is more concerned about the A$1 billion fund going to overseas vendors. ACS president Philip Argy wants Australians to be in the front line of the smart-card development.

Argy met with Hockey to push domestic expertise in the smart card arena as opposed to foreign involvement.

Argy says he has the personal assurance of Hockey that Australian expertise will be the first resort in developing the smart card for which costings have been predicted at between A$1 billion and A$5 billion.

"Who better than our own professionals to ensure that the outcome of the report and the project is to best practice standards and in the best interests of the Australian public," Argy says.

"I accept the Minister's approach that, where there are better credentialed individuals offshore for particular facets of the smart card project it is appropriate for them to be engaged. But I made plain to the Minister that it should not be assumed that all requisite expertise was offshore."

Centrelink call centers also got a mention in the 2006-07 budget with an additional A$115 million funnelled towards meeting peak demand and reducing call-waiting times by increasing self-service telephone services.

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