Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:48): I move:
That this house:
(1) recognises that:
(a) the ability to petition the Parliament is a right of all Victorian citizens;
(b) petitions are the only way an individual or group of citizens can directly place grievances before the Parliament;
(c) petitions provide an important tool for improving community engagement with the political process;
(2) notes that:
(a) a petition is a citizen’s request for action, but once a copy of the petition has been referred to a minister by the Clerk, no further action is required, which is a flaw in the parliamentary system of democracy;
(b) the Australian House of Representatives has a Standing Committee on Petitions which receives and processes petitions on behalf of the house and is able to inquire into and report on matters relating to petitions following their tabling;
(c) the process for petitions in the Victorian Parliament requires urgent reform;
(3) requires the Procedure Committee to inquire into, consider and report by Friday, 20 August 2021, on any sessional or standing order changes that would provide reform of petitions, including appropriate measures to require the:
(a) relevant minister to table a written response to a petition within 14 days of it being tabled in the house;
(b) Legislative Council to debate the issue raised in a petition upon reaching a certain threshold of petitioners that is to be fixed by the house;
and calls on the government to implement petition reform no later than 16 September 2021.
I am very pleased to move motion 474 in my name, and while you can see it on the notice paper, fundamentally it is requesting that the Procedure Committee investigate how we can use our petition process more effectively and, interestingly, more democratically. It recognises that petitions are a fundamental way for Victorians to communicate with the Parliament to express their grievances, to call on action from this Parliament. But once we receive at petition in this house, what happens to it? Now, I am very pleased in the previous Parliament we were able to change the petition process to allow for e-petitions. This was pretty much the first time that petitions and the petitions system in this Parliament had been changed since Parliament was formed in 1856. And the petition process that we had in 1856, in fact the petition process that we had in 2017, was very similar to the petition process that we had in the 15th century. So not a lot has changed. This motion is requesting that the Procedure Committee looks at how we change this, looks at how we can better respond to the growing numbers of petitions that this house is receiving.
Now, as of today, this house since the introduction of e-petitions has received 335 petitions, albeit not all of them have been tabled in this house.
I would like to talk about the ones that have been tabled in this house. What has happened to them? I was curious. Where do petitions go once they have been tabled here? Once they have been put on this table, where do they go when they leave this table? Well, they go into a cupboard—they go into the petitions cupboard.
Mr Atkinson: It’s a very big cupboard.
Ms PATTEN: It is a very big cupboard, Mr Atkinson. It is a very big cupboard. In fact they are never thrown away I am assured by the reliable tables office. They eventually might leave this house, yes. They may leave this house. They may go to some place where we archive all of the words and the papers that have come out of this chamber and this Parliament, but they are never destroyed. Unfortunately what does not happen—
The PRESIDENT: Members, I am struggling to hear Ms Patten.
Ms PATTEN: Unfortunately what does not happen is a response. What does not happen is an action, unlike other jurisdictions that have very robust petition systems. I have to remember that we did speak about this last year, but I would turn to parliaments like Scotland’s, which has a very robust petition process. Once a petition is tabled there it goes to a petition committee and then that committee considers what action the Parliament should take on it. If a petition was to be tabled in the German parliament and that petition had received over 50 000 signatures, there would be a public hearing. There would be a debate about the issue that that petition was bringing to the Parliament. In other parliaments if it is over 100 000, you could almost say that it needs to get acted on. In fact that is the rule in the United States: if there are over 100 000 signatures on a petition, the White House in the United States must act on it.
I think many of the people who petition us would actually like a response. They would like the minister to write to them, and right now because we have e-petitions responding to the people who signed a petition is a relatively simple process. Through changes that I hope the Procedure Committee will investigate, will consider, we could improve the communication with our constituents, between the community in Victoria and this Parliament. Because as has actually been raised today, trust in government is ever diminishing. We sit at a very low level of trust for governments in Australia, in fact internationally. I think addressing the way we deal with petitions is one way to address that lack of trust in our parliaments. It is to show that we actually do care about the considerations of our community, that when they do petition us we will act, we will respond to what they have called for.
This could be a very simple system. As I said, Scotland has a very sophisticated system, but there are simple processes where a petitions committee could consider whether this might be a reference to one of our standing committees, whether it just requires a ministerial response or whether it requires a debate in this house. In fact shortly after the debate on this motion we will actually to statements on papers, petitions and reports. That may be a time when we could formalise the responses to petitions that are brought before us.
I note that Mr Davis has put forward another motion on petitions, asking the Procedure Committee again to consider how we respond to petitions, how we accept petitions.
So I would like to move, and I do not think there is anyone in disagreement with me, that this motion be agreed to, and that the Procedure Committee inquire into, consider and report by 20 August on any sessional or standing order changes that would provide reform of petitions, including appropriate measures to require the relevant minister to table a written response to a petition within 14 days of it being tabled and the Legislative Council to debate the issue raised in the petition upon it reaching a certain threshold of petitioners that is to be fixed by the house. This is happening all around the world. This is a modern way. This is what our community expects.
When our community puts the effort into petitioning us then it behoves us to respond to that. It behoves us to react to that, to act on that, and I think this would go a long way to improving the consideration that our community has of this Parliament. We know this Parliament does some great work. We all see it. We see what happens that is not on the nightly news. We see what happens in our committee processes. We see the consensus that so often occurs in this Parliament. We want to engage. We are constantly asking the question: how do we engage better with our community? And I hear each day—we all hear each day—the members statements, where we hear all of you talking about your engagement with your community, talking about the issues that your community is raising, and we hear that again through constituency questions, through adjournments. But petitions are where the constituent, where our community, raises an issue with us that they want to see acted upon, and I believe that we can do better than what we do now. We can do better than just putting a petition in a petition cupboard and then into an archive. We can respond to those petitions. We can act on those petitions. We can, in this very simple way, show the community that we do hear them and we want to hear from them, and I know that that is the will of most of us in this chamber.
I am not sure that there are many other speakers on this motion, but I would—
Ms PATTEN: Thank you. There was a very interesting petition that was brought to the White House—it was an American petition. It was some time ago. They actually wanted to build a Star Wars death star to protect them, and they wanted the government to build one of those giant Star Wars death stars to protect them. It received 109 000 signatures—for the US government to build a Star Wars death star. They received 109 000, so according to their standing orders they actually were required to build this Star Wars death star. Now, as far as I understand, it did not actually happen.
A member: Such a shame.
Ms PATTEN: That is right; it is a shame it did not happen. However, in other places we actually see more sensible approaches to this, and we have seen real development in the response to petitions. We have seen it even in Australia in jurisdictions such as Queensland. In fact in our own Federal Parliament we have a petitions committee that also considers in much more detail a response to that petition. In some of those countries and some of those jurisdictions, very nicely, the people who petitioned the Parliament are written back to. There is a communication—‘Thank you for petitioning us’—and a response to the action that is sought in those petitions. Now, I think that is something that we should consider, and I think the Procedure Committee could do this very well. There is some great work that has been done before us. Certainly, the parliamentary library has written a terrific report into e-petitions, and it considers what is happening in other jurisdictions.
And it goes far and wide from Luxembourg to the Netherlands to Finland to Ukraine, Romania, South Korea, Norway and even the United Kingdom. All have more robust processes for petitions, and I certainly would like to see greater responses here.
Our young constituents probably sign petitions on a daily basis. They would be signing the change.org petitions, the do-gooder petitions—the whole variety of petition processes. They would be signing petitions on Facebook. But our petitions should stand out from those. Our petitions should really stand out. This is our community calling on us to act, and we should respond to that. Now, how we respond to that I think should be up to the Procedure Committee. I think there are many ways that we could do it, and we can certainly look at the other jurisdictions that are already doing different things and providing different responses depending on the size of the petition.
I know some of us have probably presented a petition with just a handful of signatures. It does not mean that we should be silent on that petition. This is still something that we should respond to. I know in my office in another form of petition will be the large number of emails that we all receive on certain issues. Now, I try as hard as I can to respond as much as I can to many of those emails. Sometimes it is not a personal response; sometimes it may be a group response; sometimes the emails that I receive are not personal emails. But, again, I know all of us have received significant representations from our community asking for our help—asking for assistance in some area. We do what we can in this chamber and we raise these on adjournment. We raise these as constituency questions. We advocate to the various ministers or members of government who might be able to assist our constituents, and petitions are just an extension of that.
Look, I would love to see the Legislative Assembly one-day adopt e-petitions. They have not yet, but I would certainly like to see some changes in the Legislative Assembly. Of course I have no way of influencing that but one day—
Ms Shing: They need to be more like us.
Ms PATTEN: If they could be more like us, Ms Shing. If they could just be a little bit more like us—certainly if they had e-petitions. But most importantly I would like to see the Procedure Committee of the Legislative Council investigate how we can more thoughtfully, more carefully and more transparently respond to the petitions that we receive in this house—the petitions where our community has sought our assistance and they have shown the support for the action they seek by either going out and standing at supermarkets and collecting signatures or going out there online and encouraging people to support the action that they are seeking.
So the action I seek from this motion, and I would hope that we would have the support of this house, is to request and require the Procedure Committee to investigate this very important matter and find and recommend ways that we can improve the petition process in the Legislative Council. As I said, in 2017 it was the first time we had seen some changes since 1856, and I think in 2021 we can take another step forward for a better procedure for the petitions that this house receives. I commend this motion.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Reference to Procedure Committee 5/5/21