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Where are the promised jobs? Kouts challenges BankSA boss

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Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis is continuing his battle with BankSA chief executive Nick Reade, challenging the banker to provide details of 150 jobs the bank claimed were derailed by the State Government’s now abandoned bank levy.

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The Government dropped the $370 million levy last week after declaring it had no hope of getting the measure through state parliament’s Legislative Council.

After being blindsided by the bank levy announcement in the June Budget, Reade said the State Government had launched an “assault” on BankSA’s business which “will force us to reconsider plans for growth in the state”.

“Westpac operates many of its back office functions from Adelaide,” he said. “We also have imminent plans to create a process automation hub in SA creating 150 jobs – but this is now on hold.”

This week, Koutsantonis wrote to Reade, challenging him about the bank’s plans for the hub and related jobs.

He said the original announcement was “intriguing as I’m not aware of anyone in government or other businesses who had heard of these plans”.

He noted that Reade had welcomed last week’s government decision on the levy, and had claimed he “would return to ‘working collaboratively’ with the Government”.

“Accordingly, I invite you to provide details on the automated processing centre and the 150 jobs,” Koutsantonis wrote. “Presumably, this project has now been revived given the only impediment previously mentioned was the major bank levy.

“If there is anything that I or other members of the Government can do to expedite the project, please let me know.”

A spokesperson for Reade said BankSA welcomed the Government’s decision to drop the levy, but it had come as a surprise.

BankSA was now reconsidering its decision to put the process automation hub on hold.

“We are reviewing our decision in the light of the decision by the State Government to drop the bank tax,” the spokesperson said.

She added that the original plan did not require any assistance from the Government.

The relationship between the Government and BankSA has degenerated during the bank levy debate.

A report in The Advertiser in August accused Koutsantonis of using foul language about Reade in front of a BankSA staff member at the Mid-Winter Charity Ball  – an allegation vehemently denied by the Treasurer.

The report widened the already fierce rift between the bank and the Government with Koutsantonis accusing BankSA of using “a charity event as part of their campaign to protect their super profits”.

At the time, Premier Jay Weatherill went further, accusing the media and major banks of a “corruption of democracy”.

“Remember it’s all of the banks that at the moment that are running this dishonest campaign against South Australia by trying to destroy our reputation in the nation by publishing full page ads for which the papers are achieving a very handsome sum of advertising dollars every day,” Weatherill told FIVEaa.

“And then what we see today is the extraordinary situation, a new low in journalism, where an unattributed allegation, which is completely denied, is given front page airing in the daily newspaper – the same daily newspaper that’s collecting $20,000 a throw when the banks put their full page ads in. It is a corruption of democracy the way in which this bank thinks it can overbear the will of a democratically elected government to do something which we are entitled to do and which the Federal Government chose to do…”

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