‘Bloody-minded’ banks under pressure to halt closures


Major banks have been labelled bloody-minded and lazy for shutting regional branches as a Senate committee ramps up pressure to halt closures for the rest of the year.

A parliamentary inquiry into why banks are increasingly shutting shop in regional towns has been launched after the closure of almost 100 branches since September.

Nationals senator and committee chairman Matt Canavan wrote to banks urging them to halt closures in an act of good faith to the inquiry.

The Commonwealth Bank said it would not shut any branches during the inquiry, which is due to report by December, and postponed planned closures in Junee, NSW, and Bright, Victoria.

But National Australia Bank said closures would continue during what it described as the single largest transformation in banking in Australia’s history.

NAB retail executive Krissie Jones said 93 per cent of transactions occurred online and reshaping the branch network required difficult decisions, including closures.

“We will be continuing our branch reshaping process during the committee’s deliberations in 2023, which will include closures, consolidations and new investments to meet our customers’ needs,” Ms Jones said in a statement.

Westpac will shut 20 regional and suburban branches across Queensland, Victoria, NSW and South Australia but has not said whether it will pause further closures.

A spokesman for ANZ said it was considering the inquiry’s terms of reference.

During a press conference with eight other Nationals MPs and senators on Wednesday, Senator Canavan again urged the banks to halt closures.

“I welcome the news that the Commonwealth Bank has heeded that call … now the challenge is for those other banks to come up to the plate and listen to regional Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“Don’t close these branches before those people get a chance to have their voice heard.”

The inquiry follows the coalition government’s regional banking task force, which recommended the Australian Banking Association strengthen community consultation and banks introduce closure impact assessments by mid-2023.

Victorian MP Darren Chester accused banks of fast-tracking closures before that deadline, including in his electorate which is due to lose a Westpac branch in Sale.

“Enough is enough. Stop being so bloody-minded, stop being so bloody lazy and start working with regional communities on solutions that will allow face-to-face banking to continue in our communities,” he said.

Mr Chester said while banking was changing and more people were moving online, rural people continued to rely on face-to-face transactions and access to cash.

The inquiry will hold its first hearing in Sale on March 2 and accept submissions until March 31.


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