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  • Rikki Lambert

CBA halts Junee, Bright bank closures in response to new inquiry

A new senate inquiry into regional bank branch closures wrote to major Australian banks asking them to halt imminent bank branch closures and in at least one case, it worked.

Maverick Queensland LNP senator moved last week in the Senate to task the Senate's Rural and Regional Affairs references committee to look into imminent closures despite the ink still being wet on the Coalition's own Regional Banking Taskforce recommendations.

One of the Taskforce recommendations was to require banks by mid-2023 to conduct impact assessments prior closing branches.

An advocate for the Taskforce and critic of banks closing branches in Robinvale in her electorate, Anne Webster told Flow on Friday that she was unapologetic if she sounded cynical that banks seemed to be closing branches before the new obligations kick in:

"Call me cynical ... I think it is an appalling series of actions that the big 4 banks have taken to leave their regional customers high and dry."

Mrs Webster called on the big four banks to impose a moratorium on further closures.

Hear the full interview with Nationals member for Mallee Anne Webster on the Flow podcast player below:

South Australian secretary of the Financial Services Union Jason Hall told Flow on Thursday:

"During the height of COVID there was a moratorium on branch closures, so the banks can do it. These are organisations that make billions of dollars of profit, so putting back some of their decisions by 12 months I'm sure is not going to hurt them until we work out the best way to deal with branch closures."

On Wednesday morning the CBA announced a 9 per cent increase in their profits to $5.15 billion.

The NSW Nationals MP for Riverina has criticised the Commonwealth Bank in parliament for its proposed closure of their Junee branch in his electorate. On Tuesday Michael McCormack told parliament's Federation Chamber in Canberra:

"I'll give credit where credit's due. I received a letter yesterday from the regional general manager of the customer service network at the Commonwealth Bank, Norm Swift. He wrote to me advising that following consideration of a request, from the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, for them to pause regional branch closures until the end of 2023 they have agreed to do so. This includes postponement of the current closure at Junee.
"...well done to CBA for postponing this closure. I hope that 'postponing' isn't the word; 'cancelling' should be the word. They absolutely need to give that permanency to Junee and they need to make a commitment to regional Australia. They've done very, very well out of regional Australia, particularly out of Junee."

A Commonwealth bank spokesperson told Flow on Wednesday morning:

"Following consideration of a request from the Senate Committee, CBA will not close any regional branches while the Inquiry is underway in 2023.
"As an additional sign of good faith, while the Inquiry is underway in 2023, CBA will postpone the closure of two branches already announced.
"We continue to welcome constructive engagement with government, industry and communities – an approach demonstrated by our recent work with all members of the Regional Banking Taskforce. CBA looks forward to assisting the Inquiry, and continuing to engage with our customers and communities, as we collectively respond to the digitisation of the economy and banking services."

The FSU's Jason Hall told Flow his union welcomed the new inquiry, feeling excluded from being heard by the Coalition's taskforce:

"Hopefully this one as opposed to the Taskforce will have a bit more teeth and look at the true impacts to those local communities."

The NAB, ANZ and Westpac - and the peak banking body, the Australian Banking Association - have all been approached for comment on the new inquiry and whether the banks will following the CBA's self-imposed moratorium in accordance with the inquiry's request.


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