MALCOLM Turnbull has been accused of delaying parliament to avoid an embarrassing backbench revolt over a royal commission into the banking sector.
Senior government minister Christopher Pyne today announced the House of Representatives would not return to Canberra for sitting until December 4 — a delay of one week — to deal exclusively with the same-sex marriage bill and to resolve any outstanding citizenship issues.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson has been quick to accuse the government of a delay to avoid a push by Coalition backbenchers to call for a royal commission in Parliament while the government is down two MPs in the lower house.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has also accused the Prime Minister of “running scared”.
“If you can’t run the Parliament, you can’t run the country,” he wrote on Twitter.
It comes after Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan told ABC radio this morning there “could be as many as four” Coalition MPs in the lower house willing to back his bid to bring on a royal commission.
The week’s delay allows the lower house to return after a by-election in New England on December 1, where Barnaby Joyce is expected to be re-elected.
Former Member for Bennelong John Alexander would still be out, however, with a by-election in his electorate not due until December 16.
Mr Pyne rejected any suggestion the delay was about safeguarding the government, telling reporters in Adelaide neither Mr Joyce or Mr Alexander would be back by December 4 even if they were re-elected.
He said the government would not be listing any other bills until the gay marriage bill was dealt with but acknowledged there could be moves by other individuals or parties to change the agenda.
“We won’t be listing other bills, but anyone who wishes to change the agenda, if they have 76 votes that they can achieve a suspension of standing orders,” he said.
Senator O’Sullivan warned last week he was intending to use a private members bill, the same tactic Liberal Senator Dean Smith used to launch a bill to make gay marriage legal, to push for a royal commission into the banking sector.
He named Queenslanders George Christensen and Llew O’Brien as potential backers in the lower house while speaking to ABC radio this morning.
Coalition backbencher Warren Entsch has previously warned he might support an investigation if Treasurer Scott Morrison failed to investigate past instances of alleged misconduct by the banks before Christmas.
Senator O’Sullivan acknowledged today it would still be up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the executive to decide whether to launch a royal commission despite his push in parliament.
But he said Mr Turnbull would need to “sit up and take note” if both houses of parliament voted for the investigation.
“The introduction of [Senator Dean Smith’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage] into the Senate showed a new pathway for backbenchers to be able to pursue matters of importance to them and I’m just simply following along in his footsteps,” Senator O’Sullivan told ABC radio.
“If both houses of the Parliament think this is a good thing to do and that is the decision, I think the Prime Minister has to sort of sit up and take note and support the parliamentary decision,” he said.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said this morning he had not spoken to the MPs who wanted to launch the bill but has welcomed the move but had “no doubt” there were coalition members who wanted a royal commission.
“Because of the citizenship chaos in the government, because of the constitutional crisis, that Mr Turnbull and his government have inflicted on the parliament, there is a window of opportunity for Labor and like-minded people who want a banking royal commission to finally do what Australians want,” he said.
“I actually think most Australians wonder why on earth Mr Turnbull keeps trying to stop having a royal commission.
“People are sick of the rip offs and rorts and they want to see Australia’s big banks accountable to every day Australians, the customers.”
It’s likely Senator O’Sullivan’s bill would pass the upper house, where Labor and the Greens would support his bill.
For it to pass the House of Representatives, the senator would need at least two Coalition MPs to cross the floor.
His chances of success are currently higher given the government is down two votes with Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander facing by-elections after being caught up in the citizenship crisis.