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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4687


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (10:05): Madam Deputy Speaker, today I would like to reflect on the origins of the House's current petitioning framework. In 2007, the House Procedure Committee examined the practices and procedures of petitioning the House. This inquiry culminated in significant recommended changes which were adopted by the House the following year. One of the recommendations, I am pleased to say, was for the establishment of a Petitions Committee. During its review the Procedure Committee adopted six essential principles of petitioning and I will now outline how these principles have been strengthened since the new arrangements began in 2008.

Firstly, petitions belong to the public. Underpinning this principle is the belief that petitions are the most direct form of communication between the public and the House and thus are an important part of our democracy. Secondly, petitions sent to the House should be addressed by the House. The Procedure Committee believed the establishment of a committee to facilitate the tabling of compliant petitions and to communicate with petitioners about the status of their petitions was an effective way for the House to address petitions received. Thirdly, governments should respond. The committee believed that strengthening the ministerial response process would ensure petitions are seen as a worthwhile democratic tool. Fourthly, members' involvement should be enhanced and streamlined. The committee recognised the important role members play in liaising with citizens, raising petition issues in the House and tabling petitions. It wanted better support for members to contribute to this process. Fifthly, rules should be relevant and fair. Importantly, Madam Deputy Speaker, preparing a petition should not be excessively difficult and the rules governing petitions should not prove unnecessarily onerous. And, finally, information technologies should be used more effectively. So, how do we measure up some four years after the committee's review? Firstly, petitioners continue to embrace the petitioning process, which currently remains a traditional paper based system. A greater number of petitions have already been received by the committee in the 43rd parliament than in the full 42nd parliament.

The Petitions Committee has provided not only a procedural function but also an educational, communication and facilitation role. The secretariat assists many prospective petitioners with information about petitioning requirements. This service has informed the committee that many petitions would not have met the basic petitioning requirements without this liaison.

The committee refers petitions to the relevant subject matter minister in cases where the issue has not recently been explored. Ninety-eight per cent of petitioners have enjoyed a response to their petition within the specified 90-day response period. Members are engaging with citizens in the petitioning process by ensuring petitioners get the information they need, by delivering petitions to the committee promptly and by either presenting petitions themselves or arranging presentation by me in my capacity as chair of the committee.

The standing orders governing petitioning were amended based on recommendations of the Procedure Committee to ensure that procedures were fair and that petitioning was acceptable. Next week I will discuss these, and the practical reasons why they were formulated as such.

Finally, in terms of principle 6 I can say that information technology has been more effectively utilised, both in disseminating information and in responding to requests. Petitioners are informed of tabled petitions and responses to these through direct correspondence or information published to dedicated committee web pages linked from the House of Representatives home page.