The bosses of the big four banks are set to face a grilling at an inquiry into rural branch closures, as debate about their social responsibility in country Australia intensifies.
Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ and NAB chief executives are due to appear before the inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.
The Senate committee, which is examining the effects of more than 600 closures since 2017, has heard from farmers, small businesses and councils, who say face-to-face banking is an essential service in the regions.
They say banks should not abandon growing regional communities and their significant contribution to the economy across the agriculture, mining and tourism sectors.
Many witnesses have told the inquiry that local bank managers are crucial for successful farming operations, while access to cash helps vulnerable populations and keeps community organisations afloat.
Residents on Flinders Island, off Tasmania's northern coast, face a $500 flight to Launceston or an eight-hour ferry ride to Bridport to visit a branch after a Bendigo Bank agency closes next month.
"The development may not seem significant to many, but poses a distinct challenge for our remote, predominantly cash-based community," mayor Rachel Summers told the inquiry in Launceston on Tuesday.
"Many individuals still rely on passbooks and engage in substantial cash withdrawals on a weekly or bi-weekly basis."
Kylie Clifford, who owns the island's post office, said its banking arm would not be able to support big community events such as the annual show, which requires $60,000 for cash withdrawals.
"Once the bank leaves, every family on the island will come to the post office to get their money out for that show weekend, and it's just not possible," Ms Clifford said.
The small Tasmanian regional community is one of many pushing for mandated public consultation before branches shut down, especially if it is the last branch in town.
But Westpac has forcefully resisted that pressure, saying public consultations could risk exposing sensitive commercial information to competitors.
"We are not aware of any commercial entity in Australia where the general public plays a role in commercial decision-making," a recent submission to the inquiry said.
"Our democratic process allows the general public to reflect their views on decisions of government through the ballot box, and in the private sector customers vote with their feet by choosing where to bank.
"There doesn't appear to be a clear rationale in government inserting itself into that process by way of further regulation."
The inquiry will sit in Junee, in the NSW Riverina, on Thursday to hear from a community that successfully fought to halt the closure of its last bank.
Australian Associated Press
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