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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25782


Mr HARDGRAVE (10:42 PM) —I welcome the banking industry's decision to give low income earners access to fee-free banking. Up to 35,000 residents in my electorate will benefit from this decision by the banking industry, which has come after pressure has been applied by this government and via the excellent work by the member for Wannon and his committee in the inquiry into banking charges and fees. Local residents who are Commonwealth government health care concession card holders will be eligible for fee-free accounts. Holders of the Commonwealth government health care card, the seniors card or pensioner concession cards and those who are on Newstart allowance and youth allowance will also be eligible. Thirty-five thousand local people will benefit from the bank's gesture which is long overdue and very welcome.

The thing we all have to keep an eye on is that the banks, to pay for these initiatives, then do not punish the rest of us with higher fees on the accounts that we hold. Moves like charging small businesses in my electorate to deposit and count cash are certainly issues that need great attention. I believe we need a protocol established, with a moratorium of three months, so that banks can properly consult with the local communities to prevent the closure of community branches in electorates such as mine.

I have many reasons not to trust the major banks in this country and so do most Australians. I think of a constituent of mine, Keith Smith from Robertson, who 15 or 16 years ago was in the National Australia Bank branch at Sunnybank and was allowed to sign as guarantor on a loan document which he thought he was witnessing. In fact, the manager was in cahoots with the person who borrowed the money and allowed him to sign and go guarantor. There were only tens of thousands of dollars involved, for a company which last year made $2.4 billion profit or whatever it was—not much money. But National Australia Bank, which has a hide thicker than the proverbial elephant's, could not care less and never has. In fact, the banks made over $9 billion in profit last year. It is certainly time they gave something back to the community.

A lot of people wonder, and I certainly do, why there is a three-day clearing period involved with bank cheques. What happened to high-technology, high-speed banking? In fact, even electronic payment such as BPay can still take up to 10 days to process. Why are we paying exorbitant fees for services that are not up to scratch? The answer is that the banks take your money before you hand it on through a cheque to somebody else and invest it and make lots of money for their shareholders. The banks have been encouraging people to not go into bank branches for years by charging high over-the-counter transaction fees, and then they use the excuse that people are not going into bank branches to close down more branches, and they are doing it daily around this country.

Just in the last week or so the National Australia Bank made a five past two fax announcement to me that they were closing down the Moorooka branch, a massive branch in the middle of my electorate. As the local paper commented, they are lopping branches and leaving customers high and dry and without adequate banking services nearby and handy. The Brisbane City Council have not responded with changes to bus services to allow those people who find the convenience of a suburban branch no longer there to go elsewhere. So there are all sorts of social problems that are occurring all around my own electorate as a result of decisions of major banks that are making $9 billion profit a year and not caring about customers. In the trade, NAB are known as `Nasty Australia Bank', and they have also in the last couple of weeks announced that they are going to purchase the Bank of Scotland—or certainly try to. This particular company, the biggest banking company, has over half its business offshore. Why would they care about what happens in downtown Moorooka? The headquarters are currently in Melbourne, and if they buy the Bank of Scotland they will probably move their operation to London, which is even further removed from the reality they say they have by calling themselves National Australia Bank. NAB in fact should drop the word `Australia' from their title. They do not deserve to have the endorsement of this country's name within the title of their organisation.

Of course, governments can do just so much. The idea of trying to bring in some kind of charter and protocol, as the opposition has suggested, fails when you do not have one party to a contract agreeing to sign it. Customers need to take their money out of banks that take their banks out of their local area. They need to put their money into banks that are staying in their local area. The only thing banks will understand is the withdrawal of funds and deposits and taking them somewhere else. In my own area we have seen new banks arrive, like Bendigo Bank and International Commercial Bank of China, a Taiwanese company. Both of those organisations have now got branches at Sunnybank in my electorate. While the NAB, the Commonwealth Bank and the ANZ pull out and Westpac go into in-store banking, which makes them the best of the bad big four, I think customers need to more and more take their money somewhere else. (Time expired)