Westpac has announced that it will postpone the closure of eight branches in rural areas across the country while the Senate inquiry into why banks are increasingly shutting shop in regional towns is underway. The inquiry was launched last week after almost 100 branches closed since September. The committee will examine the reasons for banks’ departure and possible solutions, along with the effects on regional economies and community welfare.
Nationals senator and committee chairman Matt Canavan wrote to banks urging them to halt closures during the inquiry in an act of good faith and welcomed Westpac’s decision. He stated that the banks need to now work with the Senate on practical solutions to maintain people’s access to financial services, “We can’t just leave country towns high and dry.”
The Commonwealth Bank also announced that it would not shut any branches during the inquiry and postponed planned closures in Junee, NSW, and Bright, Victoria. National Australia Bank said closures would continue during what it described as the single largest transformation in banking in Australia’s history. ANZ said it was considering the inquiry’s terms of reference.
The inquiry follows the coalition government’s Regional Banking Taskforce, which found that farmers, vulnerable people and small business owners struggle when a rural bank closes its doors. It will hold its first hearing in Sale on March 2 and is open for submissions until March 31.