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  • Writer's pictureDale Webster

With its back to the wall, Commonwealth Bank halts closures

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

ABOVE: Junee residents protesting the closure of their Commonwealth Bank branch.

JUNEE is one of the first towns to benefit from a parliamentary call for banks to halt all planned branch closures until a senate inquiry reports back at the end of the year.

The Commonwealth Bank is the first of the big four to act on the official request, sent Friday, with Junee and Bright closures put on hold.

While the Commonwealth is yet to formally notify Junee Shire Council of its decision to keep the branch open, it has issued a media statement:

“Following consideration of a request from the Senate Committee, CBA will not close any regional branches while the Inquiry is underway in 2023,” a spokesman for the bank said.

“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.”

Pressure is now on the other big four banks to follow suit, with ANZ having 13 branches slated for closure in coming months, NAB six and Westpac 12. Three Westpac-owned BankSA and Bank of Melbourne branches are also being closed.

ABOVE: The 34 branches the banks have been asked by parliament to hold off on closing.

ANZ, NAB, Westpac and the Australian Banking Association (ABA) have all been asked to comment.

ANZ and NAB have both flatly refused the request to halt planned closures.

Westpac is also defying the parliamentary request and is pressing ahead with most of its planned closures, including branches in towns where it is the last bank. It has put on hold seven branches for which it drew a firestorm of attention from MPs this week but failed to inform the government and media of its decision to proceed with another eight.

The ABA is yet to respond.

Junee had mounted an intensive campaign to save their Commonwealth branch, the last bank in a growing town of more than 6000 people.

The closure had initially been scheduled for December but issues related to access set out in the Banking Code of Practice saw it put off until March.

Junee Shire Council general manager James Davis said the news was welcome but he is determined to make sure the town is not short-changed on service.

“Junee Council has requested that the Commonwealth bank reinstate five-day operational hours to the Junee’s only bank,” he said.

“Junee will be making submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into rural branch closers on behalf of its residents and other communities in regional Australia.

“Banking is a lucrative business, the Commonwealth Bank profits exceeded $10 billion last year. It is absurd to think that since the release of the Regional Banking Taskforce report in September the big four banks have closed or listed for closure more than 90 branches.

“The Commonwealth Bank closed branches in Toormina, Umina Beach, Tannum Sands and Woodend. Those communities deserve better treatment and hopefully they might rally for their branches to be reopened.”

The inquiry into regional banking was announced on Wednesday after passing through the Senate unopposed.

It has been referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, which will report back by December 1.

The terms of reference are to examine the current extent of bank closures in regional Australia, with reference to:

a. the branch closure process, including the reasons given for closures;

b. the economic and welfare impacts of bank closures on customers and regional communities;

c. the effect of bank closures or the removal of face-to-face cash services on access to cash;

d. the effectiveness of government banking statistics capturing and reporting regional service levels, including the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority's authorised deposit-taking institutions points of presence data;

e. consideration of solutions; and any other related matters.

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