Monday, 21 June 2010
This evening I am pleased to present the report by the Petitions Committee entitled The work of the first Petitions Committee: 2008-2010, together with the minutes of proceedings.
Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.
In the report the committee reviews its role, as framed by the standing orders, and how it has operated since it first met in March 2008. The role of the committee is to process petitions and to inquire into matters relating to petitions and the petitioning system. Given that clear framework, the committee’s primary activity has been to meet each sitting week to consider proposed petitions for compliance with the standing orders, and the written responses that ministers have made when we have referred petitions to them.
Since it began its work, the committee has been concerned to follow up on the matters raised in petitions and we have done that, first, by referring them to relevant ministers. We have also held many roundtable meetings at Parliament House and interstate where we have spoken to public servants and to a number of petitioners about petitions. The committee’s webpage provides petitioners, and the public generally, with easy access to advice about preparing a petition, the terms of petitions that have been presented to this House, ministerial responses, and transcripts of public meetings we have held where we asked about petitions and responses.
Beginning in September 2008, at this time on sitting Mondays I have announced petitions and ministerial responses that the committee has considered at its latest meeting. This regular timeslot has given the committee an opportunity to account to the House and to Australians about the work it has undertaken, and to outline the matters addressed in petitions. The committee hopes that this timeslot will become a permanent one. The committee has been under no illusion about its ability to resolve the concerns that are raised in petitions, but it has been concerned to air them—and the government’s views on them—on behalf of those who sign them.
In discussing the committee’s role, it is worth repeating one of the principles that underpins our decisions. Petitions are inherently about issues that engage peoples’ interest and sometimes their emotions. There will always be occasions when some or all members do not agree with the text of a petition, but, if it complies with the standing orders in its form and content and language, then the committee believes it is required to approve it for presentation in the House—whether that presentation is by me or by a member who has been asked to present it.
The report outlines our approach to our work and the activities we have undertaken as our role evolved. It also examines the relevant standing and sessional orders. We believe that, generally, the standing orders are effective in enabling us to strengthen the petitions process and the links between the House and the Australian people. One recommendation we have made is for the committee to be able to refer petitions to House committees for inquiry and report—should those committees wish.
This is the second report of the committee. We reported in November 2009 on the issue of e-petitions and recommended that the House accept electronic petitions as well as paper. We hope that will happen in the near future.
In what may be my last statement to the House on petitions, I would like to acknowledge my committee colleagues. In particular I thank the deputy chair, my colleague and friend the member for McMillan, for his contribution to this report and for his generous and enthusiastic support for the committee from the beginning. I believe there would be few committees that are as enjoyable to work with as the Petitions Committee. That is due in no small part to the role played by our deputy chair.
The harmony and productivity is also due to the sustained interest shown by other members of the committee, who have many obligations, including leadership roles in other committees. They have taken the time to participate in committee activities here and interstate. Like me, they have been reflecting on the committee’s role as a bridge for communications between the House and Australians and government. I believe it is their commitment that has made the committee so successful so quickly, and it is their commitment that will ensure the committee continues to evolve to meet the needs of the House and petitioners.
I also thank the staff of the committee secretariat for their work on this inquiry. Over the course of the parliament we have had a few changes in our staff, but, fortunately, they have been seamless. I thank all secretariat staff, past and present, for that. It is with pleasure that I commend the report to the House.