A meeting of federal National MPs next week is brewing up to be a heated affair with ministers and backbenchers at odds over a sweeping banking inquiry.
As Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan refines his private bill for a parliamentary commission of inquiry – with similar powers to a royal commission – senior Liberal Christopher Pyne issued a dire warning to his coalition partners.
“Disunity is death,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
Senator O’Sullivan’s bill is likely to win majority support in both the upper and lower houses, in defiance of the government’s position.
And any inquiry appears to have the overwhelming support of voters, with an Essential Research poll showing 12 per cent of voters oppose a royal commission.
Cabinet minister George Brandis, who leads the coalition in the Senate, dismissed reports Senator O’Sullivan is willing to let the government take control of the process to implement a commission of inquiry.
It was not the best mechanism to deal with the problem, he said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed, saying if he had established a royal commission two years ago, it would have delayed all the bank reforms his government has since put in place.
“It is the difference between getting on with the job, taking action now and delivering results now,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten – on the hustings in the Bennelong by-election – said the government was running around like a “bunch of headless chooks” on the issue.
He guaranteed a Labor government would hold a royal commission if an inquiry wasn’t established now.
However, Greens leader Richard Di Natale is concerned the terms of reference in Senator O’Sullivan’s bill are too narrow and is negotiating with him on changes.
The Nationals will discuss the issue in their party room next Monday – their first gathering since the disappointing Liberal-National Party showing in the Queensland state election – and ahead of a joint meeting with Liberal colleagues on Tuesday.
Nationals leader-in-exile Barnaby Joyce, who is fighting a by-election in New England – says it was the right of the party room to bring up these issues.
But senior Nationals minister Darren Chester is yet to be convinced spending $150 million on an inquiry would achieve anything.
“That $150 million could be building better, safer rounds in regional communities … rather than filling the pockets of lawyers in Sydney and Melbourne,” he told Sky News.
If Senator O’Sullivan pushes ahead with his bill before the meeting, debate won’t start until the Senate votes on laws to enable same-sex marriage, expected late on Wednesday or Thursday.
In the lower house, Nationals MP George Christensen is a confirmed supporter, launching an online petition and website to build public backing.
He will be joined by fellow Queenslander Llew O’Brien, so long as the inquiry investigates discrimination against people with mental health issues.