A senate committee has called out big banks for having a "phobia of the bush" at a Senate Inquiry into Regional Bank Closures in North Queensland.
The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee held public hearings in Cloncurry and Ingham on May 17-18, investigating the current extent of bank closures in regional Australia.
Queensland Senator Matt Canavan, who chairs the reference committee, said Westpac had announced the closure of Ingham, Cloncurry and Tully branches before backflipping on their decision when asked to attend the inquiry hearings.
"Westpac were invited to come to North Queensland to explain to the committee why they were shutting branches. Not long after we made that invitation, Westpac announced they wouldn't shut branches in North Queensland," Senator Canavan said.
"It seems to me that one thing the banks are most afraid of is to visit a regional a country town. It seems the only way to get them to act is to force them to come out of their inner-city lifestyles and come out to the bush. It is unacceptable for our bank executives to have a phobia of the bush, going forward."
Despite the big bank not attending, Senator Canavan said he and his committee counterparts were focused on having solutions, listening to communities and holding banks accountable.
"The government has already got directly involved," he said.
"We need to look at rural and remote areas, there may not be a commercial incentive so we need to find a way of supporting other models like the community service model, like what we are seeing a lot of building societies do.
"So I don't think it will be a silver bullet, but there are some good ideas that are coming forward from our committee and I think they give us a basis for a solution.
"We should also keep in mind that we have universal service obligations in other industries like telecommunications and maybe that's something that needs to be looked at."
LNP Senator for Queensland Gerard Rennick does not think communities were surprised by the abrupt decision to close regional banks.
"They're used to big banks being city focused and not country focused, it is something we have seen in maternity wards over the years and a general decline in essential services across the regions," he said.
"Having travelled Queensland extensively in the last four to six weeks, I can tell you there is a real feeling out in the regions that they aren't getting any return of the royalties and genuine wealth they create, coming out of the cities."
Greens Senator Penny Allman-Payne said it was an insult on regional communities to contribute a huge amount to the national economy and not be consulted.
"It's a huge insult for them to hear this morning in the evidence that when ANZ decided to close their bank in Ingham they did not consult one person in this community and the people who made that decision were located in offices in capital cities," she said.
"They did not talk to the council, local community groups or staff on the ground and the decision was made by people in the offices of our capital cities."
The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee said it was early days for the committee and planned to get too every state in the country before finalising a report by December 1, 2023.
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