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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1735

Mr WEBB (Stirling) -I think it is a tragedy that on a matter which calls for a non-party vote Government supporters are voting as one. I want to show how non-political is the attitude of the Opposition. I do so simply by quoting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). It states:

That the following words be added to the question: subject to the omission of proposed standing order 132 and the addition of the following new standing order: "28a. A Petitions Committee to consist of seven Members, shall be appointed at the commencement of each Parliament to which all petitions shall be referred for examination and reference to the appropriate instrumentality of Government. The Committee shall be empowered to report to the House from time to lime indicating what decisions have been taken by it in regard to the petitions received, if any reports have been received from or action taken by departments, and whether the Committee recommends to the House any action in relation to the petitions".'. ls this proposition political? Does it not say in the first place that the Committee shall consist of 7 members? Does it not say, in effect, that 4 members of that committee shall be Government members?

Sir Winton Turnbull - lt does noi say that.

Mr WEBB - It does say it.

Sir Winton Turnbull - Read it.

Mr WEBB - The honourable member knows that is so. He knows that the Government would appoint the committee and therefore would have a majority of one on it. So do not give us any tripe about that. The honourable member agrees with that surely?

Sir Winton Turnbull - The amendment does not say that.

Mr WEBB - The honourable member said that himself when he was replying to the debate. So get back in your seat. Honourable members opposite have said that this matter is political. But the Government is to have 4 members on the committee while there will be 3 members from the Opposition. Surely that is reasonable. If that is unreasonable I want to know what is not.

The honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) said that a committee on petitions would act in the same way as the committee on social services.

Sir Winton Turnbull - I did not mention social services.

Mr WEBB - I am sorry, I meant to say the Standing Orders Committee, whose report we are now considering. Is he suggesting that the majority of the members of that Committee had caucused and that no consideration would be given to individual views? That is what he is suggesting in effect. He is saying that this petitions committee would act in the same way as the Standing Orders Committee.

A simple proposition is before this Parliament. It is this: Are petitioners to be pigeonholed or are they to be reviewed and reported upon? All the amendment of the Standing Orders Committee proposes - and the Government has a majority on that Committee - is that petitions be referred to the Minister responsible for the administration of the subject matter of a petition. How far does that take us? It means that the petitions will be transferred from one pigeonhole in the archives where they are placed now to pigeonholes in a Minister's office and finally from those pigeonholes to the archives. This is all that the Committee's amendment amounts to.

The Standing Orders Committee considered this matter. A majority of the members decided that petitions should be referred lo the Minister concerned but that a report should not be made to the Parliament. Surely members of this Parliament do not want petitions to be pigeonholed. Surely they should be able to consider these matters after *he petitions have been referred to the Minister and he has reported to the Parliament upon them.

I quoted earlier what happens in New Zealand. The honourable member for Riverina has moved an amendment which, if adopted, would produce a system which is much more simple than that which applies in New Zealand and which should have the support of this Parliament if honourable members do what I consider to be the right thing. We know, that the. New Zealand Parliament is much more advanced than ours as far as democracy is concerned, as is the case with the United Kingdom Parliament and the Canadian Parliament which deal with petitions more quickly. Of course, we expect that to be, the case in New Zealand and the United Kingdom because social services in those countries are treated differently. Both countries have abolished the means test on pensions. Many petitions that are presented to this Parliament deal with the abolition of the means test. This aspect of social services is not a very satisfactory one as far as the Government is concerned.

This Parliament should deal with petitions in such a way that petitioners will know that their petitions had been dealt with reasonably. What is the use of people presenting petitions to this Parliament - despite the suggestion of the honourable member for Mallee that this be referred to the Standing Orders Committee, - if the result is to be the same as previously, namely, that petitions will be referred to the Minister concerned and nothing else will happen. We want petitions to be referred to the relevant Minister and we want a report on them to be made to this Parliament. We want this Parliament to decide what will be done.

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