Source: SMH

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Businesses would have to accept notes and coins from shoppers or risk $25,000 fines under a plan by independent MPs to stop cash disappearing from the nation.

Warning that the end of cash was sending a chill through many parts of the country, former Nationals MP Andrew Gee on Monday introduced a private member’s bill that would require businesses to offer cash as a form of payment.

Cash use has collapsed over the past 20 years, with the COVID pandemic accelerating the process. In 2007, about 70 per cent of all transactions were made with cash, but this has now fallen to 13 per cent.

This drop has affected the cash movement business. After being approved to merge with rival Prosegur in mid-2023, Armaguard has warned its cash transportation business is unsustainable.

Banks and large retailers have been given until October by the competition watchdog to find a way to ensure the continued movement of cash around the country.

Gee said older Australians, people in rural areas and shoppers who valued their privacy were unhappy about the disappearance of cash, which had also led many retailers to introduce surcharges on non-cash payments.

He said that even though cash use had collapsed, that did not mean businesses should be entitled to stop taking Australia’s famous notes as legal tender. Australia was the first nation to introduce polymer banknotes, and they are often referred to by colloquial names because of their bright colours – a $5 note is a prawn or pink lady, $10 a blue swimmer, $20 a lobster and $50 a pineapple.

Gee said: “I don’t think it is too late because many Australians, particularly senior Australians, who are the heaviest users of cash, still want the freedom to use it, and why shouldn’t they have that freedom?

“And I think while … we have Australians out there who have concerns about using card and online banking, then we should give them the option of cash, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

Under his proposal, which was supported by fellow independents including Bob Katter and Dai Le, individuals who prevented a cash payment of less than $10,000, would be fined up to $5000. Businesses would face a $25,000 fine.

Exceptions would be allowed in certain cases, including where there was a health order in place or if the use of cash would pose a “reasonable” security risk.

Le said that in her western Sydney seat of Fowler, many shoppers and retailers remained wedded to cash, in part because of mistrust of the financial system.

“It’s vital for our community in western Sydney, and in particular culturally and linguistically diverse communities because a lot of them do not trust the banking system,” she said.

While cash use is collapsing, cheques have almost disappeared from the payments system. The federal government is phasing out the cheque system by 2030. The number of personal cheques issued in Australia has fallen by 97 per cent over the past 20 years.

Gee said that while saving cash, there was scope to look at the use of cheques as well.

The Reserve Bank has found that about 94 per cent of all merchants still accept cash for payment.

Late last year, Treasurer Jim Chalmers told this masthead that authorities and major companies would have to think creatively about ensuring cash continued to be supplied across the community.

A spokesman for the treasurer said the government believed in the ongoing use of cash across the economy.

“We understand the important role cash plays in our economy and are committed to ensuring Australians have continued and reliable access to cash,” he said.

The proposal follows last month’s Senate inquiry into rural banking services, which recommended the government guarantee “reasonable access to cash and financial services” for all Australians.

Labor members of that Coalition-dominated inquiry said the cash system provided resilience to the payments system at times of natural disaster, crises and network outages.

The proposal faces an uphill battle to become law. Since Federation, more than 650 private members’ or senators’ bills have been introduced into parliament. Just 30 have become law.

The last to pass was in 2017, when Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bill on same-sex marriage changed the definition of a marriage to the union of two people to the exclusion of all others.