A petition is a formal written document containing a list of signatures from ACT residents to the Assembly asking that MLAs take some action about an issue of concern or a grievance.
Any ACT citizen or group of citizens can submit a petition. Petitions must address an issue that is related to the jurisdiction of the ACT Assembly.
Petitions date back to the reign of King Edward I (1239-1307). The right to petition the British Crown and Parliament was recognised in the Magna Carta (1215) and in the English Bill of Rights (1689).
Early legislation in England was actually a petition agreed to by the King, and the terms ‘bill’ and ‘petition’ originally had the same meaning. The modern form of petitions developed in the 17th century. The House of Commons passed the following resolutions in 1669:
That it is an inherent right of every Commoner of England to prepare and present petitions to the House in case of grievance; and of the House of Commons to receive them.
That it is the undoubted right and privilege of the House of Commons to adjudge and determine, touching the nature and matter of such Petitions, how far they are fit and unfit to be received.
As a Westminster style parliament, the Assembly follows these traditions today.
To be considered by the Assembly, a petition must comply with the standing orders (Chapter 8: Petitions 83-100).
Petitions can be created and submitted in a paper form or through the Assembly e-petition’s site (or both at the same time).
Typically, paper petitions are circulated in the community and signatures are gathered before seeking a member to sponsor the petition in the Assembly.
When creating a paper petition, the request must be written on every page that contains signatures. Signatures must be original—they must not be photocopied, pasted or transferred. All petitions must be respectful, accurate and reasonable.
Once a paper petition is complete, the petitioner must seek a member of the Assembly to lodge it. Members are not obliged to agree to lodge a petition, and their agreement does not imply that they support its content.
A sample paper petition form is available for reference.
E-petitions require sponsorship by a member first—the member will then lodge the proposed terms of the petition with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. If the petition meets the requirements set out in the standing orders, it is posted on the Assembly’s website with a specified closing date.
For more information, visit the e-petitions site.
The sponsoring member must lodge a petition with the Clerk before it is presented to the Assembly who will check and certify that the petition complies with the rules. Petitions are usually presented after the Speaker opens the morning session. The Clerk provides a summary of the petition, identifying the sponsoring member, the number of signatures, and the request being made. Petitions are not debated by the Assembly, although the terms of the petition, without the signatures, are printed in Hansard.
Once the petition has been presented, the Clerk will refer a copy to the relevant minister. The minister must lodge a reply with the Clerk within three months.
Petitions containing at least 500 signatures are also automatically referred to the relevant Assembly committee for consideration.
There are detailed rules set out in the standing orders on the format and content of petitions. It is important that these rules are followed, so a petition can be considered by the Assembly.