News National Garry Linnell: All credit card, no sense, if you support this government cash crackdown

Garry Linnell: All credit card, no sense, if you support this government cash crackdown

Garry Linnell says you're mistaken if you think the $50 off a tradie bill is all you'll lose with the cash ban. Photo: AAP/ TND
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They were wearing dark clothes and sunglasses when they walked into our home with a canvas bag containing more than $15,000 in cash.

It was time to make the deal.

We tried some small talk, but their English was terrible and they didn’t like to make eye contact.

International university students, we figured, with a rich daddy back home paying the bills.

So we sat with them at the dining table in silence.

Good thing, too. Hard enough counting hundreds of crisp bank notes without being distracted by meaningless conversation.

It took more than half an hour and a couple of recounts. But the money was right.

We shook hands and took them into the garage. Within minutes they were gone.

We were cashed up and they had themselves a decent second-hand car.

Got a problem with that?

Our government does. It wants to pass legislation banning cash transactions of more than $10,000, with penalties including two-year jail sentences and fines of $25,000 for a first offence.

The proposed law, which at this stage is being opposed by the cross-bench but crucially supported by Labor, is the culmination of a lengthy taskforce investigation into Australia’s estimated $50 billion black economy.

It also happens to be a breathtaking intrusion into our privacy, our civil liberties and our right to do what we like with our money.

Of course, if you happen to be a part of that wonderfully compliant majority of Australians, then you have already swallowed the argument put forward by supporters of this crackdown.

In case you haven’t heard it or are one of those rare people who have never had a tradie cut his fee for a cash payment, undisclosed cash transactions are robbing ordinary Australians of a “fair go”.

Those who are not paying their share of tax are undermining the collection of the GST.

As a result, government services ranging from assistance payments to road repairs are severely affected.

Now that is a sound and reasonable argument, although it does ignore a fair amount of evidence that much of the cash from this shadow world eventually trickles back into the regular economy.

And if you think your tradesman shaving $50 off his bill if you pay him cash is costing this country billions, you’re sadly mistaken.

Most are too busy drowning in a sea of paperwork and red tape and trying to collect overdue payments – often from much larger companies that consistently refuse to pay their bills until the last possible moment.

But who doesn’t hate a tax cheat when most of us have spent our working lives handing over unreasonably high levels of our income to provide the facilities demanded by an advanced western society?

Tradies often knock off a bit from the total price if you pay in cash. The days of that deal could soon be over. Photo: Getty

The justification for this proposed legislation falls apart when you consider the sheer hypocrisy at play.

This is a country where an endless number of multinational corporations continually fleece billions of dollars from the economy – money that might have added another wing to your local hospital or fixed that dangerous pothole at the end of your street.

But reforming our outdated and unfair tax system, or even clamping down on the intricate tax avoidance and minimisation schemes of Google, Facebook and that ever-growing gang of white collar thieves, is far too hard for the small-change politicians who run this country.

If they promised to trace the trillions of dollars being digitally funnelled into countless shell companies around the world by cyber criminals, instead of treating all of us with the same suspicion reserved for drug czars and dope-running bikie gangs, then perhaps we might excuse this latest intrusion into our private lives.

But why attempt such a big and daunting task when you can simply apply an absurd and petty cap of $10,000 on all cash transactions in this country and give the banks another free kick?

Last week the Queen of the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, Pauline Hanson, said she was opposed to such “unbelievable and controlling legislation”.

This is one of those rare moments when she is right.

The Army of the Compliant support the government’s proposed crackdown on paying cash by arguing that fewer and fewer Australians are using cash.

No one can dispute that.

According to the Reserve Bank, cash payments in this country decreased by almost half in the decade to 2016 and that rate has only quickened in the past four years.

We live in a tap-and-go society, where most of us pay our bills with a wave of our mobile phones.

I can’t remember the time I carried more than $50 in my wallet.

Might have been that evening five years ago when we sold that car we no longer wanted.

But that is beside the point. This is a country where cash – your hard-earned cash – remains legal tender.

I have an 80-year-old relative who refuses to have a credit or debit card.

He only ever uses cash, which he withdraws on his fortnightly visit to the bank. He has never transferred money online – never will – and he likes it that way.

So while paper money continues to circulate, the notion of restricting a law-abiding individual’s right to choose how they use it is nothing short of appalling.

Might be time to update our national anthem.

Australia is certainly no longer young.

And for all our toil, we are no longer going to be free to choose how to spend our wealth.

Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine

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