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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28368

Mrs IRWIN (6:02 PM) —I would like to take up the time of the House on an issue I know many of us have repeatedly raised, but we have been met, repeatedly, by silence from this government. Another bank in my electorate of Fowler will close on 27 July. I am talking about Australia's `leaving' bank. `Which bank?' you might ask. Australia's leaving bank.

The Commonwealth Bank is the only bank providing services to the Miller community. Miller is a dinky-di battlers' suburb in Sydney's south-west. About half of it is public housing, and that means there are lots of old people, lots of disabled people and lots of single parent families with young kids. These people are doing it tough on Centrelink pensions and allowances, which are paid only by bank credit. They need a bank, but the bank does not need them or their lengthy queues, which sometimes go out the door.

When the bank closes, accounts are going to be transferred to the Liverpool branch five kilometres away. They have got one of those sheep run crowd queuing systems such as they have at Wonderland and Disneyland. People are penned in in a zigzag route all the way to the tellers counter, but still the queue at the Liverpool branch of Australia's `leaving' bank goes to its front doors. The Casula branch, almost as far away as Liverpool, is still open, but there is no bus service to Casula from Miller. So the queue at Liverpool will be spilling into Macquarie Street. These Commonwealth Bank customers do not have the Internet and they do not have cars because they are too old, cannot afford them or they are disabled. For a number of reasons, this group of customers is least likely to use telephone banking or ATMs. The banks do not want to know about them.

The banks have notched up a 25 per cent increase in half-yearly profits. This year, their profit is on target to exceed last year's $10 billion in profits. The big four have achieved that by increasing their income from fees and charges. They have done that through major cost cutting by sacking more than 40,000 staff and closing unprofitable branches. Something in the order of $40 billion of federal funds, paid as Centrelink entitlements, goes directly into the banking system each year. The banks move those funds through the short-term money market before they finally plonk the credit into the pensioner's account.

Bank branches such as the one at Miller should be part of the agreement with such a major depositor like the federal Treasury. The customers at Miller might be savings book users rather than credit card users, they might mainly withdraw rather than deposit, they might not be borrowers and they might be customers who take a little longer to serve—but they are the customers who are the reason for that $40 billion windfall. There is an obligation on the part of the banks entrusted with the delivery of entitlements to actually get them to the people the government has quite stringently assessed as needing them. The Commonwealth Bank should be ashamed in giving so little to serving its customers who are most in need. I will quote a past Liberal leader, John Hewson, who, in the Financial Review last year, wrote:

The Government is looking particularly foolish right now—

He went on to say:

After all, it embraced the four pillars policy to avoid further, particularly regional, bank closure, yet they are happening every day and the process will continue.

It is time the federal government made the banks do the right thing by the people. Some of their most important, if least profitable, customers live in Miller.

In the short time I have, I would like to talk about the Minister for Finance and Administration and the member for Macarthur, together with the Minister for Health and Aged Care, who promised an MRI scanner for Liverpool Hospital. Patients at Liverpool are still waiting for their MRI scanner. They are being taken by ambulance on a 30-kilometre round trip to Westmead Hospital when an MRI scan is needed. Only last week I heard of a patient whose scan was lost; he had to make a second round trip to do it all over again. This is not good enough for a major teaching hospital.

I noticed recently that the health minister is to put out a tender for an MRI scanner in the Liverpool-Fairfield area and that machines purchased under the scan scam may be eligible. It concerns me that a second private scanner will do nothing to help the situation at Liverpool Hospital. Access to the existing private scanner in Liverpool is restricted to limited hours and days, forcing patients to be transported to Westmead. Even with a second private scanner in Liverpool, patients will face delays and inconvenience in accessing this facility. We need it now. (Time expired)