THE first hearing session as part of the Senate Inquiry into Regional and Rural bank closures will be held in Sale, Victoria on 2 March.
The Australian Senate on 8 February referred the matter to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee for inquiry, requesting a report by 1 December.
The inquiry will examine the current extent of bank closures in regional and rural Australia and the impact this is having on people in the regions, with particular reference to:
- The branch closure process, including the reasons given for closures
- The economic and welfare impacts of bank closures on customers and regional communities
- The effect of bank closures or the removal of face-to-face cash services on access to cash
- The effectiveness of government banking statistics capturing and reporting regional service levels, and
- Consideration of solutions.
Submissions close on 31 March.
The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee will be requesting that both Westpac and the National Australia Bank appear at the public hearing in Sale.
The committee also noted that some of the recommendations of the earlier Regional Banking Taskforce are not set to be implemented until the second half of this year.
“Closures of regional banks prior to these recommendations coming into effect would not be an example of good faith by the banking sector,” the committee said in a statement.
Rural and Regional Affairs committee chair, Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said all he was asking was that the banks listen to the voices of the community before they withdrew essential services.
“The Commonwealth Bank has already done the right thing and deferred closures while communities have their say to the Senate inquiry. The other banks should do the same,” he said.
Westpac announced last week that it would close its branch in Sale on 19 May. The National Australia Bank has already closed a branch in the nearby town of Maffra.
In Parliament last week, Sen Darren Chester said when a bank branch closes in a regional location, the impacts spread throughout the community.
“The customers who are required to travel distances to access their bank will incur additional cost-of-living increases with petrol. Closing branches is a lazy option and the banks should work with us to develop solutions that work for small businesses and the more vulnerable members of our community,” he said.
“I welcome the Senate committee in Sale where they will hear firsthand how both Westpac’s closure in Sale and National Australia Bank’s closure in Maffra will affect our community.”
This Sale hearing is the first of a series planned to help highlight the concerns of these towns impacted communities that have lost or are soon to lose their last remaining bank branch. No other hearing dates beyond the Sale fixture have yet been posted on the Rural and Regional Affairs committee web page.
Senator Gerard Rennick said when taxpayers were essentially underwriting bank’s profits because they’re considered too big to fail, banks in turn have a social licence to maintain essential banking services for customers.
“Considering much of Australia’s wealth comes from the regions, whose role is it to provide essential services to those rural and regional communities?” he said.
“There needs to be at least one bank in town and whether that is a government-backed bank is something to be discussed.”
Submissions to the inquiry are open until 31 March. Further information, including how to make a submission, can be found here.
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