ORANGE, AAP – The closure of a rural bank was once seen as the beginning of the end for a small town.
Now, with more people moving to regional Australia, bank closures are robbing some communities of a new beginning, the federal government’s Regional Banking Taskforce has been told.
The taskforce was established in October to examine the impact of bank closures, after the number of branches in rural and remote areas fell from 2500 to 1900 in the four years to June 2021.
The taskforce has received more than 400 written submissions, completed public consultation, and visited regional towns in NSW and Victoria where banks have closed their doors.
After a meeting in Mildura on Wednesday, taskforce co-chair Senator Perin Davey said concerns had been raised about some towns being unable to attract new residents.
“We’ve seen through COVID a move back to the regions, which is exciting,” Senator Davey told AAP.
“But when people are looking at towns they want to move to, they look at what services are in a town: is there a school, is there a medical centre, and is there a bank?
“If the bank is not there, then they might look to the next town.
“So rather than it being the beginning of the end (for country towns), we’re hearing that it’s an impediment to the beginning.”
The taskforce has also been told elderly and vulnerable people are worried about being forgotten as banks move their services online, she said.
“A lovely older gentleman said, ‘I’m only going to be around for another 10 to 15 years and then you can go for broke, but don’t leave me behind as you’re racing to the next era of technology’.
“That was a really important message. We can’t leave behind anyone, the older demographic, people who rely on disability services, or our Indigenous people in remote communities.”
Small business owners have told the taskforce that if people travel to big regional centres for banking, they will spend money at their destination.
“While they’re out of town doing their banking they’re going to buy a coffee or do their groceries or go to the newsagent in that town, rather than their hometown,” Senator Davey said.
“It means small towns are losing that economic movement.”
The taskforce’s issues paper said it was particularly important to support regional Australia after rolling disasters – from drought, to bushfires and the pandemic.
Senator Davey said the taskforce was hoping to complete its report and hand down recommendations next month.