The Regional Banking Taskforce set up late last year by the Federal Government to try and stem the loss of regional bank branches has been labelled a "stunt" by the Finance Sector Union (FSU) with only two regional visits since November.
Australia is seeing a large drain of bank branches from the regions and many bank employees, with the FSU estimating that 400 branches have closed and 3000 bank employees losing their jobs in the last two years in Australia.
The Land has obtained statistics that show that between January in 2020 and January this year, more than 30 bank branches have closed in country NSW, with nearly half of those ANZ branches. In total, 147 bank branches have closed in NSW/ACT in this period. Among towns to lose branches were Cooma, Dorrigo, Wee Waa, Albury, Ballina, Mittagong, Guyra and even the major central-west hub of Dubbo (a Westpac branch).
FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said in response to questions from The Land that she feared the banking taskforce would not change the situation of branch closures.
"The FSU estimate that 3000 jobs have been lost in the past two years and over 400 branches have been closed," Ms Angrisano said.
"The Taskforce is largely a stunt. If the taskforce had a genuine commitment to change and consultation, then its membership would include community groups that represent workers, consumers, and groups like the aged. Instead, the taskforce membership consists of just employers and this is becoming an all too familiar practice of this government.
"A good question to ask the Taskforce co-chairs is why these groups are excluded? Why is the Taskforce a business echo chamber. This isn't a wild union accusation, it's a fact. I wrote to the co-chairs requesting that taskforce membership for the FSU and the government point blank said 'No'.
"So far the Taskforce has visited Orange in NSW and Mildura in Victoria and I've heard they will soon be drafting and releasing their report.
"They've made only two visits, how can they deliver a report with any depth on the basis of two regional visits? It's an insult to regional communities everywhere."
The Regional Banking Taskforce co-chairs are the Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Housing and Minister for Homelessness Social and Community Housing, Michael Sukkar, and Senator Perin Davey. The Land has asked Senator Davey's office for a comment.
The taskforce accepted public submissions last year.
"Insights from the submissions will help the Taskforce better understand the impacts of branch closures and how Australians are accessing banking services. They will also help improve banking services and accessibility where branches have closed," the government said.
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The FSU says that if the taskforce does report back, it would like mandatory community impact assessments completed on all slated closures.
"We would like to see statutory rights given to citizens that guarantees access to banking services. One issue that I am looking forward to seeing if it is covered is the mass migration that we are seeing from the metro areas to the regions.
"A lot of people who are re-locating will require banking and financial services as will the businesses they take with them or develop. I imagine a number of these people are used to having easy access to banking and financial services. They might be in for quite a shock.
"There needs to be a better assessment of community needs before a branch is closed. The Australian Banking Association (ABA) have this long protocol on bank closures that is full of flowery inclusive language but it hasn't kept one branch slated for closure open.
"Banks like to say that customers can do their banking at the Post Office but the Post Office does not offer the full suite of banking services. Banks should be encouraged to develop shared service Hubs with other each other."
Many regional bank employees have not found work since being laid off. "We conducted a survey of regional members and the majority said that they would struggle to find new jobs in their community if their branch closed. The majority of front-line retail banking staff are women which means that the job losses due to branch closures disproportionately impacts them."
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