By Margaret Mackay
Local Member for Giles, Eddie Hughes MP has slammed the behaviour of Westpac Bank after it announced the closure of its branch in Coober Pedy this week.
“The last bank in Coober Pedy to shut leaving the nearest banking service 540 kilometers down the road,” said Hughes.
“A range of services will no longer be available and there is likely to be a big impact on the businesses in what is the Opal Mining Capital of the World.”
“The closure will also impact many of the older residents that do not have access to smartphones or the internet and it will also affect some aboriginal people,” said Eddie Hughes.
It may have been more palatable for local communities across the country to have been given a countdown by Westpac with periodic reminders from all involved, as we merge into the digital era.
Local Member for Giles Eddie Hughes has even suggested that “It may be time for the Federal Government to impose a Community Service Obligation on the Big Four? After all, they make super profits and were given huge government support during the Global Financial Crisis.”
WESTPAC 2001 AGM reported: The Bank’s profit of $1,903 million represented the ninth consecutive annual improvement in profit performance. This was an 11% increase in last year’s profit. Earnings per share were up 16% in the same period last year, with a return on equity of 21.1%, up from 18.4% last year.
The loss of the hefty float once appreciated by opal buyers will undoubtedly impact the opal industry.
The Westpac closure issue was presented during a visit this week from Federal Member Rowan Ramsey MP, and Local member for Giles Eddie Hughes MP. Mr. Ramsey has agreed to discuss the closure with Westpac.
Local business operator, Nicholas Troisi said, “There are quite a few questions relating to the transition to Post Office Banking for businesses and tourists.”
Some of the key questions from the community
1) Q: Will there be an ATM? A: Yes, if your bank has a contract with Aus Post you can deposit and withdraw from the PO. You must have a CARD
2) Q: What provisions are made for Safety Deposit Boxes, and Security Envelopes? A: Post Office will not provide this service.
3) Q: Will there be extra staff at the Post Office to deal with Banking? A: Not unless it becomes necessary. The Post Office has always provided banking services
4) Q: Can the PO provide ID documents from the bank for things such as Centrelink? A: NO
5) Q: Can the Post Office add and remove account signatories from Bank A/Cs? A: NO.
6) Q: Are there any transaction fees for PO Banking? A: There are NO fees
7) Q: Is a Money Order equivalent to a Bank Cheque? A: Yes
8) Q: Does the PO do Foreign Money Exchange? A: No, not at the moment.
Any further information will be conveyed publicly as soon as it comes to hand. BY ALL MEANS, ASK MORE QUESTIONS.
While inhabitants of remote communities may be less inclined to embrace new technology, our world today is undeniably digital and has moved on without some of us.
Toward the mid-2000s the Australian Government began spending many millions of dollars on education for those over 50 to start familiarising themselves with computers, online banking, paying bills, and other functions like google, reading the news, social media, and so on.
Communications across the world would become digital; there was no turning back. Our health records went online. Print news became predominantly digital. The Census was filled out online. Car registration is paid online, shopping can be done from home, online, we communicate with our families and friends online, our meetings are held via webinars, and much, much more.
2008 saw the Broadband for Seniors launch. This program established 2000 internet kiosks across Australia providing older Australians with free access to computers and the internet, as well as training in information technology skills. Government spending was $15 million over the first three years and then continued until 2017. This program was continually offered at Coober Pedy but attracted no interest.
2017 saw the launch of Be Connected, (replacing the Broadband for Seniors program) Another Australian Government initiative aimed at increasing the confidence, skills, and online safety of older Australians when they use the internet. $20 million in small grants would be given to community organisations over the next three years so that local organisations could get involved.
2021 saw the Federal Government increase funding to continue bridging the digital divide through new investment to help senior Australians remain connected with friends and family online, and learn new skills. The Morrison Government provided $28.3 million to extend the Be Connected program in partnership with the eSafety Commissioner to offer a range of learning services.
Be Connected would assist older Australians to learn the basics of digital technology, including using a digital device; being safe online; sending emails; using Facebook and other social media; shopping and banking online; using myGov; sharing photos, and much more.
There has been an obvious resistance to change, with some of the older generation, many with language barriers, and older indigenous. Despite Federal funding being made available to all locations in Australia, local organisations in Coober Pedy did not embrace the opportunities in applying for funding to engage older residents with digital learning.
The good news is: even with the move to a more digital relationship with its customers, for Westpac Bank and others; the Australian Government still supports Be Connected for those Australians who are not yet up with the times.
Community groups and local councils can still find ways to assist their communities to ‘bridge the digital divide’.
There is a wide range of guides for things as basic as What is a Computer and What is the Internet; buying and selling online, safety, and security, passwords, etc. https://beconnected.esafety.gov.au/sitemap
Thank you to the local residents for providing questions on their concerns between PO Banking and Westpac Banking, and to the Member for Grey Port Pirie office for assistance with historic funding information that details the amount of time that the Australian Government has been preparing older Australians for the digital changeover.
While there will be a loss of some services with the closure of Westpac in Coober Pedy, all levels of Government must continue playing their part in supporting unprepared Australians at this crucial time in our evolution.
The closure of Westpac is unlikely to be the final inconvenience for unprepared Australians.