Senate debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Statements by Senators

Regional Australia: Banking and Financial Services

1:53 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is an issue of national concern that the major banks are abandoning communities across Australia at an accelerating rate, announcing the closure of 72 branches in regional communities in the last six weeks. Branch closures strangle communities economically, socially and mentally.

One of those closures is Westpac's branch in Coober Pedy—the last bank in town. Westpac is closing in February 2023. This is a major blow to the local economy, which is based on opals and tourism, and is heavily dependent on the Westpac branch for cash. There is no alternative to cash in regional Australia, especially in remote towns like Coober Pedy. The next closest bank is in Port Augusta, 540 kilometre away.

Westpac is telling local businesses that require cash withdrawals to use Bank@Post at the local licensed post office. The problem with this is that it is not equipped to handle large volumes of cash. It doesn't have the same security, and the bank's restrictions on cash withdrawals through Bank@Post are restricted to local commerce. Westpac didn't even inform the post office directly that it's leaving.

Westpac and the other banks enjoy enormous public financial support. They should repay that support by maintaining banking services in regional communities. It's bad enough that maternity wards and many other essential services have been closing in regional Australia. Now regional towns are losing their banking services. This is why we need a government owned postal bank to provide banking and insurance services to regional centres and small businesses. A postal bank could act as a bulwark against the cartel-like behaviour of the big banks.