The BNZ branch in Stratford will close (Google Street View)

The Bulletin: New wave of bank closures hitting the regions

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: New wave of bank closures hitting the regions, Australia rocked by war crimes report, and ten years since Pike River marked.

A massive wave of bank branch closures is coming, with BNZ shutting down 38 locations over the next year. They’re in both cities and towns, and cover the whole spread of the country. As Stuff reports, it breaks an earlier pledge from the bank to not make any closures until 2022. However, the bank says Covid-19 has accelerated trends that it was already seeing in banking, and plans had sped up as a result. People may lose jobs as a result, though the bank has assured staff that everyone will be offered a new position. As Interest reports, it follows news of ASB closing 23 branches as well. BNZ announced a $762 million profit this year, while ASB was closer to a billion.

To give a sense of the scale, consider the fate of the Waipukurau and Dannevirke branches. The two towns are a bit over half an hours drive away, with several towns in the middle. And both branches will go in 2021, meaning there will be basically nothing between Palmerston North and Hastings – a two hour drive. People live in all those places in between.

Stories have been written about the impact this will have on individual places. The Otago Daily News picked up on the four closing around the lower South Island. Radio NZ reports the disappointment from the Thames-Coromandel mayor about the Coromandel township branch going. And the mayor of Stratford told the Taranaki Daily News that it was symptomatic of a culture of profit over social responsibility. “While the BNZ justifies its decision by quoting all sorts of reasons supported by carefully crafted media releases, in reality it is simply a withdrawal of service from those communities.”

Speaking personally, the comments from Stratford mayor Neil Volzke rang very true, particularly when he talked about job losses and big employers leaving town. I have a connection with Stratford through my mother’s family, and go back whenever I can – last time was just after the second lockdown, and there seemed to be a worrying uptick in the number of empty shops compared to the time before. For smaller regional towns to thrive, they really need an economy diverse enough to support professional services like banking.

And as much as banks might like to pivot to cheaper options like digital services, for many customers that just won’t be possible. Stuff’s Paul Mitchell had a story last year about elderly people in small towns – precisely the sort of people who’d rely on going to a branch – who weren’t able to adapt. His story focused on Pahīatua and the Manawatū, but there were many places it could have applied to. Digital services also require the ownership of digital technology – not necessarily an easy purchase for many superannuitants or beneficiaries – while walking into a branch costs nothing. Regional banking hubs are currently being trialled in four places, and it remains to be seen if they’ll be about to counter the current erosion of services.


A major probe into alleged war crimes by Australian forces in Afghanistan has recommended murder investigations into 19 soldiers, reports the ABC. The alleged war crimes include the unlawful killing of 39 civilians, among other incidents of cruelty. The alleged atrocities took place over more than a decade, and were abetted by cover-ups and a culture of silence and impunity. Nicky Hager, co-author of Hit & Run, wrote yesterday on The Spinoff that the investigation to date showed how much more thoroughly Australia was taking alleged war crimes, compared to the NZDF.


Yesterday was a day of mourning and remembrance on the West Coast, with families marking 10 years since the death of 29 men in Pike River mine. Radio NZ reports they gathered at the site, going into the portal of the mine, deep into the Paparoa Ranges. Memorials were also held at the Museum of Working Class History in Blackball, and at parliament. Widow Anna Osborne said a decade later, there was still much needed on strengthening and enforcing workplace safety laws.


The New Conservative party has a new leader, after the board voted Leighton Baker out of the job. I report his replacement will be former deputy Elliot Ikilei, who told me he will be bringing a more “confrontational” approach to the job. Was it a coup? Both Baker and Ikilei said that wouldn’t be the right way of putting it, but at the same time it certainly wasn’t Baker’s choice to go.


Nelson property owners are getting more information about the risks of coastal inundation from rising seas, reports Radio NZ’s Tracy Neal. The council released the information, as part of their obligation to consider long term hazards in planning. The info will then become part of Land Information Management (LIM) reports. Letters are being sent to affected homeowners now, and public meetings will be held in the coming weeks. As a coastal city, thousands of properties are potentially vulnerable.


Over this parliamentary term, changes to the electoral system are likely to be considered at the very least, if not either implemented or put to referendum. Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva has looked at what is on the table, including a four year term, the removal of the coat-tailing rule around bringing MPs in without hitting the party vote threshold, and the lowering of said threshold. Much of what will be discussed will fall under a 2012 Electoral Commission review of MMP, much of which wasn’t implemented at the time. The piece also gets into the tricky area of consensus around such changes – for more, go back and read Joshua Ferrer’s piece on how that’s more a theory than a reality.


A bit of a reality check on the impacts of the commerce commission market study into supermarkets: As NZ Herald (paywalled) business reporter Damien Venuto writes, the experience of the probe into fuel markets shows that any change for consumers will be a long time coming. There’s added complexity around this one because it also involves layers of suppliers and ancillary businesses, which will also need to be taken into account. The verdict? Expect change no earlier than 2023.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Joe Nunweek looks at how QAnon and conspiracist beliefs have swept through New Zealand’s New Age community. Sandra Kyle writes about the continued and cruel killing of horses in the racing industry. Stewart Sowman-Lund goes back and finds nine Jacinda Ardern tweets that she may regret a little. Business is Boring speaks to a company that is lifting the game on non-alcoholic drinks. Michael Andrew writes about a new start up that plans to make sustainable tourism a reality. Novelist Catherine Robertson outlines why her new Wellington bookstore won’t be stocking authors with certain views. Emily Writes takes a sidelong look at Wellington’s faeces in the street situation. I report on a widespread phishing scam sweeping the country through text messages. And Julie Zhu clears up some of the misconceptions around asexuality, after releasing a documentary on the subject.


For a feature today, a truly bizarre story about a local Auckland man refusing to control his rabbits. Alice Webb-Liddall went out to a house in Mt Eden famous for having bunnies hopping all over the lawn, and frequently getting squashed on the road too. As her story notes, there’s quite a battle between the curator and the council over it all. Here’s an excerpt:

The Spinoff has seen copies of these notices, addressed to both Lewis and Cowlin, which outline the “numerous” complaints by neighbours about rabbits roaming out of the property. The notices say the council has tried to contact the pair over the last two years to work through solutions to “proactively mitigate the nuisance caused by [the] animals”, but without luck.

Why does Lewis have so many rabbits? Five years ago, he bought four from a local Animates pet shop, he told The Spinoff. One of them he got desexed, and the following night a cat wandered onto his property and killed it. After paying $200 for the desex surgery – and taking the sudden death as an omen – he refused to desex the remaining rabbits. Now, five years later, he’s lost count of how many rabbits are living on (and in burrows under) the property. 


If you think the America’s Cup is about sailing, you’re dead wrong. It’s about winning either on or off the water. The latest twist in the saga around this absurd event is the possibility of Emirates Team NZ being excluded from a warmup regatta, over a late payment of entry fees, reports the (paywalled) NZ Herald. In another sport, the other competitors might let them get away with it, but it appears challenger of record Luna Rossa is going to press their advantage and try to get the maximum possible penalty enforced.


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