Monday, 2 May 2016
There is potential for this to be one of my last statements as Chair of the Petitions Committee in the 44th Parliament. It is a role I have enjoyed, not only as the chair in this parliament but also as an ongoing member of the committee, having been the deputy chair in the 43rd Parliament.
The Petitions Committee is a domestic committee of the House, largely providing the stewardship of the House's procedural requirements for petitions. The core business of the committee is receiving and assessing petitions against the standing order requirements for petitioning—and certifying those which comply. Complying petitions may be presented in the House, either by members who have agreed to present petitions on behalf of petitioners, or by the chair of the committee. The House introduced this flexibility of presentation in 2008 when the committee was first established.
My presentation role ensures that petitions which comply with the House's standing orders may be presented in the House—even if a member is unable or unwilling to present a certified petition (for whatever reason). This is important, because it highlights the House's neutrality in accepting petitions on the basis of procedural requirements, not on favour or prejudice. Also, it means that all certified petitions may be considered by the executive. This is because in most cases, complying petitions which are not duplicate terms—or do not cover the same subject matter concerns of other recently referred petitions—will usually be referred by the committee to the executive for a written response.
The committee receives ministerial responses to petition referrals and these are also presented during my statement, as we have seen today. Today's presentation brings the total number of petitions presented by me this parliament to 169 and the total number of ministerial response letters to 193, responding to 233 petitions.
There were 91 petitions presented by members of this parliament to date. That accounts for 35 per cent of petition presentations, showing the importance members place on directly engaging with constituents in the petitioning process. This figure would have been slightly higher but for some presentations by members prior to committee certification—in which case the petition is recognised as a document on presentation and not as a petition until it is subsequently certified by the committee, and is then presented by the chair.
(The petition is not recorded against the member's presentation retrospectively.) Two petitions of this nature, presented in March, await the committee's authorisation this week that they comply with requirements and can be presented by the chair on the next sitting Monday. Potentially those presentations may be delayed until the 45th Parliament. What this means is that the terms are not recorded in Hansard or published on the committee's website and the petition is unable to be referred to the appropriate minister until presented by the chair.
On that note, I wish to stress to members the importance of trying to present certified petitions, which they currently hold, with the intention of presenting before the end of this parliament. If they find themselves unable to schedule presentation of these petitions, or they still hold them at dissolution, then these petitions should be returned to the committee secretariat to make new arrangements for the 45th Parliament. Similarly, at the end of the parliament, any petitions which have been received by members, but have not yet been considered by the Petitions Committee, can be delivered to the secretariat.
Finally, I want to mention that through my work on the committee I have attended numerous meetings—both in Canberra with public servants and petitioners, and interstate, with petitioners and their representatives and supporters. Given the broad subject matter that the Petitions Committee naturally encounters, and from all geographic areas of Australia, these have been interesting, educative and often emotional meetings, at the grass roots of communities.
As the outgoing chair I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the deputy chair and all of my committee colleagues for their enthusiasm for the process of petitioning in the House of Representatives. I thank my colleagues for their support of the work of the committee and their cooperation in carrying out their role with diligence.