Finance Analysis

The good, the bad, but mostly ugly for those banking in regional Australia

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Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has been asked to address the serious plight of regional towns left without banks (Screenshot via YouTube))

Heedless bank closures continue to impoverish regional communities where many don't have online resources, can't get to another bank, or don't have people they can trust to do their banking. Dale Webster reports.

THE NEW YEAR is fast underway, so it's time to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly gifts regional Australians received on the issue of banking services in 2022.

Closures since the start of January 2022 sit at 129 branches, with the majority of those (77) either shutting their doors or being issued with closure notices since Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones released the final report of the Regional Banking Taskforce on 30 September in spectacularly sneaky circumstances at 5.52 pm on a Friday evening before a long weekend.

Jones also makes the post-Christmas wrap-up for most media inquiries ignored on the subject and wins “porky of the year”, we're reliably informed, for allowing ABC producers to believe he was actually a member of the banking task force, meanwhile knocking back yet another request for an interview on the report. (No Virginia, he wasn’t on the task force.)

It’s not all bad news for regional Australians, though. Finally – after 20 years – we have reasonably accurate government data on bank branch services after the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) fixed the hundreds of instances of misreporting by the banks that had been skewing statistics for decades.

The errors – discovered during research for regional banking exposé 'Big four banks casting a dangerous shadow' – were corrected over two editions of APRA’s authorised deposit-taking points of presence data — the first tranche in secret; the second (after we kicked up a bit of a stink) with full disclosure.

APRA’s gift to the banks involved was letting them off the hook for years’ worth of fines for breaches of the Financial Services (Collection of Data) Act 2001.

There is still much work to be done on this front, starting with getting APRA to publicly acknowledge that all corrections have been made so those who have quoted false data over the years – including journalists – can make necessary amendments to the public record.

Without this public admission, the saga is likely destined for the new federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) once it is established. If it gets to that point, ICAC will also be asked to look at APRA’s inconsistent administration of data laws in relation to face-to-face teller services being removed from branches.

Moving on through our wrap-up, Treasurer Jim Chalmers hasn’t missed out on a present this year, but disappointingly, he hasn’t thanked us for it yet.

A petition containing 5,000 signatures and asking for an immediate moratorium on regional bank closures, a new banking inquiry and the pulping of the bank-stacked Regional Banking Taskforce report has been sitting on his desk for months without a reply.

To keep busy while waiting for a response, we have also gifted Dr Chalmers more than 100 #bankstories tweets that share the forgotten voices from Regional Banking Taskforce submissions.

Hopefully, this will keep the issue fresh in his mind until Parliament resumes.

Chalmers' team at Treasury has been given two Freedom of Information requests: one for the draft of the Regional Banking Taskforce report as it stood at the change of government and another for any documents related to APRA and the correction of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank data.

Unfortunately, the team is a bit modest and keeps returning them. We will persist because we really think Treasury deserves the attention.

As Jones, Chalmers and the rest of their Federal Government colleagues made final preparations for Christmas last year, did they spare a thought for the people living in the 26 towns that have been left bereft of banks since the start of 2022?

And what of the other 21 towns left without banks in 2021? (This number includes Mortlake, Wee Waa and Smithton where ANZ customers can’t even try their luck at getting cash from the local post office.)

As the #bankstories continue to show, many people do not have the capacity or resources to bank online. Many can’t leave their towns to get to a bank and many don’t have family or friends they can trust to do their banking for them.

One submission stated:

'There is not one bank still open in our local area. How much cash will the supermarket give me? So far, I’ve only asked for $100 each fortnight because there are still transactions to be paid in cash. Now for Christmas and gift giving I need much more because after two operations this year I’m not very mobile, so cash will be for gifts.'

Lack of access to a bank or ATM adds a layer of complexity to the end of the year that our politicians don’t seem able to fathom.

This submission summed it up perfectly:

'Someone screwed up. Closing the regional banks wasn’t the way to go.'

Towns left with no banks in 2022

  • Smithton TAS Braddon
  • Peterborough SA Grey
  • Yankalilla SA Mayo
  • Mannum SA Barker
  • Tailem Bend SA Barker
  • Kapunda SA Barker
  • Morawa WA Durack
  • Jerramungup WA O'Connor
  • Tannum Sands QLD Flynn
  • Umina Beach NSW Robertson
  • Woodend VIC Bendigo
  • Junee NSW Riverina
  • Toormina NSW Cowper
  • Mooroopna VIC Nicholls
  • Berry NSW Gilmore
  • Tocumwal NSW Farrer
  • Esk QLD Blair
  • Tin Can Bay QLD Wide Bay
  • Dysart QLD Capricornia
  • Bombala NSW Eden-Monaro
  • Holbrook NSW Farrer
  • Leura NSW Macquarie
  • Tom Price WA Durack
  • Wongan Hills WA Durack
  • Coober Pedy SA Grey
  • Carnamah WA Durack

Dale Webster is an inaugural recipient of a Walkley Foundation Grant for Freelance Journalism on Regional Australia. She publishes independently through her own title, 'The Regional'. You can follow Dale on Twitter @TheRegional_au.

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