House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Giles Electorate

Mr HUGHES (Giles) (15:11): I rise today to talk about a number of issues of concern in my electorate, one of which I wanted to raise on the last day of sitting but, alas, I did not get a grievance spot. It is an issue of serious concern to the communities of Coober Pedy, Roxby Downs and its neighbour, Andamooka, that is, the total loss of banking services in the Far North of our state. Westpac have closed in Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is a unique community. It is the opal capital of the world. It is a community where some people deal with a lot of cash, but other people do not have access to IT technology. They do not understand it.

Mr Telfer interjecting:

Mr HUGHES: Yes. That's partly because the age profile of the Coober Pedy community is a lot higher than the age profile here in the state as a whole. It is a combination of age, and it is also a combination of Aboriginal people who often need that face-to-face contact at banks because of issues to do with establishing identity, and they do develop personal relationships. They are known.

Westpac did not have a full banking service up there, in terms of hours, but it did send their people up there to work at the branch that they had. Now they are closing it in a way that all banks say: 'People can access their phones now, they can do this, they can do that.' But in a place like Coober Pedy that is somewhat different. Given the closure in Roxby Downs, that means the closest bank is in Port Augusta or in Alice Springs. We are talking about hundreds and hundreds of kilometres away. Westpac last year made a profit of $5.65 billion, and that came on top of a 17 per cent or a 19 per cent decline in their operating costs.

When we go further south to Roxby Downs the NAB are closing their branch there. A lot of people in Roxby do have access to technology. It is a younger community. And cheek by jowl with the community of Roxby Downs is the community of Andamooka with, once again, a very old age profile, and people do not have access to IT in general and, at times, the reliability of that access—because Telstra, I think it was last year, was out for several days, so access can also be an issue.

When it comes to National Australia Bank, they made a profit last year of $6.81 billion which represents an 11.5 per cent increase on the year before. These banks are making huge profits but they no longer have a sense of community service. They are there to make a profit, and there is nothing wrong with a reasonable profit, but these are huge profits. We do need to do something about this.

As to the state government, in terms of the banks, our leverage is somewhat limited. There is a commonwealth inquiry going on at the moment and we will feed into that commonwealth inquiry. But something does need to be done in a legislative manner at a federal level to ensure that an essential service like banking and people in regional communities, especially the smaller communities, are not disadvantaged.

Some form of community service obligation should be imposed. If they are pulling out of these communities, maybe look at imposing a levy and pump that levy into enhancing what can be delivered at the post offices that we have spread throughout Australia. They are still publicly owned. It is still a publicly owned essential service that does now provide banking services, somewhat limited in comparison to a full branch. Maybe we should look at enhancing their capacity to deliver banking services based on a levy from these highly profitable banks. That is one way to go.