A new Senate inquiry will examine the extent of bank closures in regional Australia and their impact on communities like Gunnedah.

The inquiry follows the recent announcement by ANZ that will close its Gunnedah branch in May, citing customers’ changing banking methods as reason for the closure.

“Customers are changing the way they choose to bank, with 90 per cent of Gunnedah customers preferring alternative banking methods such as online and mobile banking,” ANZ district manager Glenn Schofield said.

Gunnedah customers were outraged by the bank’s decision to close the local branch. Some long-time, loyal clients vowed to take their patronage to a rival bank which did have a branch presence in town.

The Senate inquiry’s terms of reference include 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, including the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s authorised deposit-taking institutions points of presence data; and consideration of solutions. 

The inquiry is being hosted by the Senate Standing Committees on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. The committee is chaired by Western Australian Labor senator Glenn Sterle but its membership also includes vocal Nationals senator Matthew Canavan, from central Queensland.

The ANZ Gunnedah branch is scheduled to close on May 16 but customers would still have access to “relationship bankers”. ANZ customers in Gunnedah seeking face-to-face bank services were instructed to visit the Tamworth branch.

Gunnedah Shire Council mayor Jamie Chaffey described the bank’s abandonment of the community as a clear case of “a business putting profits before people”.

“The ANZ Bank has been part of the fabric of Gunnedah since the 1950s – much longer if you count the time before their merger with the English, Scottish and Australia Bank. They have been in the same building at the intersection of Conadilly and Marquis Streets for more than 50 years,” he said. “There are community members here who have been loyal customers to the bank since the branch opened. They continue to do their banking there, alongside local businesses who can’t do all of their banking online. How much profit has our shire contributed to the bank over those years?”

In recent years around the region, NAB branches have also closed in the townships of Uralla, Guyra and Bingara, among other places.

Federal Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, also took aim at branch closures during a speech to parliament earlier this month.

“Westpac closed down one of its oldest and most respected branches in Moree, the home of the most productive agricultural shire in Australia,” he said.

“They closed down this branch where three of its 10 first customers in 1878 are continuous. Families have been there for 150 or 160 years.”

He said it was absurd the banks did not consider a community like Moree “on the verge of a boom” with the Inland Rail and special activation precinct, warranted the presence of a bank branch.

The Finance Sector Union (FSU) slammed the previous Australian government for not acting strongly enough during its 2021 investigation of the issue, accusing the Coalition of siding with the banking sector.

“The Coalition’s taskforce was a complete waste of time and money and was dominated and run by the banks,” FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said.

“We had this farcical situation where the banks were overseeing an inquiry into themselves and consequently a range of important voices, including the FSU, were excluded from that process. This cannot happen again if this inquiry is to have any substance and impact.

“We know that regional communities are doing it tough without access to banking services. The FSU will also encourage the committee to examine the impact branch closures have on the workers who have lost their jobs.”

Public submissions for the Senate bank inquiry close on March 31.

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