Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (16:59): Before I move motion 162 in my name I would seek leave to amend slightly the reporting date that was set in this motion at April 2020. I seek leave to extend that date to August 2020.
Ms PATTEN: 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; however, 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 20 August 2020, on any sessional order or standing order changes that would provide reform of petitions, including appropriate procedures to require the:
(a) minister, or minister representing the relevant minister in the Legislative Assembly, to table a written response to a petition within 14 days of it being tabled in the Legislative Council;
(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 1 January 2021.
This motion relates to the petition process that we have in this Parliament. I was very fortunate in the last Parliament to be part of the move of this house to e-petitions. What we saw from that was an incredible increase in the number of citizens that engaged in this house through e-petitions. I think the very anachronistic pencil-and-paper type of petition is something quite foreign to many of our constituents these days with Change.org et cetera. We saw this very big change.
Petitions to this house had not really changed since they were introduced in the late 1800s, and the model that we used in the late 1800s harked back to the first model of petitions that dates back to the 14th century. Since the 14th century we have always understood that there is a right for our citizens to petition us, and I think now that is more important than ever.
Now we are seeing our citizens lose faith in our governments, our citizens lose faith even in democracy itself. Our citizens see us as the ‘other’. They do not have a connection with this house as they should. I know all of us speak to and engage with our community as best we can.
We are out there, and I hear members statements about the wonderful times that all of us have spent with our constituents, engaging, listening and bringing those grievances back to this house, whether it is through second reading debates, whether it is through constituency questions, adjournments or whatever. But really the petition is that direct democracy. It is that ability for a citizen to directly speak to this Parliament. It is cherished, and it should be. But I think we could go further.
The heart of this motion is about how we can take further the way that we respond to our citizens when they take the time to petition us. I commend a research paper done by the library on e-petitions, and I would certainly like to commend Caitlyn Grover, who is the author of this research paper. It is a very good read. She very succinctly but in great detail looks at what other countries are doing right now in how they respond to their communities when their communities petition their parliaments.
I will speak to how other jurisdictions deal with petitions in a moment. But if we look at how we deal with it, I suspect all of us during our time in this house have delivered at least one petition—have tabled at least one petition from 10 citizens, 1000 citizens, 10 000 citizens or 30 000 citizens. We have delivered that petition. We have brought in sometimes bundles of curled papers, or more recently we have relied on the e-petition process that is operated through our table office very effectively. However, what happens then? What happens to that petition? What message do the citizens that either spent the time collecting those signatures or the citizens that purely signed that petition get? What happens? Nothing happens.
I do not know where the petition cupboard is in this Parliament. I will find out, but I suspect that it is a very big cupboard. I do not know how long we keep them for, but that is pretty much what we do: we pop them in a cupboard. We do not necessarily respond to them. We do not act on them, we let them go. So what this motion seeks to do is change the way we respond to our citizens who petition us.
This motion asks that the Procedure Committee consider how we could best do that. I can tell you that a lot of other jurisdictions have considered this, even as close to home as Queensland. When an e-petition is received by their Parliament, ministers are actually required to respond to it. Within 30 days a minister must consider that petition and must write back and give their position on that petition—whether they will act on it, whether they will dismiss it out of hand.
They do not necessarily answer the petition, and we all know that from asking our questions of ministers; we do not necessarily get answers, we get responses. But they must respond to it, and that response must be online—that response is public.
In Germany if there is a petition of over 50 000 people, there must be a public hearing. There actually must be an inquiry into what that petition has called for. So they will hold public inquiries and they will investigate to see where the support is, what the views of the rest of the country are on that petition. In the United Kingdom they require a response from government to petitions that receive over 10 000 signatures.
Petitions that receive over 100 000 signatures are considered for debate in Parliament. As I say, trust in our governments is at the lowest it has ever been. The 2020 Edelman Trust report that came out earlier this month shows that in Australia less than 44 per cent of Australians trust government.
I have just listened to the debate that we have had on out-of-home care, and I have to say that it was a respectful debate, it was a very good debate, it showed the multipartisan nature that so often people do not get to see. They do not get to see what we do when we do it well. They get to see us probably at our poorest moments because that makes the best TV, that makes the best headlines—us at our poorest moments.
We should look at ways that we as a Parliament can engage with our constituency in a meaningful way so they can see that we are listening to them, that we are responding, and I think petitions is an excellent way of doing this. In Scotland they have a petitions committee. When you go to put a petition up in Scotland it is not as simple as it is here. There are certain strict rules and regulations about how a petition is developed and how it is placed onto the website. I think that is very sensible, but what that means is that the Parliament in Scotland takes that petition very seriously, and they will consider it at different levels.
The United States do something similar. The United States actually set a rule that the White House must act on a petition if it is over a certain number of signatures. That number has steadily increased over the years. It was at 100 000 until 109 000 people petitioned the US federal government to kick Piers Morgan out of the country. The petition level has actually now increased in that jurisdiction.
E-petitions have been introduced into Queensland, Tasmania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Portugal, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Ukraine, Romania, Latvia, South Korea, the European Union, the Norwegian municipalities and Victoria as well.
What the table office tells me right now is that since the development and introduction of e-petitions they have expanded and increased remarkably. What is particularly sad about it, though, is that we as MPs have not tabled those petitions. We are actually seeing more petitions coming into our Parliament but less of them actually making it onto the floor of this Parliament. I think that if we changed the way that we responded to our petitions, we would see greater engagement.
I think I would certainly be more engaged in a petition if I knew that the minister would need to respond to it and if I knew that after a certain number of people had signed it we would actually debate it in the Parliament.
Mr Davis has shared some of his thoughts with me on this, and I hope when we get to debate this in greater detail at a later time we can discuss this. But I am very pleased to see that Mr Davis and other members in this house have considered where we can go with petitions and how we can engage with our community in a much more meaningful way.
Particularly our younger constituents sign a petition on a daily basis. They are signing a Do Gooder petition; they are signing a Change.org petition. But they do not understand that none of those petitions make it into our Parliament.
We have a system for petitions to make it into our Parliament, and I think that is quite right. However, what they probably do not understand is what happens to that petition once it makes it into Parliament. So they are very pleased that that petition has made it into Parliament, but what they are unaware of, and I think is the absolute flaw in our system, is that we do nothing with those petitions.
Mr Barton interjected.
Ms PATTEN: I take up that interjection from Mr Barton. I think it is disrespectful, and I do believe that people do not see government, they do not see our Parliament, as part of their lives. They see us as something other. They do not see that we impact on their lives every day when in fact we do.
So it behoves us to, and we must, do what we can. I think seeing a large crossbench shows the diversity of the community here, and I think those voices will be further extended and further amplified by changes in the way that we deal with petitions. So this is I think quite a simple approach, and I would hope that we may actually get to this position without having to go through the full debate on this motion.
But I would suggest that within a certain period of time a minister must respond to a petition, and everyone, particularly those on the e-petitions—everyone who signed that petition—will be notified of that response. That response will go up online. If we get to petitions that have 50 000 or 100 000 signatures, then maybe we need to consider a different response to that—a different response to the importance that our community have put on the issue that they are petitioning us to act on. And we can learn from the many other jurisdictions that have been doing this for many years.
I will particularly refer back to Scotland, which has got an incredibly sophisticated system of a public petition committee that determines what is admissible. There is a process that it goes through. The website keeps them informed. What we find with those petitions is that they are actually acted on. There are a number of petitions, and I would again encourage people to look at the research that the library has done on e-petitions but also certainly to go to the Scottish Parliament’s website on petitions, which goes to the Scottish Parliament’s process for petitions, where you can see what the petition was, how it was formed, who formed it and how the government responded to it or how the Parliament responded to it.
What I saw there was that those petitions effected change, and that is what our community wants. Our community wants to hear that they are being heard. Our community wants to see that they are being heard. I myself am told by people, ‘Why don’t we start a petition?’, and I certainly think it is one way to illustrate support for a particular position, but the fact that we have no way of furthering the debate on that petition within the Parliament I think is a flaw in our system.
Business interrupted pursuant to sessional orders.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Reference to procedures committee by Ms Patten 19/2/20