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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10422


Mr MURPHY ( Reid ) ( 1 0 : 05 ): Today I have presented 10 petitions that the Petitions Committee has found to comply with the standing orders. I want to repeat a remark that I make from time to time. The committee may or may not agree with the contents of a petition but its role is not to decide whether a petition is acceptable for tabling on the basis of the members ' personal beliefs; rather, the Petitions Committee ' s role is to consider whether a petition complies with the rules of the House in terms of its form, content and language. If it complies, the committee will authorise its presentation. This approach reflects the historic nature of petitions, the committee ' s role as a conduit between the people and the House, and the House ' s respect for freedom of speech.

I would also like to point out that, in addition to House standing orders which govern petitioning, the Petitions Committee—and indeed all proceedings of parliament—are also guided by broader foundations of parliamentary practice. These foundations lay down some fundamental expectations of all who participate in the work of the parliament. This is something that petitioners need to consider when preparing petitions.

The right of petitioning the Crown and parliament is not a modern activity; it has existed in the Westminster system since the 13th century. Petitions are essentially requests by citizens or residents for action by the House of Representatives. Petitions set out the issue that gives rise to the petition and then make a request of the House. For example, petitions may ask the House to: introduce legislation or appeal or change existing legislation; take action for a certain purpose for the benefit of particular persons; or redress a personal grievance, such as correction of an administrative error.

Back in the days of King Edward I, the petitioning process was primarily used to redress personal grievances. Over the centuries, the basis of petitioning has evolved and developed such that petitioning now focuses less on individual grievances and more on issues affecting the collective. One of the reasons for this change is that there are now many other avenues for individuals to pursue the resolution of a personal grievance—for example, through approaching their local member of parliament.

Agencies today that may also be relevant for Commonwealth matters include the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and bodies such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The petitioning process is therefore not usually the first port of call for petitioners to seek a resolution or a solution to personal grievances, given that other often more specialised avenues exist to raise these matters. Engaging in the petitioning process, like any engagement an individual or a group of individuals undertakes with the parliament, should be undertaken in a considered and respectful manner.

Finally, petitions are a powerful tool for the general public to air their views or issues with the possibility of influencing policy or causing action to be taken. Even if no action results immediately, one of the most valuable results of the process is that members and the government of the day are informed in a formal and public manner of the views of certain citizens on a given matter. Parallel to this ability is the expectation that petitioners will treat the process with care and respect, ensuring that petitions comply with the letter and spirit of the requirements of the House.