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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9083

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (10:04): Madam Speaker, today, on behalf of the Petitions Committee I presented 13 petitions and five responses from ministers to petitions that had already been presented. I do not intend to canvass the details of the petitions or the responses. The committee does not take an advocacy role. But the committee does have an interest in the system of petitioning, so I do want to refer to them in general terms so that I can indicate to you and to the House the diverse issues that prompt Australians to petition the House.

Today's petitions addressed Australia's banking system and protection for deposits, asylum seekers policy and practices, higher education funding, the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act, services and programs for the Aboriginal community, the situation in Sri Lanka and Australia's relationship with Sri Lanka, Australian culture and people seeking asylum. The responses from ministers to petitions previously presented covered fees for GP visits, the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution and approval for a pharmacy in a particular community.

At this time on previous sitting Mondays, the focus of petitions I have presented have included early childhood education funding, telecommunications, the environment, road funding, Medicare funding, the classification of defence services and asylum seekers. A glimpse of petitions presented in August 2007 shows that similar kinds of issues were motivating people to petition the House—telecommunications, access to health funding, asylum seekers, the rights of Indigenous Australians, and the environment, for example.

These snapshots of current issues and those that engaged Australians seven years ago demonstrate some diversity, as well as some consistency. Naturally, the range of matters is consistent with those that fall within the powers of the House and the parliament under the Constitution, but I think the range demonstrates more than that. It also shows that Australians are not only engaged with matters that might affect them or their families personally—for example, education funding—but also take an interest in Australia's international relations and the welfare of other people.

In 1988, the number of signatures on petitions to the House began to be recorded. Perhaps changing times and interests may be reflected in the number of signatures on petitions, and perhaps the organising abilities of petitioners may also contribute. Early this year, a petition supporting pharmacies was presented, with more than one million signatures. Until then, the subject of the petition that had had the greatest number of signatures was a protest over a tax on beer; in the year 2000, it attracted more than 790,000 signatories. Perhaps as Australians we have become more interested in health or perhaps our tastes have changed. Either way, it is pleasing that we have a system that encourages people to advocate for their causes in a way that is peaceful and open, and that provides them with a response from government.