Regional Australians angry over continued bank closures have a chance to have their voice heard in Federal Parliament.
It comes as the number of regional Big Four banks looks set to slip below 1,000 by the end of the year — a reduction of nearly two-thirds of their network since 1975.
Since the start of 2021, the Big Four banks have closed 180 regional branches, with this number including two National Australia Banks that have been downgraded to a point where they no longer meet the legislated definition of a bank branch.
There have also been 38 minor banks closed over that period, bringing the total number of banks lost in regional Australia since the start of 2021 to 218.
It’s time for the Federal Government to have a good look at bank behaviour.
The issue of regional bank closures has not been put under bipartisan scrutiny for 17 years, with the Coalition-led "Regional Banking Taskforce" – which was set up in the lead-up to the election and has delivered no findings – having the potential to do more harm than good.
The task force has only two now-Opposition MPs on it and is stacked with bank representatives who have been given the job in the terms of reference to come up with alternatives to branch banking.
One of the (many) unusual things about this task force is that history has shown that banks have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the witness box in previous inquiries, but they are now running the show.
Worryingly, the last time the Federal Government listened to banks and endorsed the alternative service models they suggested, regional Australia lost 200 branches virtually overnight when Westpac introduced "in-store" agencies and ANZ "local links".
In just a matter of years, these were also gone.
Despite this, when Australia’s new Treasurer Jim Chalmers (voted in by electors who wanted political change in May) was presented with an “open letter” detailing regional Australia’s banking plight in July, he responded by firmly hand-balling the issue back to two Opposition politicians whose Shadow portfolios have nothing to do with treasury, finance, business or regional Australia.
Message received, Dr Chalmers.
When this petition is closed, the relevant minister will be required to respond.
Let’s hope there will be enough signatures on it to encourage the Government to re-think its position on this important issue.
The petition can be found at: https://www.aph.gov.au/e-petitions/petition/EN4244.
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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