Malcolm Turnbull is edging closer to an embarrassing defeat as he seeks to head off a commission of inquiry into the banks.
Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan has lodged a notice of motion in the Senate which would enable him to get “top priority” for his bill to set up an inquiry – with similar powers to a royal commission – into the banking, insurance, superannuation and financial services industry.
However, the debate would not start until the Senate votes on laws to enable same-sex marriage, expected late on Wednesday or Thursday.
The notice of motion came as Nationals colleague George Christensen launched a website and online petition to boost public support for the inquiry.
“There is a need to take strong action to address the appalling treatment of people who have done nothing wrong, other than trusting a bank to look after them,” Mr Christensen said on Monday.
“And any commission of inquiry I support will also investigate unconscionable conduct in the insurance and superannuation industries.”
The Queensland MP said he would share the messages of support with colleagues at party room meeting in Canberra next Monday.
The O’Sullivan bill is expected to easily get through the Senate but Mr Christensen will need to be backed by at least one government colleague, as well as Labor and crossbench support to push it through the lower house.
Fellow Queensland Nationals MP Llew O’Brien could deliver that vote.
A spokeswoman for Mr O’Brien told AAP he was still speaking with his colleagues.
But he is understood to favour the inquiry if he can amend its terms of reference to look at discrimination against people with mental health issues.
The O’Sullivan bill proposes the inquiry be led by three commissioners – a former judge, a community representative and a financial expert – with a report provided to the parliament.
Mr Turnbull told reporters on Monday he did not believe the banking inquiry was an issue at the Queensland state election, at which the LNP failed to unseat the Labor government.
Nationals leader-in-exile Barnaby Joyce, campaigning for his return to parliament, has indicated the minor coalition partner is “only too willing” to consider a banking inquiry once the result of this Saturday’s New England by-election is known.
Nationals senator John Williams, a long-time supporter of a royal commission into the banks after years of financial scandals, predicts the bill will clear the upper house.
Cabinet minister Simon Birmingham said it was not unprecedented for government MPs to cross the floor.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the opposition would work with Senator O’Sullivan on trying to establish an inquiry.
He is also open to government plans for a scheme to compensate past victims of financial scandals that emerged last week.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson suspects the government’s proposed compensation scheme is “definitely designed” to head off the Nationals from pursuing an inquiry.