Australia proposes smart cards for millions

Government says project will slash administrative costs and crack down on identity theft.

The Australian government is working on a proposal to deploy smart cards to millions of citizens under a project to slash administrative costs and crack down on identity theft.

Sen. Eric Abetz, the special minister of state, told ZDNet Australia on Wednesday that he and the Joe Hockey, minister for human services, are working on a project in which cards incorporating smart chip technology and a photograph of the bearer would replace a raft of government services- and concession-cards, including Medicare cards.

Abetz said that 26 government services- and concession-cards could be replaced if and when the new card is distributed.

The project under consideration is believed to cost around 500 million Australian dollars ($380 million)--two and a half times the figure quoted in some news reports on the topic. The government is hoping to launch the first cards in about two years.

Abetz told reporters at a press conference Wednesday that smart cards have the potential to "revolutionize" government service delivery.

"For example, in health care, a smart card would help citizens to get better care and better service, faster," he said. "It would help health care providers to manage their business more efficiently and be paid more quickly for their services. And it could also benefit the taxpayer, by providing government with a powerful antifraud weapon.

Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.