Do parliamentary petitions help Bundy?
DO PARLIAMENTARY petitions make a difference to the issues important to Bundaberg?
Bundaberg Canegrowers manager Dale Hollis recently submitted a parliamentary petition challenging the Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures which came into effect last year.
Within a week the petition has collected over 2000 signatures, although is still open for further support until September.
“That’s not too bad, considering that it’s an indication that a fair bit of the people were there,” he said.
“And I’ve got no doubt someone will start a counter-petition, but again, that brings it out in the open and all I want is the science that was used to make those regulations are checked, because I know that it doesn’t stand up to rigour.”
In the past 18 months there have been other parliamentary petitions significant to Bundaberg brought to the attention of the Queensland Government’s policy makers.
These include an objection to a coal development licence, a Level 5 hospital commitment, a bridge name change, upgrades to FE Walker St, and a push to release Paradise Dam’s technical reports.
Two of the petitions were created by Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey, a former LNP cabinet minister who considered the process a valuable political tool, if properly managed.
But Cr Dempsey said parliamentary petitions had to be politically neutral.
“The more people that sign them, the more they are noticed by MPs,” he said.
“My hospital petition last year was influential in swaying the Premier to announce a new hospital for Bundaberg.
“My Paradise Dam petition brought national attention to the issue and influenced the government to release technical reports and establish an inquiry.”
In May last year Cr Dempsey’s Level 5 hospital petition was within days of being finalised when Annastacia Palaszczuk visited Bundaberg, and dropped an exclusive to the NewsMailthat caught even the regional health service by surprise. She announced there would be detailed analysis to investigate a new hospital site.
And the Paradise Dam’s technical reports were released about a month after Cr Dempsey’s petition began.
Resources Minister Anthony Lynham considers petitions to be an important part of the state’s system of democracy, as it allowed Queensland citizens the opportunity to directly communicate their views to the parliament.
He has been the government’s main spokesman when it comes to defending its position to release water from the dam in preparation to lower the dam’s spillway, having been a key part of several heated debates over the dam’s future.
“The petitions this year have given the people of Bundaberg a direct channel to me, through the parliament, and allowed me to provide them with the full facts,” Dr Lynham said.
“This direct exchange of information is invaluable for government and for the petitioners.
“Often, facts are distorted and selectively used through third parties.
“In the case of Paradise Dam, I have been able to clarify the real public safety risk shown by the many technical reports and the government’s appreciation of the importance of water security to irrigators, agriculture, and business.”
Former Labor federal Hinkler MP Brian Courtice said petitions were important considering Queensland had no upper house to test the policies of government, which meant it was able to “do what they like”.
“Only very few of them (petitions) for the number that are presented actually change government policy,” Mr Courtice said.
“(But) it’s always worth the effort to try, and it is to be hoped more and more people sign petitions that are worthy.
“What petitioners have to hope for is the local politician that presents the petition and other like-minded politicians will use that petition to lobby both their party, and if they’re not in government, their Opposition to take up that cause.”
Burnett MP Stephen Bennett sponsored the Avondale coal and Canegrowers petitions, and he said there had been more petitions over the years that have led to funding commitments, particular with road upgrades.
“Sometimes we have to realise that petitioning governments about policy, it can be an incredibly slow burn,” Mr Bennett said.
“We’re not expecting instant gratification in a result but lets not forget that a lot of smaller items can accumulate in a change that may be a year away, it may be two years or it may even be longer, but in all essence it all paints a picture about the community’s expectations.”