02/08/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - ID cards an ineffectual tool

02/08/2005 - 22:00


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With Prime Minister John Howard adopting so many core Labor Party policies, it’s no longer possible to perceive any differences that may exist between Liberal and Labor.

With Prime Minister John Howard adopting so many core Labor Party policies, it’s no longer possible to perceive any differences that may exist between Liberal and Labor.

First came his big-spending promises during last October’s election campaign, which convinced State Scene the days of old-style small government Liberalism were over.

For years the Liberals mouthed support for Australia’s federalist arrangements.

Mr Howard has put paid to that by adopting a long series of centralist programs that make the torrid Gough Whitlam years appear restrained.

Then, just as he was setting off on his latest jaunt to Washington DC and London, the PM let fly with another former Labor move – the suggestion that Australia considers a national ID card system.

True, he didn’t actually say he’d institute it, but he strongly hinted that may be the direction of his thinking.

But credit where credit is due.

Just as he was leaving London for Canberra, Mr Howard was reported as saying that there would be no moves to adopt ID cards, something the Hawke Labor Government had only belatedly backed away from in 1987.

There are several possible reasons for the apparent turnaround.

Firstly, several Howard cabinet members, when pressed by the media to disclose their personal stands on ID cards, appeared to be distinctly unenthusiastic.

A similar message may have been conveyed to Mr Howard’s travelling minders by more than one member of his sizeable backbench.

Moreover, to State Scene’s knowledge no policy makers in the US have suggested adoption of ID cards for that country’s 250 million citizens. This may have surprised Mr Howard.

However, State Scene’s guess – it can be no more – is that in London he learned that no-one there, except perhaps a few old diehard socialistic Labourites, and Prime Minister Tony Blair saw the institution of ID cards as a worthwhile counter terrorist measure.

Moreover, in the House of Commons, the Conservative Party – still a sort of distant cousin to Australia’s centralising Liberals – has been bashing Mr Blair around the ears for suggesting the Brits go for ID cards.

And interestingly, the Conservatives, who are currently looking for a new leader, since their Mr Howard has announced he’s opting out, may have found one because of Mr Blair’s push for an ID card system.

That man is David Davis, who has performed so well on the floor of the House of Commons over Mr Blair’s attempt to introduce ID cards that a growing number of Conservative MPs and pollsters now see him as the up-and-coming answer to Mr Blair and his successor.

Who is this David Davis?

He was born in 1948, was educated at Warwick University and graduated with a BSc with joint honours in molecular and computer science (1968-1971).

He attended London Business School and gained a master’s degree in business (1971-1973). He then went to Harvard University to study in the Advanced Management Program (1984-1985).

He’s married, has three children, and has been an MP since 1987.

Three years later he became assistant government whip and was national chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students.

Mr Davis has written articles or pamphlets on the National Health Service and the National Dock Labour Scheme and is author of two books, How to Turn Round a Company and The BBC Viewers’ Guide to Parliament.

Since November 2003, he’s been shadow Home Secretary, which is why he spoke for the Conservatives on Mr Blair’s identity card proposal.

Although State Scene doesn’t know if Mr Howard and Mr Davis met, it’s most unlikely that the Conservative stand and Mr Davis’s performances on the ID card question weren’t drawn to Mr Howard’s attention.

Mr Davis spoke at length on this question in the Commons.

“I have always made it clear that before the events of 9/11 I would never have even countenanced the concept of an identity card, but since 9/11, in my present post, I accepted that we should listen to the Government’s case, just as we should consider any possible device that could make our country and our people safer,” he said.

“Having done so, including considering what the Home Secretary said today, I conclude that the Government’s ID card will be little more than an expensive waste of time and money.

“It is a plastic poll tax, and it is a symbol of the Government’s determination to centralise and control everything at the expense of liberties of the British people.”

Very few believe that London’s four suicide bombers would have been thwarted if ID cards had existed.

And similarly, very few believe that Cornelia Rau could not have been detained at Baxter Detention Center if Australians had ID cards.

Ms Rau would simply have been without her ID card, just as she was without any other identity – driver’s licence, Medicare card, credit card, library card, birth certificate, and so on – to help migration officials to determine her real identity; something she had chosen to hide.

That said, State Scene wishes to take the ID card issue back about 65 years.

I’ve owned an ID card since June 1989, the month my father died.

The reason is that he owned one. It’s called a Kennkarte, the German term for ID card.

He was forced to carry it at all time between early 1940, when it was issued to him by German occupation forces in Poland, until late 1944, when he was liberated by General George Patton’s Third Army in German-occupied Lorraine, to where he had been forcibly dispatched as a worker.

All Poles carried a Kennkarte. Failure to do so meant severe punishment.

Notwithstanding this, by 1942 Poland could boast the largest continental underground army – the Armia Krajowa – and supporting resistance movement, which kept tens of thousands of Germans and Austrians busy policing its cities, towns and even villages.

The Kennkarte simply didn’t stop Nazi-outlawed clandestine and resistance activities.

Furthermore, the same applied in post-Nazi or Bolshevised Poland.

Once Poland was Bolshevised after 1945, new compulsory identification cards were issued to its citizenry, which police could demand to see whenever they chose.

Again, notwithstanding this, Poland produced the largest and most formidable clandestine movement of the 20th century – Solidarnosc.

Solidarnosc not only toppled Poland’s Bolshevik order, but sparked a chain reaction across the entire Soviet Bloc, including the Soviet Union, whereby long-suppressed smaller clandestine movements could emerge.

ID cards simply cannot and have never been able to overcome clandestine activity, be it for the liberation of nations, as with Poland twice last century, or in the fight against murderous terrorists.

If it were otherwise there would never have been an Armia Krajowa or a Solidarnosc.

Cleary, if it wasn’t Mr Davis or another British Conservative MP who alerted Mr Howard to this fact, then it may have been a historian who knows a few elementary facts about the workings and failings of totalitarian political orders.

Unfortunately, a single elixir like ID cards will not overcome terrorism.

What’s required is sound and dedicated policing of sea and airports and the entire coastline, competent policing by all of Australia’s law enforcement agencies and intelligence services, plus eternal vigilance.


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