Government

Provinces’ ‘first citizen’ takes on banks

Self-proclaimed first citizen of the provinces Shane Jones is lobbying for rules that would force the big banks to remain in regional New Zealand, as the foreign-owned giants call for a ‘please explain’ meeting.

On Wednesday, the Regional Economic Development Minister said he had lobbied both Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr and Finance Minister Grant Robertson to look at measures to keep frontline financial services available in regional New Zealand.

He said the presence of these essential financial services was a key issue for provincial economies.

The past few years have seen dozens of branches close in rural and provincial centres.

Jones, who has recently hit out at Air NZ for its treatment of the regions, said the foreign-owned banks were taking home billions in profits, and should have some kind of an obligation to Kiwis.

The NZ First minister spoke to Orr about whether a provision of service could be included as part of bank licensing.

“He just warned me, obviously, against pushing a perspective that would require entities like those banks to operate in an economic sub-optimal manner, and I would expect the governor of the Reserve Bank to say that.”

He’d also “strongly lobbied” Robertson to include the issue of essential financial services in regional economies in phase two of the monetary policy inquiry.

Last year, the Government announced it would undertake a review of the Reserve Bank Act to create a more modern monetary and financial policy framework. The work is currently being undertaken by an independent expert advisory panel.

No decisions had been made but Jones said he was sure his “entreaties with Grant Robertson will find some fruit”.

Robertson said he had committed to looking at how to incorporate the issue into the Reserve Bank review.

Meanwhile, the banks have asked to meet with the Government, and specifically Jones.

“Probably to tell me to shut up, and they’re welcome to meet with me but they’ll find that message will fall on barren fields,” he said.

Jones said people in the provinces were egging him to take on the fight, but accepted he was not in charge of monetary policy.

“My focus is absolutely dedicated towards the amount of capital that is repatriated overseas into the coffers of those international owners. And I want them to find innovative ways to maintain their presence in our provinces.”

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