THE federal government is pushing ahead with plans to ban cash transactions over $10,000, with a two-week period to comment on draft legislation ending today.
The government says the "economy-wide cash payment limit" is needed to "tackle tax evasion and other criminal activities" but opponents describe it as an Orwellian attack on the right to privacy.
Stephen Bowskill, the reader who alerted the Newcastle Herald to the draft legislation said the government was pushing through a substantial change very quietly, and with virtually no media coverage.
"We are on the way to a cashless society where every thing you do, buy or sell will be recorded," Mr Bowskill said.
"It's a $10,000 limit now, but who says it will stop there. You might think I'm being alarmist, but I don't.
"Look at the government's consultation paper. Plenty about tax and money laundering, but not a single mention of the word 'privacy', anywhere."
The proposed new legislation - known as the Currency (Restrictions on the Use of Cash) Bill 2019 - is available on the Treasury web page.
Treasury says the cash limit had been recommended by a Black Economy Taskforce set up in 2016. The ban was to have started from July 1 but had been put back to January 1, 2020.
The new laws would also end mean that many "entities" reporting to the anti-laundering organisation AUSTRAC would no longer need to do so, with these changes starting in 2021.
"Instead they will be subject to the cash payment limit like all other businesses in the economy," Treasury says.
The bill includes some exemptions, including for "personal or private transactions", but otherwise all transactions of must be made electronically or by cheque.
Treasury describes the exemptions as: "All cash deposits and withdrawals from your bank account with an authorised deposit-taking institution (ADI), exchanging foreign currency and all consumer-to-consumer transactions such as selling a second-hand car but excluding real property transactions."
The proposed penalty for exceeding the $10,000 limit on business transactions is two years' jail and/or a $25,200 fine.
The same penalties apply to "cash donations", and to "payment plans" where the total is "split into a series of payments".
Another critic, Institute of Public Affairs adjunct fellow Matthew Lesh said chasing tax cheats and criminals were "genuine goals" but there was "nothing inherently immoral or harmful about cash".
He said the ban would have little impact on serious crime while setting a "creepy precedent" giving governments major new ways to track the habits of citizens.
IPA research fellow Kurt Wallace added that the ban was "a disproportionate and ineffective way of tackling the black economy".
"Law abiding citizens will have their freedom diminished while those acting illegally will continue to trade in cash," Mr Wallace said.
"Restrictions on cash undermines our right to privacy by creating a digital trace of all of our transactions.
"The ability of the government or a non-trusted third party to know the details of every purchase we make is a major privacy concern.
"Inhibiting the use of cash reduces the competition for deposits in the banking sector by forcing people to hold their money at the banks even when they are offering record low interest payments.
"The ability to operate in cash places an important competitive restriction on commercial banks and limits the ability of central banks to engage in destructive monetary policy experiments."
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