E-petitions are becoming increasingly popular in the digital age, with thousands being circulated around Australia every day.
- E-petitions are considered part of the rise of “slacktivism”
- They are currently not valid in Western Australia’s Parliament
- The deputy chair of a Parliamentary Committee would like to see a trial of e-petitions during the next term of Government
But if you signed an online petition in Western Australia, your view might not have been acknowledged.
Current laws around petitions presented to local and state governments in Western Australia mean they are not obliged to consider e-petitions.
According to the WA Parliament, petitions must be include the original signature of each petitioner.
“In order to be tabled in either house of Western Australian Parliament, a petition must conform to the Standing Orders of the house in which it is presented,” it says.
“It must be addressed either to the President of the Legislative Council or the Speaker in the Legislative Assembly and contain the name and address of each petitioner along with their original signature.”
The WA Parliament Standing Committee on the Environment and Public Affairs is charged with reviewing petitions, and its deputy chair, Colin Holt, said he would like to see a trial of e-petitions held over the next term of government.
“I really believe in the petition system. I think it’s a really valuable way for the community to interact with policy makers,” Mr Holt said.
“It’s a good activity and a good thing for the Parliament to preserve.
“I think there’s a great opportunity for e-petitions to play a role.”
According to Mr Holt, the traditional and slow-moving nature of Parliament is to blame for the current, exclusively paper-based system.
With the vastness of regional Western Australia restricting some paper-based petitions reaching the public, Mr Holt said e-petitions would be welcomed in the state.
But he believed restrictions would be required to maintain the authenticity of the system.
“You don’t want to weaken the petition system by making it an e-petition system, you want to strengthen it,” Mr Holt said.
“If you get 40,000 signatures of which only 200 are from Western Australia, in my mind, that potentially weakens the petition.
Rise in ‘slacktivism’
If you have noticed a rise in petitions in your inbox recently, you are likely not alone.
Director of higher degrees (course work) at University of Western Australia’s Law School, Professor Marilyn Bromberg, said with e-petitions becoming so easy to put together they are becoming more popular.
“It is quite possible there are many petitions for very important causes that simply aren’t getting the attention they should because of just how many there are out there,” Dr Bromberg said.
Despite their increasing numbers, they are not often successful in bringing change.
“There was a study that looked at about 2,500 petitions that were submitted to the Australian House of Representatives between 1997 and 2007, and the study found that only three out of more than 2,500 petitions submitted received a ministerial response,” Dr Bromberg said.
“But even if the petition isn’t successful in making that change at the point in time it’s submitted, it can be very useful in raising awareness about a particular issue.”
While she believed they had their place, Dr Bromberg described petitions as a form of “slacktivism”.
“Slacktivism is a form of activism … but there’s a difference between something that is rather easy to do — takes two seconds, you can do online — versus something that takes more time and actually requires your physical presence.”
Regardless of their power, or lack thereof, Mr Holt said e-petitions were still useful as a gauge of public sentiment on an issue.
“We get petitions all the time from the e-petitions circulating around the community,” he said.
“I think while they’re not an official petition that the Parliament has to act on, they certainly are useful for gauging the community’s temperature about those issues.
“It’s still useful information, and it’s still good to know ‘OK, 40,000 people have signed that petition, that’s a big success rate’.
“So even though the Parliament won’t officially look at them, it’s still good to know from a Parliament’s viewpoint.”
Debate required to go online
According to Mr Holt, there is currently a report on the Legislative Council table which discusses a trial of e-petitions.
However, he did not believe it had reached the level of debate required.
“I think it should be debated in the House, we should give a trial a go and test it out to see how the community embraces it,” he said.
“I think it’s well worth using, as a trial period, during the next term of Government.
“There’s a bit of irony in that, don’t you reckon?”