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Would a cashless country leave some Aussies at a disadvantage?

Hand of woman paying with contactless credit card with NFC technology in shop, cashless paying for shopping or products concept (Hand of woman paying with contactless credit card with NFC technology in shop, cashless paying for shopping or products co
Are cashless societies discriminatory? Source: Getty

Sweden has announced plans to cut out cash payments completely, with just 13 per cent of payments in the country made using coins or notes, but human rights experts warn going cashless is stripping you of your rights.

Instead, Swedes are using debit cards or a mobile payment app called ‘Swish’, with four out of five purchases made electronically.

But Sweden has warned the cashless society is “no utopia”.

“For hundreds of years, the public has been offered central bank notes and coins,” the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Sweden, Cecilia Skingsley said in a piece for the World Economic Forum last year.

“If cash stops working, it would leave all individuals to rely on the private sector alone to get access to money and payment methods.”

Is Australia headed for a cashless economy?


Australia might be headed in the same direction, with a 2016 Reserve Bank of Australia survey revealing over half of all payments made during that year were done with cards, compared to just 37 per cent using cash.

In 2017, UNSW Business School’s professor of economics, Richard Holden, predicted by 2020 cash would be a thing of the past if the government retired the $100 and $50 bill by 2018 and 2019 respectively.

But that hasn’t happened.

Is going cashless discriminatory?

But regardless of whether we could be a cashless society, should we be one? Isn’t it discriminatory?

The US seems to think so.

In February this year, New York introduced legislation that would prohibit retail establishments from refusing to accept payments in cash.

While the council hasn’t made a decision on the bill yet, if it did pass, which councilmembers are sure it will, businesses could face US$500 (AU$725) fines for every violation.

Their argument?

A cashless business discriminates against low-income people, and often they are people of colour and undocumented immigrants, Citylab reported.

In New York, the majority of the 12 per cent of unbanked and 25 per cent of underbanked residents are people of colour, which means businesses that close off services to unbanked people could be racially discriminating.

Philadelphia and New Jersey also have legislation in place to stop businesses refusing cash payments, and there are similar proposals in Washington D.C.

“It seems unfair to me that I can walk into Sweetgreen, get a salad, but the person behind me that has the monetary unit the United States of America has used for centuries can’t get that same product,” Philadelphia City Councilman, Bill Greenlee, told NBC News.

The rise of cashless welfare in Australia

While Australia is yet to make any plans to go cashless despite the declining trend in using cash, the Federal Government implemented the cashless welfare card in 2016, extending it across more regions in 2017 and 2018.

But, the Human Rights Legal Centre thinks the CDCs are inconsistent with human rights.

“The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (the Committee) has repeatedly raised concerns that both compulsory CDC and income management unjustifiably limit rights to social security, private and family life, equality and nondiscrimination,” their Submission said.

“The Committee has noted, in relation to income management, that there may be some benefits for those who choose to have payments quarantined, however the measure has ‘limited effectiveness’ for most people compelled onto it.”

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