Finance Finance News ‘One scandal away’: Senate crossbench to pile on pressure for a banking inquiry

‘One scandal away’: Senate crossbench to pile on pressure for a banking inquiry

The big four banks have faced calls for a banking inquiry. Photo: AAP
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The Turnbull government will be forced to stare down another push for a banking royal commission on Thursday, when an unlikely group of crossbench senators will call for a inquiry.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson will introduce a private member’s bill into the Senate – co-sponsored by Pauline Hanson, Nick Xenophon, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie – that would initiate a commission of inquiry with the power to compel witnesses and seize documents.

The disparate group of politicians will make the case for the inquiry in a Senate debate on Thursday.

The prospects for an inquiry were boosted by the backing of the crossbench senators, as well as Labor, which is “broadly supportive”, and Nationals Senator John Williams, who advocates a commission.

If passed in the Senate, the bill would be sent to the lower house, where Nationals MP George Christensen has already said he would cross the floor in support of an inquiry.

Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson is pushing for a banking inquiry. Photo: AAP
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson is pushing for a banking inquiry. Photo: AAP

A spokeswoman for Queensland independent MP Bob Katter, who is working on his own bill with Mr Christensen, told The New Daily he was likely to support the Senate crossbench move.

With one more vote needed, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s co-sponsorship is expected to put pressure on Queensland Nationals MPs to cross the floor in the lower house.

“We’re only one scandal away from getting more support,” Senator Whish-Wilson told The New Daily on Wednesday night.

If established, the commission would be headed by a current or former judge and would “exhaustively” examine the extent of misconduct within the banking and financial services sector, and its impact on victims.

The bill includes a terms of reference, which it says is drafted broadly so the inquiry is not limited to any sub-sectors on corporate entities.

It would have the same powers as a royal commission, including “coercive powers to compel a witness to attend a hearing, to produce evidence and to answer questions”, but would report to the Parliament, not the government.

‘Culture problem’

Calls for a royal commission have grown louder as a string of scandals unfold while the banks notch up record profits.

In the past 10 years, there have been 17 parliamentary inquiries into financial scandals and misconduct, Senator Whish-Wilson said.

“But we don’t believe the culture in this sector is changing,” the former investment banker said.

“As a senator who has sat on multiple inquiries, there’s only so much we can do. We don’t have powers to compel witnesses, to search premises and seize documents or to offer immunity to witnesses.

“Rather than dog and pony shows with CEOs, we need a commission with real powers and resources.”

The banks are opposed to a royal commission or similar inquiry, which they say is not necessary, and the government has so far resisted calls to initiate one.

Instead, it has opted for a boost in powers and funding for the Australian Security and Investments Commission, and improved access to the financial services ombudsman.

Mr Turnbull has previously said a royal commission would mean “years and years of a very expensive inquiry” and then “a report with some recommendations”.

He said the recommendations would be what the government has already proposed, which is a co-ordinated ombudsman that will “promptly and fairly settle disputes” between customers and the banks.

The nation’s major banks are also hauled in front of the parliamentary economics committee once a year as part of the government’s response.

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