Ok, so it's really called a "Smartcard". Had I said that though my clever play on the "clever country" comment by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, won't have been so… what's the word… clever.
This article in The Age gives an overview of what it is and what it isn't. It will replace, apparently, 17 cards that exist at the moment for health care & social security. One of the major cards it will replace is the Medicare card – the card which gives one access to the free public health system of Australia. They estimate it will save $3billion over 10 years in health/social security fraud at a cost of $1billion over 4 years.
Now, here's the interesting thing. This "smartcard" is not compulsory and that is the difference between it and an "identity card", or so says the Minister for Health & Aging Tony Abbott (or it might have been another one of his colleagues) this morning on 3AW to Niel Mitchell (or was it the ABCs John Faine?). An identity card is something you must carry on you at all times, produce it on request by authorities and must be a part of (you can't "opt out") etc. Whereas the "smartcard" is just something you need to access certain government departments and if you don't want one, you don't have to get one.
Here's the thing though, and so rightly brought up on the radio. Lets consider the ability for one to legally drive a car on the road. For this, you need a drivers license. Now, it is not compulsory for every person in Australia to have a drivers license, but without it you cannot drive on the roads. Likewise, it's not compulsory to have a "smartcard" but if you plan to claim health costs on Medicare (and nearly every person in Australia is put of the medicare health system and claims on it), well, you'll need a "smartcard".
Be interesting to see if this leads down the path of an identity card and further Big Brother antics, as civil liberty groups fear. I'd also be interested to see what architecture (pc or *ix) they'll be running this system off – at a cost of $1billion to implement, someones making a killing somewhere.