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Wednesday, 16 April 1980
Page: 1513

Senator MASON (New South Wales) - I wish to speak briefly on the Currency Amendment Bill. It would appear at first sight that the idea of minting gold coins in Australia is a useful means of raising revenue. I suppose there is no reason why this Bill should be opposed by the Australian Democrats. Indeed, it is not opposed although we have a distinctly lukewarm attitude towards it, largely due to its inadequacies in other directions. Among the plethora of facts which Senator Puplick gave us, one which was probably of some significance was that the world market is saturated with gold coins. Although I feel that there will be some numismatic sales overseas I doubt that the Government will make a superb killing out of them. With regard to the domestic Australian market, the point could be made that it might be better for the Government to consider taking steps that would encourage the Australian investor with money to spare to put it into a more productive area, perhaps one with employment possibilities. I am sure that the Government has heard honourable senators on this side of the chamber mention unemployment. I am sure that it is something of which the Government is not entirely unaware. For instance, the Government might finance from public funds an alternative energy corporation which would use the savings of Australians to help Australia progress in a positive way. Instead, the Government is making great virtue of producing bullion type coinage which will, in effect, siphon off a considerable amount of Australian capital and ensure that it never does any useful work for the country but will contribute to a number of private hordes of gold. Whether that is constructive economic thinking I will leave honourable senators to meditate on.

This Bill amends the Currency Act. The main objection of the Australian Democrats to the Bill is that the chance has been lost to introduce some really useful changes to the currency. I refer specifically to a matter which we raised last year because I think it is important. It attracted some attention from the media and the public. It concerns a remedy to the present very difficult situation for the many thousands of blind people in

Australia who now have no reliable way of identifying our bank notes. I have discussed this matter with the blind institutes and with blind people themselves. There is nothing like going to the people who really know. The difference in size of our notes is very small. It is not enough to give a satisfactory identification to blind people. As honourable senators can discover for themselves, the difference in size between a $ 1 note and a $2 note is quite small. The difference between even a SI note and a $20 note is not very large. I am assured by people who are blind and those working with them that these differences are not enough to identify readily the various notes. In fact, blind people are placed in a rather unpleasant position. They have to rely on the honesty of anyone with whom they come into contact and with whom they deal to be assured that they are not short changed. This, I suggest, is a deplorable omission from the Bill. It is even more deplorable as the matter was raised in the Senate nearly a year ago and received a polite approbation from the Government. I mentioned then that some countries, notably Holland and Switzerland, put special markings on their notes so that blind people can identify them by feel. I proposed this innovation some time ago.

Why do we not find in this Bill an amendment to provide for a system of decent identification on our currency notes for blind people of whom there are many thousands in this country? I would have thought that it would have been a simple matter to arrange once it had been pointed out. It has been done in Switzerland and the Netherlands. The truth seems to be that the Government is so indifferent to the just and reasonable requirements of large sections of the Australian people that it simply does not care. It is not good enough for a situation to be allowed to continue in this country in which blind people are undeniably being cheated, probably every day. They are without great money resources. They are not wealthy people; they are on pensions. They are being faced with the worrying and mortifying risk of being regularly cheated.

I ask the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and the Government whether they will introduce as soon as possible another amending Bill providing for a system which I have discussed with blind people and organisations serving the blind. It does not involve embossed dots on notes like the Dutch guilder. The suggestion from blind people themselves is that metallic stripes should be placed across the end of the notes- one stripe for a $1 note, two for a $2 note, three for a $5 note, four for a $ 10 note, five for a $20 note and six for a $50 note. This would mean that a blind person who handled notes would know what he had in his hand. I suggest that that is something which might be pursued urgently. I will be interested in the Minister's comments on that point.

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