Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan said his private members bill to establish a commission of inquiry into the banks should pass the Senate this year and may also squeeze through the House of Representatives where he said up to four Nationals MPs have a chance to cross the floor.
As Labor leader Bill Shorten backed the push, Senator O’Sullivan said on Monday he had preliminary talks with the Greens and others over the weekend.
His bill, to be finalised this week, would effectively mirror that which the Greens have long proposed, to establish a commission of inquiry, which is effectively the same but it can be established by the Parliament, rather than the executive, and will report to the Parliament, rather than the executive.
Because there would be little, or no, disagreement between the Greens, Labor, the Nationals and crossbench, Senator O’Sullivan said there would be no need for debate and the bill could pass the Senate quickly, once the chamber had debated and passed the bill to legalise same sex marriage.
It would then go to the House of Representatives, where Coalition MPs Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander are missing while they fight byelections caused by their dual citizenship.
The Nationals would still need two lower house Coalition MPs to cross the floor to achieve the absolute majority of 76 votes needed to enable debate on a private members bill.
But once this was achieved, the bill could then pass without anyone crossing the floor because only a simple majority is needed and Labor and the crossbench outnumber the government by 74 to 73 with Mr Alexander and Mr Joyce missing.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said he had yet to speak to Senator O’Sullivan but said Labor was as determined as ever to have an inquiry.
“A royal commission is the king of all inquiries. It has the power to look behind the corporate veil, to get behind the high-priced lawyers that the banks rely upon. A royal commission has the ability to subpoena evidence, to get to the bottom of all of the financial problems we see,” he said.
“Because of the constitutional crisis, that Mr Turnbull and his government have inflicted on the Parliament, there is a window of opportunity for Labor and like-minded people who want a banking royal commission to finally do what Australians want.”
The move has angered the Liberals who argue the multitude of measures introduced over the past year to curtail banks has been better than a royal commission.
Cabinet minister Steve Ciobo said the government had already acted.
“We’ve given more money and more teeth to the banking regulators, in particular to both ASIC and to APRA,” Mr Ciobo told ABC Radio.
Starting next week, the Parliament sits for one last fortnight before the Christmas break.
Next week, the Senate will be occupied with same-sex marriage and the House of Representatives will deal with the issue the week after.
Senator O’Sullivan said he did bot plan to delay that vote with his bank bill but believed the Parliament could handle both before Christmas.
On Friday, The Australian Financial Review revealed Senator O’Sullivan planned to use a cross-party private members bill to establish a commission, the same legislative mechanism used to legislate for same-sex marriage.
“I’m committed to this cause now as I have been for soe time. There just hasn’t been a pathway before,” ” Senator O’Sullivan told ABC Radio National on Monday.
“They show an almost autistic (sic) disregard for prudential regulation and law, and it’s time for these people to have their day in court.”
Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Anna Bligh said the inquiry was an extraordinary and unnecessary step which could cost taxpayers up to $53 million.
“The justification that’s being used publicly for these actions by this group of senators are seeking revenge for the fact they didn’t get their way in the same- sex marriage debate,” she told Radio National.
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