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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1562


Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (10:02): Madam Speaker, in my last statement as Chair of the Standing Committee on Petitions I discussed some of the effects that petitioning the House can have. Today, I would like to focus on the origins and role of the petitions committee. As you know, Madam Speaker, the Standing Committee on Procedure tabled a report in August 2007, which recommended a series of changes to standing orders designed to improve the way the House deals with petitions. One of the key facets of these changes was the establishment of a committee dedicated to dealing with petitions.

The Standing Committee on Petitions was established in 2008. Standing order 220 provides for the committee to receive and process petitions and to inquire into and report to the House on any matter relating to petitions and the petitions system. Prior to 2008, petitions were assessed by the Clerk or Deputy Clerk to ascertain whether or not they met the requirements. Under the current arrangements, it is the petitions committee that performs this role.

Petitioners lodge their petitions with the committee either directly or via a member. The committee meets each sitting week to examine the petitions received and determine whether they meet requirements. Petitions which meet requirements are found in order and prepared for presentation. Those that do not meet requirements are found out of order and returned to the principal petitioner with advice on preparing petitions for the House.

The committee also plays an important role in regard to presenting petitions. While some petitions are presented by members after their consideration by the committee, others are presented by me as chair during the petitions timeslot on sitting Mondays. This mechanism allows any citizen to have their petition announced in the House, regardless of whether a member is able to present.

After petitions are presented, the committee then refers the terms of the petitions to the minister who is responsible for the matter. Ministers are expected to provide a response to the petition within 90 days of presentation. Before the changes of 2008, very few petitions received any ministerial response, as the standing orders contained no expectation of a response. Since the changes were implemented, nearly every petition receives a response. This is one of the real strengths of the current approach.

Once the committee receives the ministerial response, it considers the response at its next meeting, and the responses are presented to the House by me, again during this timeslot on sitting Mondays. The committee then sends the response to the principal petitioner, thus keeping them informed of the progress of their petition.

Considering and presenting petitions and responses are not the only roles performed by the petitions committee. The committee also has an important part to play both before petitions reach the House and after ministerial responses have been presented.

Public outreach is an important aspect of the committee’s work. The committee’s web page is an excellent source of information on how to petition the House, and also contains contact details for the committee secretariat. Anyone who is considering petitioning the House would benefit from consulting the web page and contacting the committee secretariat before they commence gathering signatures. In this way, petitioners can help ensure that their petition will meet the requirements, and thus will be referred to the responsible minister for response.

Another facet of the committee’s work is the conduct of public hearings. A few times each parliament, the committee conducts public hearings with petitioners and government officials. The purpose of these hearings is twofold: firstly, it gives the committee the opportunity to receive community feedback on the petitions process and, secondly, it allows petitioners and government ministers or officials to discuss the issues in petitions at greater length than can be achieved via the petition and its ministerial response. The transcripts from these hearings are published on the committee’s web page, helping to shed further light on the issues raised in petitions.

As we can see, the petitions committee provides an important link between petitioners and the House, a link which did not exist before the establishment of this committee.