A plan to criminalise cash payments of $10,000 or more has cleared the first hurdle of federal parliament, despite some crossbenchers arguing it will push some people into the clutches of banks against their will.
The limit is aimed at stamping out situations where businesses under-report their income and avoid tax.
Legislation introducing offences for those who make or accept cash payments of more than $10,000 passed the lower house on Thursday.
But not before crossbench MPs Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and Rebekha Sharkie aired their grievances.
Mr Wilkie said he’s been approached by a lot of people worried the bill is an attack on their fundamental right to use cash, and avoid banks when they want to.
Cash may also become more important if Australia’s interest rates eventually enter negative territory, the Tasmanian independent said.
But Mr Wilkie’s major concern is that the bill won’t deal with money laundering, suggesting the government isn’t cracking down hard enough on casinos that may be involved in money laundering.
“It’s simply not necessary,” he told the lower house on Thursday.
“It’s theatre by a government that wants to be seen to be doing something about money laundering.”
Ms Sharkie said the change could disadvantage Australians living in rural and regional towns where there isn’t a bank.
“In some communities, cash can genuinely be the only option,” she said.
Mr Katter believes the limit would prevent people from avoiding banks when they are at risk of getting ripped off and could compromise their privacy.
“If ever I’ve seen ‘Big Brother is watching’ legislation, this most certainly is it,” he told the lower house on Thursday.
But cabinet minister Sussan Ley said the measure won’t apply to personal or private transactions, other than those involving real property, and will crack down on the black market.
“It will help the playing field for honest businesses that do the right thing and remove the notion that acting in the black economy is a victimless crime,” she told parliament.
Labor is supporting the bill but has referred it to a senate committee to grapple with the community’s concerns.
“We’re right to be skeptical about the bill before the house today, the community is right to have some concerns,” Labor MP Stephen Jones said.
Centre Alliance, which has two crossbenchers in the upper house, is reserving its position on giving the change a final green light until the committee returns its report.