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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13190

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (10:02): In this, my penultimate petitions statement this year, I will provide an overview of petitioning trends in 2015.

In the 2015 calendar year, including petitions presented today, there have been 64 petitions presented by the chair of the Petitions Committee—me—during this Monday morning timeslot. That figure is, uncannily, the same total number of petitions presented during the chair's presentations for the 2014 calendar year.

For the same period, there have been 34 member presentations to date—six less than in the 2014 year, which had 40 separate member petition presentations.

That translates to 98 petitions presented to date in 2015, compared to 104 in the full period of 2014. That is a remarkably similar overall number of presentations dealt with in each of two successive years. Incidentally, if we also include the full calendar year for 2013 in our comparisons, a year which spans an election period—and thus considerably fewer presentation opportunities—the total number of petitions presented was 84.

Of course there is one further chair's presentation on 30 November this year, at which the committee is expecting further petitions to be presented, and at least a further two member presentations before the House rises in the week ending 3 December. But at this point in time the expected presentations will not shift the current trend.

While the overall numbers of in-order petitions presented mirrored each other in 2014 and 2015, the total signature counts appear to tell a vastly different story. This is because the total number of signatures attaching to all petitions presented in 2014 was a remarkable 1,440,270, while in 2015 the total to date is 198,936. However, we must adjust for a significant outlier petition which was presented in early 2014. This was the biggest signature count petition to be presented in the House's history, with a total of 1,210,471 signatures. If we adjust for this figure, the overall signature counts in each of the two years are very similar, with 229,709 signatures on all other petitions in 2014 and 198, 936 on all petitions in 2015.

One might suggest that analysing the number of petitions presented in the House is a pointless exercise given the multifaceted reasons which lead people to petition. For example, in 2011 there were 195 petitions presented in the House—the highest number since the committee was established—but this fell to 120 presentations the following year. Irrespective, it is worth considering the overall trends. The current statistics indicate a consistent level of petitioning activity over the last few years. It reflects a desire by the Australian people to continue engagement with the House in this traditional, although often very time-consuming and physically demanding, way.

Similarly, the number of valid signatures on petitions is dependent on many factors, not least the time frame the petitioners allowed the petition campaign to run. But there is no doubt that to gather thousands of signatures—counts exceeding the population of small regional towns—is a considerable triumph. There has been a great deal of effort to organise, mobilise and coordinate resources to collect many handwritten signatures.

Finally, the other statistic—that of the number of petitions responded to via a ministerial response—shows that 85 petitions have received a ministerial response in the period, with the expectation of more being presented on 30 November. Given the standing orders allow for a three-month response time frame, plus the mechanics of presentation, this means that the ten petitions presented today will only be referred for a response this week. So the response rate applies to no more than 88 petitions—and in reality even fewer, as petition matters already referred are not automatically re-referred when another petition on the same matter is presented. This, therefore, crudely translates to approximately 97 per cent of all petitions presented in the period receiving a response. This is a slight increase on the previous year's already impressive response rate.

Overall we can conclude from the year-to-date statistics that the pattern of petitioning has been consistent across 2014 and 2015 with, on average, similar sized petitions being received in each year. We can also conclude that the ministerial response rate has also been a consistently high and stable ratio of petitions presented in each period.