THE state government is stopping local schools, like the Inverloch Primary School, which has its main school bank account at the Community Bank Inverloch and District branch, from banking locally.

The government has issued a directive, effective from October 1, 2021, but mandatory from March 30, 2022, that the school must take its business to either the NAB, Commonwealth Bank or Westpac.

They’re not happy about it, especially as the Bendigo Bank’s local Community Bank has put a lot of funding back into the local community. But at least they have an option; NAB still operates in the town.

The schools in Yarram and district aren’t quite so fortunate.

Following the closure of the town’s Commonwealth Bank branch, believed to have been one of the busiest and most profitable in Gippsland, on November 12 this year, they’ve only got the Bendigo Bank left.

Speaking on Gippsland ABC Radio last week, Woodside Primary School principal Daniel Phelps said frankly the directive was “a pain in the neck”.

“We swapped to them a couple of years ago simply because the other banks were closing their branches, so we decided to keep it local,” he said.

A spokesperson for the school told the Sentinel-Times this week it would involve almost a two-hour round trip to Sale every time they wanted to do some face-to-face banking, if forced to make the change.

“At the moment, I can call into Yarram on my way home, if I need to,” said a spokesperson for the school.

The schools aren’t on their own; all government agencies including the local water authorities, hospitals, TAFEs, police etc, but not including the local shire councils, have to move all their banking services to one of the big three by March 30, 2022, in line with a state government contract designed to improve access to competitive rates and “value-add industry products”.

The directive was confirmed in a memo to schools last week.

Anti-bank closures campaigner, David Phelan of Yarram, said the state government was rubbing salt into the wounds of country communities where the big banks have already closed hundreds of branches.

“It’s a disgrace! The government let them close and now they’re saying local schools, hospitals and the like can’t bank at the only bank we’ve got left in the town.

“What are they trying to do to us?

“Whose idea is this? Chairman Dan again?”
It’s a sentiment that rings true in many South Gippsland and Bass Coast communities where the Community Bank initiative of the Bendigo Bank has been highly successful.

At the Toora Primary School, where they have benefitted from grants and sponsorship from the Community Bank Toora and Foster over the years, they want to support the local organisation which has already put $1.4 million back into the community.

School supporter, local business operator Daniel Encel, called on the state government to make country communities exempt, calling the directive a major over-reach.

The Community Bank San Remo, Cowes and Grantville, which has already put back $4.8 million into a broad range of community projects, seeding significant expenditure by community groups, expects to hit the $5 million community grant mark early next year.

It’s hardly surprising then that the community wants to support an organisation which supports them.

At Mirboo North, where the local primary school also banks at their Bendigo Bank Community Bank, feelings run even deeper.

At a crucial time in the community fundraising for the $5.73 million Mirboo North Swimming Pool redevelopment project, the Community Bank Mirboo

North and District gave $100,000 to the Friends group which had the seemingly impossible task of raising $1 million towards the project.

It’s a gesture that will not be forgotten, they say.

Bass MP Jordan Crugnale, facing her first re-election battle in November 2022, has raised the problem with the Treasurer Tim Pallas and has also spoken to Bendigo Bank Community Bank officials, operating branches in the Koo Wee Rup area.

“I have spoken to the Treasurer and a number of schools and asked for a review while outlining the values, connections, service, partnerships and supports that our schools have with our community banks,” Ms Crugnale said this week.

“I encourage schools and their network clusters to write to the Treasurer mentioning their long-standing, valued connections with our local community banks, the programs and scholarships they support, that in many of our towns it is the only bank with a counter service and travelling to larger service centres is not conducive and also of course how our community banks give back so much.”

Ms Crugnale also acknowledged the contribution made by the Community Bank branches to local surf lifesaving clubs, sporting clubs, health services etc.
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien called it a typically “city centric” initiative by the state government.

“There are a number of Community Banks across Gippsland which provide vital support for many local projects that will be significantly impacted by Labor’s decision,” he said.

“The Toora and Foster Community Bank alone has delivered more than $1.4 million back to the community over the last 20 years.

“Many of our local schools and hospitals have large accounts with their local Community Bank,” Mr O’Brien said.

“This decision comes at a time when we are seeing the big banks close branches in our towns like Yarram and Korumburra, and the Andrews government’s decision is a very centralised, city-centric choice.”