Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (09:42): I’d like to thank Senator Matt Canavan very much for his perseverance in getting the Senate’s Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee to do a year-long study into the closure of regional and rural banks. We’ve been particularly hard hit in South Australia and in the electorate of Grey. In fact, in South Australia, at the peak, we had 228 rural and regional banks, and we’re now down to 67—a fall of 71 per cent. In the last five or six years alone, I think I’ve lost 25 banks out of the electorate of Grey, and, of course, these closures cause a lot of difficulty in individual communities when they occur. Largely, they learn to adapt, and I understand that now so much of the world of banking is done on these things that sit in our pockets. But, having said that, there is always a percentage of the population that won’t easily adapt and a number of businesses that are highly inconvenienced.
Now, often it depends on how far away you are from the next community. At the moment, we’re dealing with two bank closures in Grey. One is in Coober Pedy. You could not get much more isolated than Coober Pedy, let me tell you. It’s around 800 kilometres from Adelaide, 500 kilometres from Port Augusta and a similar distance from Alice Springs. The Westpac bank in Coober Pedy announced it would close, and it closed about two weeks ago. Given that the major banks, CBA and Westpac, have announced the decision to halt major regional bank closures, for the extent of this inquiry, I have written to Westpac and asked them to reopen that branch—it’s only been shut about two weeks—and supported the Coober Pedy council in that endeavour. Coober Pedy has a large immigrant and elderly population—people who are not well adapted to the cashless economy, if you like. For banks that are making profits of around $5 billion-plus per year, I think they can keep a branch like Coober Pedy open.
I’ve been recently informed that NAB are closing their Roxby Downs branch. Roxby Downs is a young and vibrant community of about 4½ thousand people or thereabouts. It’s the only bank in town—and, sure, the population there is more adapted to electronic banking, but this closure still will create enormous difficulties there. When I spoke to NAB, they told me they were closing the bank. They are pausing closures around Australia—but not Roxby Downs. They informed me that the reason they’re closing Roxby Downs is that they can’t staff it. A lot of businesses can’t staff their business at the moment, and we’ve managed to keep the doors open one way or another.
So I’m calling on both those major banks to dig into those major profits and find a way to keep those branches open at least until this inquiry is concluded.