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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 495


Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (10:29): In December last year I had a brief opportunity as Chair of the House Petitions Committee to present petitions and ministerial responses received since the end of last parliament.

Today I am pleased to be able to speak for the first time outlining the role of the committee and the petition requirements it implements on behalf of the House. This information is on the committee's page on the Parliament House website, but it may be useful if I summarise it, especially in this early stage of the 44th Parliament. Since it was established in 2008, the committee has acted as a conduit, bringing petitions from members of the public to the attention of the House and facilitating a response from the relevant minister. In particular, the arrangements for receiving ministerial responses to petitions have helped raise the profile of petitioning as an important way for the Australian public to engage with the House and to learn what the view of government is on the subject matter of their petition.

But, before a petition can be presented to the House and receive a response from the minister, the standing orders require that it meet some threshold requirements. In particular, the petition must be addressed to the House of Representatives, not to a minister, a member or other individuals or groups. It must refer to a matter on which the House has the power to act—a federal legislative or administrative matter only. It must state the reason for petitioning, contain a request for action to be undertaken by the House and contain original handwritten signatures, not electronic or photocopied. The petition terms, reason and request must not exceed 250 words and cannot be illegible or promote an illegal act. The language used must be moderate. The first page of the petition must contain the address to the House, the reasons for the petition, the request itself and the full name, address and original handwritten signature of the principal petitioner. The request must appear on each subsequent page.

That was a summary, and I invite potential petitioners to check the committee's web page and contact the secretariat for assistance before they collect signatures. This will save them time in the long run. When petitioners have completed their petitions and obtained signatures, they may either send them directly to the Petitions Committee or send them to a member. Members will need to forward these petitions to the Petitions Committee because standing orders require that the committee examine all petitions before they are presented to the House to certify that they meet the standing order requirements. If they do meet requirements, then they obtain the benefit of a ministerial response after they have been formally presented.

When considering petitions, committee members set aside their personal views or allegiances regarding the subject matter of the petitions and requests. Members may or may not agree with the request. The committee's role is to ensure that the petitions meet those formal standing order requirements. In finding that a petition complies, the committee is not endorsing the request. Similarly, from time to time the committee finds that a petition does not comply. This is not a comment on the content. It signifies that the House's formal requirements have not been met.

After consideration by the committee, petitions that comply with standing orders may either be presented by me as the chair during this time slot or return to the relevant member for presentation at other times, if that is the petitioner's and the member's request. In presenting petitions that comply with standing orders as Chair of the Petitions Committee, I am assisting members of the public to raise their concerns directly with the House. I may or may not agree with the contents. Similarly, members who present their constituents' petitions may or may not agree with the content. What we are doing is in keeping with the historic nature of petitioning the House and is in keeping with the House's respect for freedom of speech.

The committee is keen for members of the public to understand the benefits of the House petitioning process and to know what is required of them so that they obtain those benefits. That is why the committee's web page has detailed information on the work of the committee and the requirements for petitions. The secretariat is also able to assist prospective petitioners with draft petitions to give them the best chance of being presented and being responded to by government.