Queensland Liberal National Party senator Barry O’Sullivan revealed on Friday (16 November) that he intended to introduce a bill calling for a commission of inquiry into the Australian banking and financial services sector after the Senate finalises its discussions on the same-sex marriage legislation.
A commission of inquiry is established by Parliament rather than the executive (which handles royal commissions) and reports to Parliament.
As well as being supported by the Nationals, the move has been welcomed by MPs from Labor, the Greens and several crossbenchers. It is also thought likely to pass, seeing that a similar bill put forward by the Greens was previously blocked by the Nationals.
However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that next week’s sitting of the Lower House would be cancelled to allow for the debating of the bill to legalise same-sex marriage.
Several ministers, including Labor and crossbenchers, have criticised the move as a political one that aims to delay the vote on the banking inquiry until next year.
A group of MPs have now written to the Prime Minister asking for the Lower House to sit as scheduled, and therefore allow the bill to establish a commission of inquiry into banking and financial service to be debated.
Labor and the Greens believe that there would be adequate votes to call for the inquiry (74 votes to the government’s 73).
However, at a media conference earlier this week, Leader of the House Christopher Pyne argued that an absolute majority of 76 was needed to suspend standing orders and bring it on for debate.
“There is no bill to be debated’
Speaking to Sky News political editor David Speers on Monday (20 November), Mr Pyne played off accusations that the decision to cancel the sitting was a bid to delay the vote on the banking inquiry.
Mr Pyne said: “[T]he truth is that the Labor Party, the Greens and others are reacting like near hysterics to something which we do quite routinely. Already once this year, we’ve changed the sitting pattern, we brought forward a week from the 30th of October to the week before because it was more convenient for people, and given some of the summits that were on; last year we bought the budget forward a week in May 2016.”
Continuing, Mr Pyne said: “[T]here is no motion before the House about a banking inquiry, there is no bill to be debated in the House about a banking inquiry and there’s no motion or bill passed through the Senate. So, right now we’re dealing in speculation and that’s not how we decide the agenda of the House of Representatives.”
The Leader of the House and Liberal Party MP added that it was “not the government’s policy to have a banking inquiry” and suggested that the government had already “put in place many of the measures that a royal commission probably would have recommended already”.
He cited ASIC and APRA’s “toughened” powers as an example, stating that the government had allocated more funds to both regulatory bodies “to ensure they can do their job”.
Mr Pyne concluded: “The problem with a royal commission into the banking sector is, it would take years and years to report and all those people who think that they’re going to get compensation or redress out of a royal commission would be waiting years to do so, whereas because of the government’s policies that we’ve put in place now, we’re actually getting on with the job.”