3 Jun 2015

Ruatōria community rallies to save last bank in town

9:36 pm on 3 June 2015

The East Coast community of Ruatōria is rallying to stop Westpac from closing its branch - the only bank still open in the town.

Westpac provided Te Manu Korihi with a statement saying there had been a steady decline in people using the branch over the past few years and it was assessing its options as a result.

It said its closure was only a proposal at this stage.

It said if the bank did close, it was intended that there would be an ATM and deposit facilities in the rohe.

The organiser of the campaign to keep the branch open, Rae Ngarimu, said local pakeke (elderly) people lacked confidence in dealing with machines let alone internet banking and the bank, which is housed in a shipping container, must remain.

"All the marae, sports clubs and Kohanga Reo on the Coast bank here," said Mrs Ngarimu.

"Whanau in Waikura Valley will have to drive three hours to the closest bank if this branch closes. I think it's terrible - and Westpac managers won't even come to our community hui next week to hear from the people they are impacting!"

Ruatoria residents with a petition signed by hundreds of people demanding the only bank in town stays open. Their campaign has the support of Gisborne District Councillor Bill Burdett (far right).

Residents with a petition signed by hundreds of people demanding the only bank in town stays open. Their campaign has the support of Gisborne District Councillor Bill Burdett (far right). Photo: Supplied

Manu Caddie, another campaigner, said Gisborne District Councillor Bill Burdett was backing the campaign, as was the council's Mayor, Meng Foon.

FIRST Union national president Syd Keepa was also critical of any move to close the branch.

"Last year Westpac made a record profit of $864 million after tax, that's up 13 percent on the previous year. In 2015 the bank has already made a half-year profit of $441 million. They can afford to keep servicing the Ruatōria branch. I just can't understand why these banks and corporates really give our little communities like Ruatoria the kick."

He said four people were at risk of losing their jobs which would impact on their whānau and the community as a whole would lose out if it closed.

"The branch workers are providing a community service in tough conditions. They're currently working out of a shipping container and still have to meet onerous sales targets, even though they service a small rural community."

Mr Keepa said it would leave the small community pōhara (poverty-stricken).

"Not only is the service used for day-to-day banking, but also financial advice on how to manage rent payments or food costs."

Mr Keepa said not all households in the community had access to phones or the internet to do their banking.

"Another reality there [in Ruatoria] is that less than half of the community have access to the internet and only about 60 percent have access to a telephone, meaning internet and phone banking is out of reach for many locals - that's a big impact."

Syd Keepa said tāngata whenua were at risk of being disadvantaged.

"If you're on your whenua [land], you like to stay on your whenua. And as we've seen over the years, when those small branches like those banks close down, whenua have to move elsewhere to Auckland or Wellington to get mahi (work). I think they should be looking at keeping it open. Not only for iwi - even if they make a zero profit - the reality is they're out there helping those small communities.

"Politician after politician are always saying 'we've got to do something about these small communities, they're just going to rack and ruin' and yet you don't hear a peep from them about this."

Syd Keepa hopes that Māori trusts in the rohe come out in support of the community's campaign before consultation on the proposal closes on 20 June.