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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1729


Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) - 1 support the amendment moved by my colleague the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). Whilst I do not yet concede to being a patriarch I think I know the difference between a patriarch and a matriarch. I hope I am somewhere between the two. I have lived through the period from 1951 to 1971, which is a long period, during which I have seen petitions increase in number to such an extent that instead of being rareties they have become abominations, f still hope that there is some reality in the petition and that it is an earnest prayer. Sometimes I wonder whether the millions of people who must be praying night by night in deference to the terms of the petitions that they have presented are praying in a manner that the theologians would call effectually. I hope they are. But I sometimes wonder about it in terms of the reality of the procedure in this House. If 1 may relate ray colleague's amendment to a committee that exists in the Senate, the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, 1 presume that there are as many rules and ordinances made in this Parliament as there are petitions presented. I would suggest that if some systematisation is to be made with regard to petitions a committee such as that suggested by the honourable member for Riverina would be a workable proposition.

The right to present a petition has quite a long history. One might say that a petition is the cry of despair of the citizen. I think that in many ways citizens are despairing more in 1972 than they have for a long time, and I think that this is one of the reasons why a large number of petitions are coming forward. Appendix B which is attached to this report breaks down the types of petitions which have been presented to the Parliament. After all, in the last few weeks one has heard read lo this House each day approximately 30 petitions relating to the same subject. Unless the House is going to do something about petitions, certainly it would save a lot of time if they were not read, because sometimes it takes half an hour or more each day to read them.

As someone suggested this afternoon, many honourable members wail until petitions have been presented before they come in.o the chamber. If that is the reality of the situation, I believe that it would be much more sensible if, at the end of the day's proceedings, the Clerk were to say that that day he had received from specified members 17 petitions dealing with the Post Office, 7 petitions dealing with kangaroos and 5 petitions dealing with some other subject. At least, there would be no time wasted. But if a petition is to be regarded as having some virtue, I think that at least it ought to be put on a real plane, and this could be done by accepting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. He gives the petition some place of honour. As I have said, a petition is the last despairing cry of the citizen, and as such it should be of some avail.

I am pleased to note that my fri;nd the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) sees some sort of virtue in treating petitions in the way outlined in the amendment. 1 was a little surprised by my friend - I think I can call him my friend - the distinguished honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) who this afternoon spoke as though petitions were a waste of time. Petitions may be a waste of time but, with all respect to the honourable member, nobody puts his name on a petition unless he thinks that it will have some effect. If petitions are becoming ineffective, as I believe they are, then I think it behoves this House to restore to the petition the kind of honour that it is thought to have in a democratic system. This is why I believe that there is some merit in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. He seeks to appoint a petitions committee, and I liken that petitions committee to the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

In recent times 2 honourable members have tried to pour cold water upon particular petitions that have been presented to the House, but no petition can be received by the House unless it carries the certificate of the Clerk. I think that we place the Clerk in a position of dishonour if it is suggested that a petition has political overtones. I think that my colleague the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) suggested that he had become an organiser of petitions, but I do not think anybody believes that that is a dishonourable practice. The honourable member for North Sydney was all on side with petitions that were against the nationalisation of banking, but he does not necessarily favour petitions which seek to prevent the slaughter of kangaroos. If one has to be the judge of each particular petition, I suppose that it becomes a little bit tedious. But if we appointed a petitions committee, after some time that committee could evolve its own practices. It could say: 'We believe that the particular petition on pollution of the atmosphere is worthy of some consideration, and we recommend certain things about it'. I think that something could then be done about petitions, and that we would begin to separate the effective from the ineffective types of petition.

All that a petition does is to acknowledge the difficulty facing the sort of society in which we live, with the conflicts and problems that are emerging, and perhaps to indicate that Parliament, in its present form and with its present committee arrangements, is not as efficient or effective as it ought to be. I do not see any venom or any kind of political opportunism in the amendment which my colleague has moved, and I hope that the House will give serious consideration to it. When petitions come before us they should be referred automatically to a petitions commitee, which would systematise them and say: 'We think that some of them are ephemeral or are serious but cannot be effectively dealt with by the existing mechanism, and others indicate serious opinions within the community that not all is well'. As I see it, this is all that is intended by the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina, and 1 hope that the House will support it.







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