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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6776

Mr CHESTER (8:37 PM) —I rise this evening to speak on the work of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions. I congratulate the chair on the wonderful work she is doing in the leadership role she is playing on behalf of the parliament. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, the Standing Committee on Petitions is a relatively new committee which seeks to build on an honoured tradition of parliament: the acceptance of petitions on the grievances and concerns of ordinary people. We think that petitions continue to play a very important role in the life of this democracy. The work of the committee is to ensure that continues to happen.

Since the committee was created, new conventions have been put in place on presenting petitions in parliament. Petitions to the House of Representatives come either direct to the committee or through the offices of members. As you would be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, the committee scrutinises petitions and approves those it considers to be in order. This means, first, the petition makes a request that the House is capable of addressing and that it is to be addressed to the House of Representatives. To be considered in order there are also other conditions to be satisfied: that the terms of the petition are less than 250 words; that an identical request appears on each page where there are signatures; that the name, address and signature of the principal petitioner appear on the first page of the petition; and that the petition employs moderate language. We on the committee seek to emphasise the benefits of maintaining these conventions.

If a petition does not meet the criteria for being considered in order or if a member seeks to present a petition outside of the Standing Committee on Petitions approval process, the status of the petition diminishes considerably. What would have been a petition for the purposes of the House becomes simply a document of the House and it loses some of its character as a petition. I believe this is a less rewarding and less happy outcome for the hardworking petitioners who collected the signatures in the first place. If on the other hand the committee finds a petition in order and members wish to speak to it in the chamber, that is the best of all outcomes. A concern from outside the parliament has got some wind under its sails and can be the focus of attention in the chamber. I believe that can be a very significant thing for petitioners.

Another aspect of the work of the Standing Committee on Petitions, which the chair referred to, is ministerial responses, which have been generally prompt and to the point. Petitioners know their efforts are not wasted and that, once they have submitted their petition to the House, it does not get lost completely and they get a decent response. People who support petitions may not always get the answers they want but know that the petition has been taken seriously. That is something that the community certainly respects. It helps to put any concerns that are raised by the general community on the public agenda.

Very recently we had many petitions distributed throughout the electorate of Gippsland in relation to the youth allowance. I understand there are several more petitions on that issue. That is something I believe is very important because it is getting a lot of young people involved in the process. A large number of signatures have been collected throughout Australia on that particular issue. It remains to be seen whether the petitions themselves get the answers desired in the time ahead. It really is an opportunity for the Australian community to have their say through the Standing Committee on Petitions. It provides them with a voice in this chamber. It is now up to us as members of that committee to make sure that voice is heard in this place. (Time expired)