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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 617

Senator MASON —Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware that there is no adequate means for over 100,000 people in Australia with limited sight to distinguish the difference of denomination between Australian bank notes and that, as a result, they are forced into the demeaning position of having to rely on persons with whom they are conducting financial transactions to get the correct change? Is the Minister also aware that in countries such as Switzerland , Israel and the Netherlands bank notes are also distinguishable to the blind by raised markings on the notes and to those of limited vision by very conspicuous numbering? With your indulgence, Mr President, and for the interest of the Senate, I exhibit a Dutch bank note with its touch sensitive indications and its prominent numbering which show that it is a 25 guilder note. Is the Minister considering the long overdue redesign of Australian bank notes? If so, and in view of the previous Government's conspicuous and consistent ignoring of this issue, will he consider the introduction in Australia of similar raised markings , either embossed on the bank notes or provided by different numbers of metallic strips, to enable those with limited sight to distinguish more easily and reliably between the notes?

Senator WALSH —I understand that some 100,000 people or thereabouts are sight impaired to the point that they probably would not be able to distinguish between notes of different denominations, at least if they were the same size. Therefore, the question that Senator Mason has raised is quite important to quite a significant number of people. I have been advised by the Treasurer that the notes used by the Netherlands, among other countries to which Senator Mason referred, are satisfactory when new, but that when they have been in circulation for some time the dots tend to be erased and other distortions take place. This could even add to the confusion when they are severely worn. The present view, I understand, is that the most practical and foolproof device currently available is to have notes of different sizes for different denominations, which has been the Australian practice for some time anyway.

The United States, of course, has notes not only all the same size but also all the same colour, regardless of denomination. However, the United States Bureau of Engraving has investigated various methods of affording assistance to the blind. A recent survey in the United States of some 22 organisations concerned with the blind resulted in no group responding in favour of special tactile markings on currency to assist them and a significant proportion, I understand, opposed the use of Braille-type markings.

The Reserve Bank of Australia is not proposing to incorporate markings on Australian notes at this stage. But the bank is, of course, sympathetic to the problems of the visually impaired and, as such, will carefully monitor technical developments in this area of note differentiation. I will pass on Senator Mason' s request to the Treasurer to ensure that, when a technically feasible method of identifying with some certainty notes of varying denominations is developed, it is implemented as speedily as possible.