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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 11969


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (10:05): The Petitions Committee has received and considered a steady flow of petitions and ministerial responses since the last committee announcement in mid September. It is notable, however, that this announcement contains a large number of ministerial letters responding to petitions presented in the House over the last few months. As a result, it is the ministerial response feature of the House's petitioning process that I will focus my comments on today.

The seventeen ministerial responses tabled this morning jointly responded to approximately 52 individual petitions tabled in the House over the last three to four months. These were petitions either tabled by me in my role as chair of the Petitions Committee or by various private members. Collectively these ministerial responses address the combined concerns of approximately 73,000 citizens who signed one of these 52 petitions tabled in the House. This statistic alone highlights the importance of this aspect of the petitioning process.

After the tabling of the ministerial responses, as occurred this morning, each principal petitioner is advised of the tabled response and a copy is posted to them. The text of the ministerial response is reproduced in the official transcript of the House and published on the committee's website. This practice is in accordance with a specific standing order governing the petitioning process. So, another major strength of the process is that the issues and the explanations given by government are available not only to the committee and petitioners but also to the general public. If we backtrack a little to when a petition is first considered by the committee, the committee usually decides to refer the petition to the relevant minister to seek their comment. This is a prerogative of the committee, but the majority of petitions are referred. The referral of a petition is significant not in the expectation that the petition request will be granted—more often than not this is not the case—but as a mechanism for citizens' concerns to be directly conveyed to ministers responsible for the applicable policy or administrative area.

Occasionally the response is a success story in which the minister agrees to take the action that is sought. But the general expectation is that the ministerial response will explain a situation that has been raised in the petition. It will cover the background and status of the current policy or legislation and it may outline administrative processes or arrangements or any plans for amendment or change.

The committee has found the responses to petitions to be timely and thorough. This not only means that the process is being followed as intended and ministers are meeting the standing order requirement of responding to petitions within 90 days of tabling, but it also provides petitioners and citizens with advice on the petition's subject matter. We saw one example of the level of consideration given to the petitioning process in one of the responses tabled this morning. It provided an update on an already tabled response to a petition on the proposed closure of Balwyn Post Office. As I have said before, the committee's power to seek a ministerial response and the general cooperation of ministers in replying in a timely way is one of the great successes of the revised arrangements for petitions.