Na­tion­als se­na­tor says Turn­bull gov­ern­ment must fund bank­ing in­quiry

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Katharine Murphy and Gareth Hutchens

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

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