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Westpac to close branches despite Senate inquiry plea

Westpac has made $7.2 billion in net profit after tax.

Westpac has made $7.2 billion in net profit after tax. Photo: AAP

Westpac has announced it will shut 20 regional and suburban branches across four states despite a plea for banks to halt closures while a Senate inquiry examines the impacts on rural communities.

The Westpac Group has announced it will shut branches across Queensland, Victoria, NSW and South Australia this year.

Half of the branches are in regional and rural areas, including in the Queensland farming regions of Ingham and Cloncurry, Sale and Robinvale in Victoria and Kingston SE in South Australia.

The announcement comes one week after the launch of a Senate inquiry into why banks are shutting regional branches at historic rates and the consequences for regional people and their communities.

Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport committee chair Senator Matt Canavan asked banks to halt closures to show they are approaching the inquiry in good faith.

“Banks provide a vital service. When a bank leaves town with no way to access banking services, they leave that community behind,” Senator Canavan said in a statement last week.

“I call on all the banks to stop closing branches until they can hear how their planned closures would affect local communities and towns.”

The Commonwealth Bank has halted shutdowns for the length of the inquiry, including in the NSW Riverina town of Junee which was due to lose its last branch in March.

Westpac has not followed suit, with a spokesman attributing the latest round of closures to the declining use of branches.

The bank will work to find new roles for staff affected by the closures, he said.

Finance Sector Union national secretary Julia Angrisano said Westpac was abandoning businesses, customers and staff despite reporting $5.7 billion in profit last year.

“Westpac is brazenly closing branches month after month as a means of propping up profits and bonuses for senior executives,” she said.

Cloncurry Shire Council has written an open letter to Westpac describing the closure as a slap in the face for the growing outback town.

“The role that personal face-to-face banking plays for our region cannot be underestimated – in times of drought, flood, fire and indeed all rural crises, it’s the local bank manager who becomes a lifeline, a face and a voice to be relied on,” the letter said.

“Personal banking is one of the key pillars of a functional society. When pillars are taken away, structures collapse. This is happening.”

Other banks, including ANZ and NAB, have not indicated whether they will halt closures.

A Regional Banking Taskforce set up by the coalition government found vulnerable people, including Indigenous communities and elderly and disabled people, were worse off when banks closed.

Small business owners told the task force their customers spent money on groceries, meals and luxury items in neighbouring towns when they travelled to do their banking, putting local economies at risk.

Submissions to the Senate inquiry close on March 31, with the committee to report back by the end of the year.

– AAP

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