North West communities that have lost their bank are in the spotlight as part of a recently established Senate inquiry into regional bank closures.

Chair of the committee, Senator Matthew Canavan was joined in Moree by Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton as part of a national tour he is conducting to speak with communities that are being impacted by bank closures across regional Australia. 

The inquiry was established following 92 bank branches across the country being closed or slated for closure since September, and the committee called on all banks to halt branch closures until the completion of the inquiry as a sign of good faith. 

“We’ve seen a reprieve for some communities that were faced with losing their banks, but Moree is one that will still sadly be closing,” Mr Canavan said.

“We need to be finding solutions that enable the ongoing ability for these communities to access banking services without the undue need to travel multiple hours, especially when businesses and community groups need to have access to bank cash.

“All four of the big banks have signed up to support the referendum on The Voice but we’re seeing them close branches in communities with a high proportion of Indigenous people. If they really wanted to make sure they were having a positive impact they would be working with these communities to ensure they don’t lose an essential service, and that’s what we’re wanting to achieve with this inquiry.”

Mr Coulton has urged banks to focus on finding solutions rather than pulling the plug on regional branches.

He is supporting the appeal of the Senate Committee to halt further closures until councils, businesses and affected customers can submit their concerns to the inquiry.

“Banking is not just about commerce in regional communities but provides an essential service to the most vulnerable in the community,” Mr Coulton said.

“The closure of branches in Wee Waa, Gunnedah, Gilgandra and now Moree has put undue strain on these communities. 

“The closure of Westpac and ANZ in Moree is particularly disappointing given the high proportion of Aboriginal people who live here,” Mr Coulton said.

“If these banks were serious about fulfilling the aims of their Reconciliation Action Plans they would not be withdrawing their services from places like Moree.

“These decisions will disadvantage the elderly, people with disability and Aboriginal people who require access to in-person banking because they lack digital literacy or have no means to access the appropriate technologies required for online or telephone banking. 

“This may lead to more people being vulnerable to online banking scams; and I am equally concerned about the personal safety of people who may feel forced to take out and carry around larger amounts of cash.”

Mr Coulton said the importance of face-to-face banking for the most vulnerable members of the community cannot be underestimated.

“While I am pleased that Westpac has halted closures in other areas, I find the closure of its Moree branch to be especially short-sighted,” he said.

“Moree is an agricultural powerhouse at the intersection of major infrastructure projects like the Inland Rail and the Special Activation Precinct (SAP). 

“So what this signals to other regional centres is that banks do not believe in the future of inland Australia. Their actions speak louder than words.

“While closures are typically a commercial decision, as a general principle, banks should also look at the services they provide to country towns as part of their social licence, and take into account loyalty shown by customers over many decades. 

“The Moree Westpac branch opened in 1876, and there are families in Moree who have been customers since its beginning almost 150 years ago; if that’s not loyalty I don’t know what is.”

Bank branch closures across the North West have also drawn criticism from state MPs, civic leaders and local business chambers.

Submissions to the Senate inquiry close on March 31 and can be made by any member of the public. 

The inquiry is expected to report back to the Senate by December 1.

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