Nationals senator says Turnbull government must fund banking inquiry
The Nationals senator John Williams has declared the Turnbull government must fund a commission of inquiry into the banks, noting if such an investigation was passed, it would be very “strange” for a government to ignore the will of two houses of parliament.
While the prime minister attempted on Tuesday to dig in against the banks rebellion, and the Greens upped the ante, seeking stronger terms of reference – Williams predicted the inquiry would clear the Senate and, most likely, the House, given two lower-house National MPs were signalling they would vote for it.
The last time a commission of inquiry was established by the parliament, in 1986, the Hawke government funded it – but with the prime minister at this point expressing opposition to the inquiry, it is unclear whether the government would fund something imposed on it by dissident MPs.
Williams said on Tuesday that refusing to fund the inquiry would be “a very strange thing to do, given the will of the parliament”. He noted the government funded “many things around here. Some things we do fund I probably don’t agree with.”
The Greens have made it clear they want any inquiry to examine systemic issues, such as executive remuneration, political donations from banks and the role of lobbyists – and that demand has been put to the National senator Barry O’Sullivan, who is leading the push in the upper house.
Labor has not ruled out moving amendments if the bill comes on for debate but the opposition has signalled it will definitely support any of the proposals for the commission of inquiry currently before the parliament.
Given the internal dissent, Turnbull, who was out on the hustings with John Alexander before the Bennelong byelection on 16 December, was peppered with questions about whether he would allow the probe to proceed.
Barnaby Joyce, who is also fighting to hold his seat of New England in a byelection, has signalled the Nationals might formally support a banking inquiry after Nationals meet in their party room in Canberra next Monday.
Earlier in the day, the Liberal deputy leader, Julie Bishop, made a conceptual case against the inquiry, saying Australia needed to ensure confidence was maintained in Australia’s banking sector – but she left open whether or not the government might ultimately support one. “This is a matter for cabinet and the party room to discuss,” Bishop said.
Turnbull later said the government would not support a banking royal commission because “our focus is on results”.
“It is on action,” he said. “That is why we have not supported a royal commission. If we had set up a royal commission into banks two years ago, none of the reforms that we have undertaken would have been able to be achieved.”
Turnbull said the priorities in the final sitting week in the House of Representatives would be legalising same-sex marriage and sorting out the citizenship declarations which MPs will be required to make to prove their eligibility.
But the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, who was also in Bennelong campaigning with Kristina Keneally, said that when the prime minister began to dig in, it was generally a sign that a backflip was on the way.
“Malcolm Turnbull says he’s not going to change his mind – get prepared for a change of mind,” Shorten said. “Let’s be upfront here, the government and its members are running around like a bunch of headless chooks.”
Nationals senator John Williams says he believes banking inquiry will clear the Senate and, most likely, the House of Representatives. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP