Monday, 3 June 2013
Age Pension; Statements
Further to last week’s statement, today I will discuss the two public hearings the committee conducted in Sydney and Brisbane with selected principal petitioners and/or their representatives.
Since the inception of the first committee in 2008 the committee has elected to hold roundtable public hearings on a variety of petitions which have met the House's requirements and have subsequently been tabled and, usually, have already been responded to by the executive.
These hearings are conducted to enable a further airing of the petition issue through a public dialogue on the petition, and not to inquire into the matter with a view to resolving, following-up or making recommendations to government on any individual petition concern. This type of activity is beyond the scope of the committee's role.
However, considering that petitioners are aware that the committee is not a body of resolution, it is gratifying to see that petitioners have willingly appeared at these meetings and have gone to much trouble with their pre-preparations. Many of those who have appeared have enthusiastically reported how much they valued simply being able to discuss their petition matter with the committee. And the matter, which is condensed in the petition terms to 250 words, can be elaborated on—and this discussion is a public one.
I am sure that I speak for all members of the committee in endorsing the value of conducting these discussions with principal petitioners and/or their representatives. More often than not the committee comes away from these hearings with a clearer, or new, perspective on an issue. Petitioners may do likewise, even on matters close to their hearts. Sometimes participating in discussions may help petitioners to advance solving a matter for themselves or may simply satisfy their understanding why something is the way it is.
In addition, the full transcripts of the public hearings are published by Hansard and to the committee's website, so these insights and clarifications may be ascertained by interested stakeholders and the general public more broadly. Once the official transcript has been finalised, a copy is sent to the relevant portfolio minister or ministers pertaining to those petitions discussed.
Hearings have also provided the added opportunity for the committee to learn of the reasons petitioners utilised the House's petitioning process to air their concerns, rather than through other mechanisms, and what they thought of the process. And these hearings were no exception.
In Sydney, the committee met with the principal petitioners (or their representatives) of four petitions, on the following matters: calling for the full implementation of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program; requesting various considerations during the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement negotiations; maintaining the current civil aviation standards for flight-crew ratios; and ways in which customers are informed, and give consent for, their financial data being held offshore.
In Brisbane, the committee heard from the petitioners on yet another diverse range of petition matters calling for special award payments for on-the-job risk for truck drivers, seeking an intercountry adoption program between Australia and Burundi, requesting that Australia support the recognition of Palestine as a non-member state of the United Nations, and seeking to have all food which is manufactured using halal processes labelled as such.
The committee was interested to learn of the firsthand experiences of most of the principal petitioners who had prepared petitions. In Sydney, one petitioner spoke of firsthand experience with bowel cancer; another had been made redundant when the service area they worked in moved offshore, whilst another had worked as a flight attendant over many decades of change in the aviation industry.
In Brisbane, one petitioner who was a truck driver with over 20 years experience in the industry told the committee he had witnessed the consequences of serious vehicle accidents, including being injured in three massive, no-fault collisions. Another petitioner and her husband had independently adopted their son from the small African country of Burundi, after many years of trying to adopt through the officially supported intercountry adoption programs. These petitioners came to express their concerns and desires about matters which were not only personally connected to them—in many cases, deeply so—but these people also had expertise in the subject matter.
These petitioners did not just come to the committee with problems. The petitioners had thoroughly researched their concerns—they brought statistics and data and thoughtful suggestions or reasoning. And this is entirely understandable given that the petitions process reinforces this type of thinking.
Petitions to the House must draw to attention an issue of concern; they must set out reasons why there is a problem, and then they must ask the House to take action. Therefore, formulating a petition encourages petitioners to think not only of the problem but of what they would like changed, introduced or resolved.
I thank the House.