The introduction of e-petitioning during the 45th Parliament has modernised the way Australians petition the House of Representatives. Petitioners can now choose to submit a paper petition in the traditional way, or lodge an e-petition via an online portal on the Australian Parliament House website.
The Committee has witnessed firsthand the success of e-petitioning, with almost 400 e‑petitions approved for presentation to the House to date. In addition, approximately 300 paper petitions have been presented during this Parliament.
With the successful introduction of e-petitioning, the Standing Committee on Petitions (the Committee) felt it was an opportune time to reflect on its own role and the practices and procedures of petitioning more broadly. The Committee compared its practices with procedural reforms made in other parliaments in Australia and overseas. Some of these reforms have led to greater public awareness and engagement with petitioning, both by members of the public and by parliamentarians themselves.
The Committee is particularly interested in some of the innovative reforms introduced by the UK House of Commons. These reforms, which include Parliamentary debates on petitions, have improved engagement with the public on petitioning, and have sparked greater public interest in the wider workings of the UK Parliament.
Initiating debate on petitions is an action currently available to Members in the House during private Members’ business time and the Committee encourages Members to take up this opportunity in future parliaments. In addition, the Committee believes that petitions that gather at least 20,000 signatures should be considered for debate during a dedicated time in the Federation Chamber. The Committee is of the view that such a change would stimulate further interest in petitioning in the House.
The Committee’s recommendations aim to reinforce the fundamental principles of petitioning. All Australians should have the opportunity to express themselves directly to the Parliament. The rules for petitioning should therefore be as simple as possible, and should not unduly exclude people wishing to voice their concerns.
The Committee considers that the recommendations from its previous inquiry into e‑petitioning, to simplify the House petitioning web pages and provide clear simple instructions on how to petition the House, will complement the changes suggested in this report. By implementing these recommendations, the Committee is confident that the 46th Parliament will continue to foster public engagement in petitioning the House.
I would like to express my thanks to the Deputy Chair, the Hon Justine Elliott MP, and to my colleagues on the Committee, for their ongoing support of petitioning in the House. On behalf of the Committee, I warmly extend my thanks to the inquiry participants, who prepared submissions or gave their time to the Committee. In particular, I thank the parliamentarians and staff from other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas, who shared their experiences of petitioning, for the benefit of the Committee’s considerations.
I commend this report to the House of Representatives. On behalf of the Committee I thank all Australians who continue to show interest in petitioning the House.
Lucy Wicks MP