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Seniors need support as ‘cashless society’ looms

Banknotes remain legal tender, but more and more businesses are demanding payment by card or mobile app.

  • News
  • Read Time: 6 mins

National Seniors is urging Australians to make it known that they want banknotes and coins to remain in circulation.

The apparently inexorable march towards a “cashless society” has long been a concern for many Australians, especially seniors.

The issue hit the headlines again this month, with a prominent politician making a stand against being forced to pay electronically, with a credit or debit card or mobile phone app.

It started when Queensland Federal Member, Bob Katter, went to purchase a meal at a cafe inside Parliament House in Canberra.

When he tried to pay for his meal with a $50 note, he was told that the establishment only accepted cards.

Mr Katter pointed out that cash was legal tender and he was supported in this assertion by the Speaker of the House, Milton Dick.

The reality, however, is that many Australians are preferring to use cards for everyday transactions, and many businesses are refusing payment in cash.

This trend accelerated during the pandemic when more of us started shopping online and some people were reluctant to handle cash for fear of transmitting COVID-19.

At the same time, our opportunities for obtaining cash have been dwindling, with banks closing many of their branches (more than 400 in the year from June 2022-June 2023) and removing automatic teller machines (700 in the same period).

Supermarkets are also limiting the amount of cash they allow shoppers to withdraw at the checkout, and banks are phasing out personal cheque accounts, which will be gone by 2030.


National Seniors Australia chief executive officer Chris Grice said, “Seniors have been experiencing this issue for a number of years now.

“There are many seniors and others who would be greatly inconvenienced and experience hardship if cash was difficult to access or use.”

In media interviews on the issue, Mr Grice said seniors had good reasons to be wary of card-only payments.

Some people can not afford mobile phones, and others are not tech-savvy or are concerned about scams associated with electronic transactions.

He said card payments often attracted additional fees, so purchases are more expensive than with cash.

Another concern is power and internet outages which could render cashless systems inoperable.

Mr Grice said banks were phasing out personal cheque accounts, with the system due to shut down by 2030, yet many government payments are still being made by cheque. 

“There is a disconnect in the system,” he said.

The future

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) notes on its website that businesses are legally able “to specify the terms and conditions that they will supply goods and services”.

It says, “This includes whether they will accept cash payment. However, consumers must be made aware of these terms and conditions before they make a purchase.”

Royal Melbourne Insititute of Technology (RMIT) associate professor in finance, Dr Angel Zhong, told Nine News that the transition to a cashless society was already underway and could be complete by the end of the decade.

However, she said this didn’t mean that cash would cease to exist.

“It doesn't mean that there’s no banknotes at all. No one should be panicking that your banknotes will no longer carry value,” she said.

“There is always a place for cash, but the majority will be making payments with digital wallets.”

Mr Grice said the best way for Australians to support seniors during this transition was to “pay it forward” by using cash where possible.

This would keep cash flowing through the system, sending a message to government, banks, and business that it is still being used.

The aim is to help ensure online and digital transactions are offered in addition to cash payment, not instead of it.

Mr Grice said businesses should improve their customer service and support for people who are struggling to adjust, and support initiatives such as the Be Connected Program, which aims to increase the confidence, skills and online safety of older Australians in using digital technology. 

Related reading:, Nine News

Listen: Chris Grice on Radio 4BC


Brett Debritz

Brett Debritz

Communications Specialist, National Seniors Australia

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