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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16409

Mr HAWKER (2:47 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. I refer the minister to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration and the report on its inquiry into regional banking which I tabled in March 1999, in particular the recommendation that Australia Post giroPost services be extended to include business banking. Would the minister inform the House what response there has been to my committee's recommendation?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question and acknowledge his extraordinarily high level of interest in banking, particularly banking services in rural and regional areas, and the work that he and his committee have put into issues pertaining to some of the problems that country people are currently or have been facing in terms of face-to-face services and other service delivery matters. In that report to which he referred, amongst other things there was a recommendation that Australia Post giroPost services should be extended to include business banking services.

I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that, as a result of a joint pilot scheme between the Commonwealth Bank and Australia Post, a significant number of centres across Australia, such as Merriwa, Bombala, Walcha, Cann River, Mallacoota, Barcaldine, Hughenden, Kingscote, Tennant Creek and Halls Creek—a whole range right across Australia—will in fact now be able to assess the value of that recommendation under which business banking services, including cash and cheque deposits, overnight credits to customers' accounts, withdrawals and one-stop convenience for bill payment, business and personal banking and postal needs, will be able to be trialled. It is a three-month trial. I am optimistic, as indeed are, I understand, both the Commonwealth Bank and Australia Post, that this will work very well. It offers a lot of benefits. For example, when I opened the pilot at Merriwa a few days ago, I was amazed to see the number of institutions that would receive payments at that post office for their services; they included, as a matter of interest, even the United States embassy.

Let us hope that that new service really does work. It does represent an innovative and practical way of putting into small rural communities much needed services that either have existed and have been withdrawn or have never been there. It offers opportunities for them to hang onto businesses that currently exist, enhance those businesses, and perhaps attract new businesses. So it is the picking up in a practical way of one of the recommendations from the standing committee. I note in passing that, since June last year, we have seen another 50 post office outlets open across Australia—30 of them in rural and regional areas. That contrasts with the last six years of the Labor government when nearly 300 postal outlets were lost. With the addition of new post offices, this new range of services under the pilot program and, of course, the rural transaction centres—there are now some 200 communities involved in that very innovative program put together by the federal government—you can see that there are some very worthwhile enhancements to services developing in rural and regional Australia.