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Australia going cashless, observers fear authoritarian excesses
By 2022, Australia could very well become a cashless nation. No more coins, no more banknotes, electronic payments will become the norm and laws could even come to make sure that cash is being thrown to the dustbin of history… but this might come at a disastrous price; surveillance, privacy violation, discriminations might also become the norm.

"Like the change to decimal currency 50 years ago, the move to a cashless society will be a fundamental shift in the way Australia's payment system operates" recently declared Assistant Minister to the treasurer Alex Hawke in an opinion for Fairfax Media; "Australia is well on the way to becoming a cashless society", he added.

The tone is set and it now seems difficult for Australia to go in any other direction. From 2007 to 2013, cash dropped from 70 per cent to 47 per cent of transactions, the demand for coins has dropped 25 per cent. The five cent coin is already on its way to be scrapped. However, the demand for banknotes is still growing.

So why going cash-free against the people's will? Going cashless offers a full traceability of how money is used, where it goes, for what purpose, etc. It is also a great attack on Aussies' privacy rights. The slow transition is coming from the Government but not only. Electronic payment companies have been working on that goal along with banks to put pressure on the retail industry to go cashless as soon as possible.

Garry Duursma, the head of Market Development and Innovation for MasterCard, delivered a clear message to retailers in Australia: "As Australia marches towards a cashless future, the retail industry has increasingly sought to remove barriers to cashless transactions," he said.

"To remain relevant and competitive, it is essential for retailers of all sizes - indeed, any customer-driven business - to facilitate cashless transactions." Today not only the retailers are pushed to facilitate the transition but some are already thinking about not accepting any form of cash payment.

When cash is considered to be the black sheep of the economy, the equation is simple; Retailers are being told that unless they provide cashless options their profits will suffer.

Consumers are being told that unless they go cashless they will be seen as suspicious. It is easy to see how the reality of a cashless society is being determined by profit and respectability, with both playing into the other, to create an inevitable outcome: a cash-free Australia.

The public seems to be either not aware of the transition or just feel like nothing can be done to go against it. Almost everyone is now climbing on the bandwagon of these developments in order to maintain access to employment opportunities, goods and services.

A year-long trial is now being experienced in Ceduna, South Australia. A cashless welfare credit card was introduced. Under the scheme, 80 per cent of benefits are quarantined, with only veterans and aged pensioners excluded from the trial. The debit card couldn't be used for alcohol nor gambling.

The trial offers services like counseling, financial advice and programs dealing with alcoholism and such. But four months in the trial, the program is already perceived by the public like a major attack on their privacy and their consuming habits.

People are feeling stigmatized by the card says Adjunct Professor Eva Cox, from the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Leaning at Sydney's University of Technology. She doubts that the card is making improvements in the city: "we need the services. We need the jobs. We need the rehabilitation. We need those things. They're the things that are going to make a difference" she said. (1) "Maybe we need the services, not the card" she added.

According to her, many people did not realize the card was not restricted to people with alcohol issues but was for every recipient on welfare payments, including carers and people on the disability support pension. "They're all stuck with the fact they now have very limited access to cash, and it does actually interfere with their capacity to control their own finances," she said. "This is a really offensive thing for people who often feel very stigmatized already".

For many, the Ceduna card is just a preview of what will soon be generalised when Australia goes cash-less."They're going to be further stigmatised by the fact that they have to turn up with this card that shows everybody every time they go spending, that they're on welfare."

The Ceduna example could soon spread across Australia. It tells us that a cash-free society, even at a small scale, in countryside areas, with limited access to education, jobs, health could very well become a disaster.

As many stores start to be cashless friendly, it seems that in major cities the transition is ready to happen. However, the poorest population could suffer greatly from the disappearance of cash. People who don't have access to electronic payment methods would be marginalised. It would create even greater class difference in Australia which has been trying to fight these differences for the past 30 years.

How much longer before Aussies realise that scraping cash represents a greater threat than a benefit to them? With less privacy and greater inequalities that would bring back the country to its past rather than looking at the future.

(1) Changes seen in Ceduna four months into cashless welfare card, Mayor says, ABC News Australia, August 2nd 2016. 

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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