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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9483

Mr BROADBENT (8:32 PM) —Members will be aware that the Standing Committee on Petitions is new to this parliament. Tonight I want to add to what the chair, the member for Fowler, has said and to her kind words. I want to talk about our position and role as a committee and about the bigger picture on petitions: why they matter and why we feel so engaged with petitions as part of the work of the House. As members will have heard from the chair in her last statement, the committee serves as the conduit between the community and parliament. Our role is not to either promote or de-emphasise individual petitions but rather to assist their smooth passage into parliament and provide authority for requests to ministers for responses to concerns raised in petitions.

It might be useful for the House if I outline some practical aspects of petitioning the House and the way the Petitions Committee participates in the process. In doing so, I refer to the guidelines posted on the committee’s webpage titled ‘Petitioning the House of Representatives’. These are based on the standing orders of the House. Essentially, petitions need to be in a particular format, to be addressed to the House and to refer to a matter over which the House has power to act. Petitions should state the reasons for petitioning the House and contain a request for action by the House. Beyond that, the text of petitions should be no more than 250 words and must not be illegal or promote illegal acts. Petitions must be in English or be accompanied by a certified translation. No letters, affidavits or other documents can be attached.

It is also important that every petition contain the signature and full name and address of the principal petitioner on the first page of the petition. All signatures must be original, not copied, pasted or transferred. Each signature must be made by the person signing in their own handwriting except for a person who cannot sign and has asked another person to do it on their behalf. Against these parameters, the committee makes determinations on whether the petitions it receives directly from petitioners or from members are in or out of order for the purpose of the House. In this we are governed by standing orders that I have summarised.

There are also some interesting developments in petitions which have come up over the time the committee has been operating. Increasingly, petitioners contact the committee and its secretariat in order to check that the proposed petitions fall within the parameters set by the standing orders. This welcome development will lead to a greater number of petitioners being found in order and a rising confidence in the community that the concerns voiced in the petitions can indeed be heard by the House.

We are also seeing an increased use of email to distribute petitions by principal petitioners under the current arrangements of the House. From this point signed, hard copy petitions are either sent back to a central point for collection or sent straight to the House of Representatives. To be considered by the committee, petitions must be signed, original hard copies. It will be interesting, however, to see how these developments are affected if the House introduces electronic petitioning. As members will be aware, the committee, as part of its role in developing policy, is currently inquiring into electronic petitions. If the introduction of electronic petitioning is recommended by the committee and adopted by the House, it will open up new possibilities for a pathway of communicating with parliament that continues and enhances the great tradition of the petition.

I commend the committee to the House and congratulate the chair on the great work that she is doing communicating her role and the role of the committee with the community of Australia.