Parliamentary Committees (Petitions) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I rise to indicate the government's support for the Parliamentary Committees (Petitions) Amendment Bill introduced by the member for—I was going to say the grandmother of the house. Is that allowed these days? Is it politically correct to say that?

The most senior of our members in contributing years.

I think 'the mother of the house' is more suitable. It is fair to say that when the member for Florey does introduce matters of importance to the parliament we should listen because she has had an extraordinary amount of experience. She has been a dedicated advocate for the people of her electorate, notwithstanding fending off charges from left field—

Ms Bedford: Right field!

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: Yes. Notwithstanding that, she has prevailed and stands strong, continuing to advocate for her community. Consistent with that has been the introduction of this bill, which the government has considered and reviewed and supports. In summary, it proposes the obligation of a parliamentary review, via the Legislative Review Committee, in respect of petitions presented to us as a parliament once they achieve a defined threshold of 10,000 physical signatures.

I will comment on the process shortly but, in short, it will require a state government minister to respond to the petition as a transparency measure. When I first looked at this bill, I thought the member for Florey must have been reading the Liberal Party of Australia (SA Division) Constitution, and—If she was, I would be pleased to make sure she is given a full copy, along with membership forms and everything else. We on this side of the house take very seriously the pleas that are presented to our hierarchy in our political organisation, so much so that when the state council of the Liberal Party of Australia (SA Division) makes a determination that may be inconsistent with the parliamentary representatives' position on a matter, there is an expectation of accountability back to the state council to identify their position and the basis upon which they may have formed their view. We support democracy— and we support a process of accountability in relation to our democratic structures. Congratulations to the member on raising this matter. She does so because of what I think is at least a perceived lack of recognition of community concerns via the current process. I think what is implicit in that has been a circumstance where, when our petitions are quite rightly read out to this parliament before the commencement of business of the day, the number of petitioners is identified for the consideration of members, and to alert members to the seriousness of matters that are of concern to those particular signatory lists.

Those petitions are of course kept in the records of the parliament, and in some circumstances may not be revisited with any application or response they may duly deserve. Introducing a mandatory process of review and response essentially says that this is a serious process and that it is a matter that needs to be recognised. Where there is a mandatory model of accountability, a threshold of 10,000 signatures is not unreasonable.

I am sure all members would be aware of this, but I hope to remind them of this: those signatures must be of people who have identified an address in South Australia, so they are South Australian petitioners and not a list of people who might be advocating for a cause from another country or jurisdiction elsewhere in Australia. They need to be South Australians, at least identified by their address, for the purposes of the petition to be valid for the counting of signatures.

Secondly, the current process we have in respect of petitions requires a physical signature, not an electronic one, or registration by pressing a button. We all know that there are certain polls, surveys or petitions now commonly applied that give people a voice through our electronic mediums, and that has often concerned me.

The old days of having a strong and passionate protest about something has translated into today's younger advocates on public policy having the responsibility of pressing a button on a survey on a computer rather than actually taking up the challenge past that. There is some absolving of responsibility to say, 'I think that's a pretty good idea; I'm going to press that button. I'm going to be one of a number in a survey to indicate my support or objection to a particular initiative.' They feel as though they have been relieved of their responsibility by doing that and do little else.

It is very important to ensure that the message gets through and that the public voice and the community concern about matters do actually translate. So it is very important that we have a process here in the parliament where there can be a direct public voice via a petition and at a certain threshold. This bill, with 10,000 signatures as the threshold, imposes an obligation on us as a parliament to respond.

The process that the member has highlighted in this bill is one of referral to the Legislative Review Committee, which is a standing committee. It has a continuing role and a certain charter. From our perspective, in the first instance that is the appropriate referral body. One matter that we may need to consider in the future is the question of whether the parliament or, perhaps more appropriately, the Legislative Review Committee has the power—if it does not have the power now, that is something for us to consider—to delegate or re-refer that matter to another committee.

I raise this because the member quite rightly points out that some of our other committees, such as the Social Development Committee in the parliament, frequently have quite an overload of references. The Social Development Committee is also a standing committee that provides valuable work to the community. It may be that that committee, for example, is one that is either currently charged with a similar charter in respect of a term of reference that has been referred to it or has already done some work on something that is the same subject matter that may be, on further consideration, best or better able to deal with the review of the concerns raised in the petition.

I think we need to keep an open mind as to whether we might need to provide some added power to the Legislative Review Committee to refer the matter to another committee if, in their view, they consider that there could be some more valuable consideration or update provided on advice to us here in the parliament and, in due course, any minister can respond in the parliament to be fully briefed and informed.

Perhaps the most important thing about referring to a committee is the opportunity for committees of the parliament to take evidence and to receive further submissions in respect of the matter raised. We are yet to see how that is going to work. Again, we would need to see how that might operationally occur.

The member for Florey has introduced issues, as she is the sponsor of this legislation, regarding areas of interest in her electorate, including Modbury Hospital, an important health service in her electorate. It services a very large region statewide but is also used by others in her electorate. We need to support the sorts of issues where there is a big response, so we support the bill.