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Petitions

Fact Sheet – Petitions [PDF 314kb, 2 pages]

A petition is a request by a group of citizens for Parliament to take action to solve a particular problem. It is the oldest and most direct way that citizens can draw attention to a problem and ask Parliament to help them. The Australian Parliament receives many petitions each year on many different subjects.

Form and content

The Yirrkala petition, written in English and Yolgnu languages, and decorated with Aboriginal bark paintings.

House of Representatives Table Office

In the House of Representatives, a petition can be presented on paper or electronically. To be accepted it must follow the standing orders of the House and be about something the House is responsible for. It also must be clear what the petition is asking the House to do. The petition must be addressed to the Speaker and members of parliament. It cannot promote anything illegal, contain offensive language or be longer than 250 words.

A petition to the Senate may also be presented on paper or electronically, and must follow the Senate standing orders. It must be addressed to the whole chamber and contain a request for action written in respectful language. A senator must present a petition to the chamber on behalf of the petitioners and it must be certified by the Clerk as being in accordance with the standing orders.

Presentation to the Parliament

The Senate and House of Representatives each have rules about how a petition can be presented to the chamber.

In the House of Representatives, petitions are presented on Mondays by the chair of the Petitions Committee. These are presented along with any responses by government ministers to petitions previously presented to the House. The chair will usually give a short speech at the same time. Petitions can also be presented by another member of parliament.

Petitions can be presented to the Senate on any sitting day.

After a petition has been presented to Parliament, the text of the petition and number of signatures is printed in Hansard. A petition may be forwarded to the minister responsible for the matter raised in the petition for further consideration.

History

The right to petition the monarch and parliament to solve a problem dates back to the thirteenth century in Britain. At that time, proposed laws were little more than petitions to the monarch. Petitions in their current form date from the seventeenth century.

In the Australian Parliament, one of the most famous petitions was presented to the House of Representatives in 1963. This petition was presented by a member on behalf of the Yolgnu people of Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. It requested Parliament recognise their traditional land on the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land, which was under threat from mining. This petition combined bark painting, text in English and Yolgnu, and was decorated with Aboriginal designs. The petition is on public display in Parliament House. As a result of the Yirrkala Petition, the Parliament established a select committee to investigate the issue.

Some unusual petitions have been presented to the Senate, including one that was written on a jacket and continued on a roll of cloth. This petition related to the textile, clothing and footwear industries and was presented on 2 April 1992.

More information

APH website

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