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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1740

Mr KEATING (Blaxland) - The honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) has had two bob each way. He talked about the problem that the House has with petitions and the possible merits of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby), and then be indicated that he would not support the amendment. Perhaps he will support the principle embodied in the amendment when his party is in opposition next year. He also said that this debate has political overtones and that he himself had the honour of moving an amendment to a Standing Orders Committee report a year or so ago and was successful. He also commented that the people on the Standing Orders Committee that considered this matter were of such calibre that perhaps the Parliament should not alter the Committee's recommendations. If I might get back to political overtones, he and other members of his party, in a free vote situation, conned members into reducing speaking time. The honourable member for Denison just waffled for the full length of his speaking time tonight when he could have said what he wanted to say in 5 minutes.

I should like to put my view to the Parliament. Last week we sat here for nearly an hour while petitions were being read before we got on to questions. I do not think anyone was really interested by the end of the hour, and many honourable members in presenting petitions referred to their petitions as being couched in similar terms to the petition presented before them. In fact the contents of the petitions were not even read. I do not think that this is doing justice to the people who petition the Parliament. What the honourable member for Riverina has suggested in his amendment as a means to overcome this problem is worth the support of the House. His amendment provides that the petitions go to a committee of 7 members, who will send them to the appropriate area of government for report and perhaps a decision on the matter.

The other point that I think arises from petitions is that some petitions are presented by groups which masquerade as alternative political parties. Other people petition on subjects that are a personal affront to members of Parliament who are asked to present them. For instance, if someone asked me to present petitions on the relaxation of abortion laws, I would not present them. I make no bones about that. But I may present one and I would like to think that the matter is referred to the committee that the honourable member for Riverina has suggested so that the Parliament has the opportunity to decide what course of action it can take on this petition and so that an honourable member is not bedevilled with one petition after another which may be personal affronts to his views. There are members here who have made very strong statements, for instance, in their opposition to the war in Vietnam. If they were presented with petitions every day by certain groups saying that we should send troops back to Vietnam, they would find it very difficult to keep presenting these petitions to the Parliament.

It is reasonable that they should be referred to a committee and some attitude determined upon them. Under the present system they are just presented to the Parliament holus-bolus. They are not receiving the attention of the House. They are just pigeonholed, as many honourable members have said, in the archives of the Parliament. I do not think that this is good enough. 1 think the electors deserve more than this. Parliament should give due consideration to the contents of petitions. I cannot see how we can do this in the period before questions each day. Therefore I think petitions should go to a committee, and I could not envisage a committee any better than the one envisaged in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. I will have much pleasure in supporting the amendment when the vote is taken.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Mr Grassby's amendment) be added.

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