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    Member for Lowan Emma Kealy.

Banking decision challenged

Banking-service viability in regional areas continues to generate debate with a municipal leader standing firm on calls for the State Government to maintain bank accounts in country branches.

Member for Lowan Emma Kealy wants the government to reverse a decision to remove its banking from regional communities.

Ms Kealy reinforced her position on the move, which involves a purchasing contract that means all state-owned organisations such as schools, hospitals and water boards must transfer their money into one of three main banks – the Commonwealth, Westpac or NAB.

She said this would come at the expense of regional banking, specifically Bendigo Community Bank branches, which supported communities across western Victoria.

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“There are a number of community banks across Lowan, which provide vital support for many local projects, that will be significantly impacted by Labor’s decision,” she said.

“Many of our local schools and hospitals have large accounts with their local community bank.

“This decision comes at a time we are seeing the big banks close branches in many of our towns and this directive from the government is yet another centralised decision.

“Local banking is good for country communities, providing a vital service and supporting secure local jobs.”

Ms Kealy said Lowan residents could have their say about the decision to remove banking from regional communities via the Federal Government’s Regional Banking Taskforce. 

A taskforce forum at Red Cliffs in the Mallee last week involved Member for Mallee Anne Webster.

Senator Perin Davey also attended and will be leading the taskforce alongside assistant treasurer Michael Sukkar.

Dr Webster said she had wanted Senator Davey to ‘come to Mallee to hear from Mallee residents about how bank closures have affected their towns’.

“Regional banking is at a crisis point. We need to be looking at how we remedy the situation,” she said. 

“It’s not good enough to sit aside and go ‘oh well it’s a banking decision’. Because they don’t think they are going to make money locally,” she said. 

Finding solutions

Dr Webster said some who attended the forum were angry and disappointed. 

She said some of the big banks were lacking transparency with their customers regarding bank closures.

“They have not communicated with their branch members formally why they have closed,” she said.

“I find that behaviour appalling. It’s not respectful. They need to be able to provide the reasons for their closure.”

Dr Webster said the forum had raised a variety of solutions in dealing with regional banking issues. 

She said she raised one potential solution, where agencies such as newsagents or grocery stores that took on district banking transactions be compensated rather than charged for the service.

Dr Webster said a newsagent at the forum had provided an example.

“When people came into her store, they used tap-and-go because there was nowhere to get cash out,” Dr Webster said. 

“That is a critical issue. The newsagent is paying about $1000 a month in fees to the bank. I think the banks should be paying her.”

Dr Webster said elderly Mallee residents were uncomfortable using online banking.

“I have 72 towns in Mallee with populations of more than 200 people and many of those towns don’t have banks,” she said.

“A lot of young people are happy to do digital banking, but listening to some of our older residents at the forum they don’t want to go online.

“The big banks are moving to digitisation of banking and the truth is older residents are not competent in digital banking – we need to watch out for them.” 

Dr Webster said she was uncertain if there was any way to attract the ‘big’ banks to the region.

“I do think a diversification of banking methods could be done in a regional centre,” she said.

“But the banks are thinking about their bottom line. 

“We need to consider legislation, so they don’t abandon some of the trickier banking procedures, such as loans or changing accounts – all those things you can’t just go into Australia Post and do. And it is difficult to do on the phone.”

The entire January 19, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!