A community that successfully fought to keep the doors of its last remaining bank open has secured another small win.
Junee in the NSW Riverina, which has been hit hard by bank closures in recent years, was at the centre of a federal parliamentary inquiry into regional bank closures when the politicians leading the probe arrived in town on Thursday.
The inquiry, which was prompted by uproar from regional communities across the country, heard the Commonwealth Bank would increase the opening hours of its Junee branch from three half-days per week to five.
"I am happy to ... announce that we plan to extend the opening hours of the Junee branch from three half-days to five half-days," CommBank regional general manager for NSW and the ACT Norm Swift told the hearing.
IN OTHER NEWS:
"We will now start the process of advertising and filling these additional positions [created]."
Mr Swift said realistically this could take between "four to six weeks, depending on how quickly we can find people".
In February, the Commonwealth Bank reversed its decision to close the Junee branch while the banking inquiry took place.
Then, in July, it extended this deadline even further, committing to keeping the branch's doors open until at least the end of 2026.
Mr Swift said this was "part of a broader commitment to maintain all of our regional branches in Australia until the end of 2026".
However, hearing the concerns raised at Thursday's hearing, he said he understood the process had caused angst in the community.
"I want to acknowledge that reaching our decision created some uncertainty. However, I am confident we have landed in the right place," he said.
The public hearing also saw many local businesses and community groups from Junee and the surrounding region outline their concerns at the closure of rural banks in recent years.
The difficulty banking with the Junee branch's current limited operating hours was one of many issues raised during the day-long hearing.
Former Junee mayor and serving councillor Neil Smith told the inquiry panel the town used to have all the big four banks and a Bendigo Bank presence, but that has dwindled to just one over the past 15 years.
Councillor Smith went on to say the Commonwealth Bank "would have closed in Junee by now if not for the inquiry".
Senator Matt Canavan, who is chairing the probe into bank closures, also announced the inquiry consultation period has been extended into May 2024 in an effort to hear more voices from rural and regional Australians.
"[We've extended that period] because we would like to get to every state of the country, and we're not there yet," Mr Canavan said.
The Senate inquiry has held three hearings in Launceston, Canberra and Junee this week.
The committee is examining the impact of more than 650 closures since 2017, which have left many residents fearing for the future of their small towns.
Community groups, councils and the farming sector argue banks have a social responsibility to rural areas, which rely on cash and face-to-face banking for big business, tourism, local events, sport and fundraisers.
But the major banks maintain there has been a continued decline in foot traffic in all branches and a huge uptake of digital services, particularly since COVID-19 lockdowns.
For more information about the inquiry, visit aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Rural_and_Regional_Affairs_and_Transport/BankClosures
- with AAP