Outspoken Queensland backbencher George Christensen says he will defy Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and support a commission of inquiry into the Australian banking system if a vote is brought on in the House of Representatives this week.
Mr Christensen, the National Party’s member for the north Queensland seat of Dawson, told The New Daily that an investigation of the major banks’ activities was now “necessary” after his electorate office was flooded with complaints from farmers who had taken out loans now managed by ANZ.
“The bank has been ripping people in my electorate to shreds,” Mr Christensen said.
“We now need a commission of inquiry to shine the spotlight on what the banks are doing to farmers and their families,” he added. “Everything has got to be exposed for what it is.”
Mr Christensen vowed to support a private member’s bill submitted by Queensland crossbencher Bob Katter.
His vote would be sufficient to tip the numbers against the government and force the parliament into establishing a commission of inquiry into the banks.
The inquiry would have the same powers as a royal commission, which only a government minister can establish.
A vote on a commission of inquiry could occur this week before parliament rises for the year.
Speaking to The New Daily on Tuesday night, Mr Katter would not rule out attempting to bring on a vote over his bill as early as Wednesday.
“If it looks like a chance of getting up I will call for it to be put,” he said. “I can’t rule it out.”
Pressure bears down on Christensen
Mr Christensen is already under pressure from at least one government minister after he announced last Friday his opposition to a decision by Westpac to hike fixed-rate home loans by up to 0.6 per cent.
Mr Christensen said people in his electorate had shared harrowing stories about their experiences with ANZ Bank since it acquired loan portfolios of the Landmark finance business in 2009.
“Many farmers are losing their properties and livelihoods because ANZ decided it was time to get its money back,” he said.
Farmers have told me the bank forced them to sell everything so that they could give back money that was owed.
“One of my constituents, Brett Fallon, said that even though he had a clear plan to retire the debt, the bank still foreclosed on him.
“He ended up dousing himself in petrol and setting himself alight, which has left him with scars.”
Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer held talks with Mr Christensen on Monday about his new attitude to a banking commission.
“Her office said they’re going to see what they can do,” Mr Christensen said.
If a vote is taken this week on Mr Katter’s bill, Mr Christensen said he would find it difficult to support the government.
“If a motion of substance for a commission of inquiry comes to a formal vote it would definitely be difficult for me to vote against it,” he said.
Mr Katter described Mr Christensen as a “man of courage” and noted that he is one of only a handful of government backbenchers to cross the floor of the lower house in the last two decades.
“I remember that day very well and George seemed to very scared about voting against the government on an ethanol bill,” he said.
“But he did it. The right call.”
Commitment to an inquiry
Mr Christensen said he was now committed to seeing the banks investigated through a commission of inquiry set up by the parliament.
In August he took a leading role in government moves to shoot down a Labor motion to establish a royal commission.
He now regrets the decision.
“I always wondered whether it was the right call,” he said.
“I was convinced at the time that the tribunal was the best way to go.”
Mr Christensen is no stranger to challenging the government’s official policies on financial services since the Coalition regained power at the 2013 federal election.
In July he threatened to cross the floor and vote against Treasurer Scott Morrison’s plans to introduce a $500,000, non-concessional cap on superannuation balances.
“I hate it when government fiddles with super,” he said at the time on his Facebook page.
I made my views clear to the Nationals leadership team earlier this week: our superannuation policies need to change, in…
“If the government’s superannuation policy does not change, I will be crossing the floor and voting against these measures.”
His threats proved effective, with Mr Morrison deciding in September to water down aspects of the super reform program, including the abandonment of the $500,000 non-concessional cap.