By Tracey Matthies

THE Korumburra community turned out in force on Monday night and was rewarded with a glimmer of hope in its fight to save the town’s last physical bank branch.

It was standing room only as more than 200 people filled the Korumburra Recreation Centre for an emergency public meeting when Korumburra Business Association president Noleen Cosson announced the group had secured a meeting next week with the chief executive of the Bendigo Bank, Marnie Baker.

The KBA and Korumburra Roundtable working party has been pursuing all channels since news broke late last week of the planned closure of the Bendigo Bank next month.

The working party will ask Ms Baker to reverse the closure decision or, at a minimum, to give the town a 12-month reprieve to prove it can support a Bendigo Bank branch and make it commercially viable.

A motion “that the community of Korumburra and surrounds are passionately committed to retaining our last bank, the Bendigo Bank and we will continue to negotiate with all parties to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned”, was carried unanimously by show of hand.

In the words of Noleen Cosson, “we’re not accepting this closure”.

Ms Cosson’s announcement she had had a phone call on Monday from Ms Baker was welcomed by the meeting, although Ms Cosson cautioned the meeting “guarantees nothing”.

Korumburra Business Association president Noleen Cosson shares the news the chief executive of the Bendigo Bank has agreed to a meeting.

“But it is a very good starting point that they should have done prior to us having this campaign,” Ms Cosson said.

“So, whatever happens going forward for us to retain any bank in our town, it is going to require a significant commitment from our business community and from the community in general to be transferring their banking to this bank.”

However, people should await the outcome of next week’s meeting before taking any steps.

“We don’t want anyone to do anything yet,” she said.

“We need to decide what the future holds first.

“We cannot just sit back and think that the next person will have transferred their accounts and I don’t have to, or it’s too difficult. The fees you get charged for doing your banking and the interest you get charged on your loans is what makes a bank viable.

“So, we cannot stress enough the importance of supporting whatever we are able to negotiate from this point on.”

Ms Baker sent an apology for Monday night’s community meeting, along with Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien, the federal Member for Monash Russell Broadbent, and South Gippsland Shire Council chief executive Kerryn Ellis. A council officer was present to report directly back to Ms Ellis.

Community pain

Speakers from the floor described how the loss of the bank would impact businesses, community groups and individuals, especially those who were not comfortable using technology for banking, or who had limited mobility.

Treasurer of the Korumburra-Bena Giants Football Netball Club Nadine Smith said the club relied on change from the bank, up to $6000 fortnightly plus other cash for player payments.

Ms Smith said the Korumburra post office, which is a banking agency, would not carry the amount of change required and she was concerned about the safety of volunteers transporting large amounts of cash to and from a bank in Leongatha.  She also said volunteers mostly worked full time and would not be able to travel to Leongatha for banking.

Vice president of the KBA and a member of the Roundtable, Kate Murphy, said Bendigo Bank customers were charged $4 per transaction at the post office, a cost pensioners would not be able to afford.

One of the many speakers from the floor at the community meeting.

Ms Murphy said the cost to businesses would be high, either through extra fees at the post office or by having to employ additional staff to conduct banking in Leongatha.

“That’s a minimum 40-minute round trip,” she said, also raising concerns about customers doing more shopping in Leongatha if they had to travel there for their banking.

Ms Murphy said leaving Korumburra without a bank would hit business confidence hard and make it more difficult to attract new businesses.

Campaign takes off

Ms Cosson briefed the community meeting on the extensive media campaign and other activities the hastily formed working group has pursued since the news broke last week.

As well as speaking with the Sentinel-Times and ABC radio, the group succeeded in attracting a team from A Current Affair to hear their story in Korumburra on Monday.

At least two petitions are underway with paper copies signed by many attendees after the meeting. An online petition has already gained about 1500 signatures.

Korumburra resident Lorraine Touzel signs the petition to save the bank.

Be kind

Ms Cosson reminded the community the closure decision had nothing to do with the local staff.

“The staff were taken by surprise too and we all know they are very caring and supportive of this community,” she said.
“It’s very sad for them too so please don’t take your anger out on them. They’re hurting as well.”