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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 3113

Mr MURPHY (10:09 AM) —I wanted to take this opportunity today to speak about petitioning more generally for the information of newer members and the general public.

Petitioning has a long history in the Australian parliament, having been part of the operations of this House since Federation, and having an even longer history in Westminster, dating from the time of King Edward I, who reigned at the turn of the 14th century.

Petitioning is the only way members of the public can directly interact with the House, and the Petitions Committee serves as a conduit between the community and the parliament for the purposes of petitioning. It does not seek to promote or de-emphasise individual petitions, but assists their passage through the House, and provides authority for requests to ministers for responses to concerns raised in petitions.

It might be useful for the House if I outline some practical aspects of petitioning the House and the way the Petitions Committee participates in the process. In so doing I refer to the guidelines posted on the committee’s webpage titled ‘Petitioning the House of Representatives’. These guidelines are based on the standing orders of the House.

Essentially, petitions need to be in a particular format and addressed to the House, and refer to a matter over which the House has power to act.

Petitions should state the reasons for petitioning the House, and contain a request for action by the House. The reasons and request are known as the terms of a petition.

Beyond this, the terms of petitions should be no more than 250 words, and must not be illegal or promote illegal acts.

Petitions must be in English, or be accompanied by a certified translation. No letters, affidavits or other documents can be attached, and these are returned to the principal petitioner.

It is also important that every petition contain the signature and full name and address of a principal petitioner on the first page of the petition. The principal petitioner is generally responsible for organising the petition and receives correspondence from the committee, and relevant minister if the minister provides a response.

All signatures must be original—not copied, pasted or transferred—and each signature must be made by the person signing in their own handwriting, except where a person who cannot sign asks another person to do so on their behalf.

Against these parameters, the committee makes determinations on whether petitions it receives—directly from petitioners or from members—are in or out of order for the purposes of the House. In this we are governed by standing orders that I have summarised.

But there is also a wider vision. Petitions are one way to counter disengagement: intermediaries are stripped away, and people can make a direct connection to the House.

And it is in many ways truly a more direct connection. One of the great successes since the introduction of the Petitions Committee in 2008 is an increase in ministerial responses to petitions. In the 41st Parliament, before the committee was introduced, the response rate was less than one per cent. This was raised to approximately 60 per cent following the introduction of the committee. This is a truly remarkable increase in three short years.

Finally, increasingly petitioners are in contact with the committee and its secretariat in order to check that proposed petitions fall within the parameters set by standing orders. This has led to a greater number of petitions being found in order, and a rising confidence in the community that the concerns voiced in petitions can indeed be heard by this House.