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Cynics have been known to scoff that the go-to solution for a politician faced with a problem is to form a committee.
Parliament receives a lot of petitions - more than 190 are listed as presented and awaiting reporting back to the House, with a further 103 recently closed for signatures and 106 still accepting names.
That represents not just the individual concerns of those petitioners, but also those of the people who took the trouble to sign.
Some petitions have just a few signatures but, to take just one example, the recently closed petition of former Queenstown chef Ryann Lourenco calling for residence status for all migrants currently on temporary work visas has more than 64,000.
Very roughly, that number of signatures equates to about the number of votes cast in one and a-half electorates last election; if Parliament chose to ignore a petition of that size — and it has yet to consider Mr Lourenco’s — it would do so with some degree of political risk.
It is standard practice for any petition presented to Parliament to be referred to a select committee.
However, those bodies are busy scrutinising legislation and auditing government organisations as well, and it can take quite some time for petitions to work their way through the system: several have waited since 2019 or even earlier to be reported back.
To its credit, Parliament recognised this was not good enough, and that incredibly important issues were sitting gathering dust in its to-do pile.
To name a few, still to be reported back are the petition of Dunedin mother and Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust founder Corinda Taylor for better access to justice for suicide-bereaved families and whanau; the late Winton farmer Blair Vining’s petitions calling for better cancer care; and Dunedin man Joshua Perry’s one asking for a better process for housing modification for disabled people.
Last year’s review of Parliament’s standing orders recommended the establishment of a petitions select committee to hopefully expedite their progress.
All petitions now stand referred to the petitions committee for consideration.
That said, if it sees fit it can send a petition to a specialist select committee — for example, when the committee comes to Dunedin woman Pauline Latta’s 50,000-signature petition calling for the Government to fully fund the St John ambulance service, it might decide it would be better considered by the health select committee.
Any referred petition remains the responsibility of the petitions committee, and must receive "timely consideration".
It can also refer a petition directly to a minister.
Like any select committee, it can ask for submissions from the petitioner and interested parties, but is not required to ask for public submissions — a stage which has bogged down many a petition in the past, but which many would also argue is vital.
The committee will report back on all petitions, and any recommendations to the Government must be responded to.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, as chairwoman of the committee, is the parliamentarian charged with alleviating the gridlock.
The six-member committee, which includes Labour Invercargill list MP Liz Craig, met on Thursday with six petitions on its agenda.
Given the number of petitions and signatories awaiting developments, its progress is sure to be keenly observed.
Getting in early
Rachel Brooking’s maiden speech was pushed back by a day to Wednesday, but the newly elected Dunedin Labour list MP managed to pipe up sooner.
Ms Brooking, an environmental lawyer prior to politics, was given the chance earlier that day to ask Question 7, about reform of the Resource Management Act ... something she knows more than a little about, given she was on the committee appointed by the Government to consider possible reforms of the legislation.
He rides again, and again
Dunedin National Party list MP Michael Woodhouse got an early taste on Wednesday of what looks sure to be a long-running joke this session.
Quizzed by Mr Woodhouse on the percentage rise in the cost of core government services, Finance Minister Grant Robertson replied: "I would need to check those figures because, perhaps unlike the arrival of a homeless man in a hotel, we always have to check these things out."
Mr Woodhouse — who did indeed once raise the possibility that a homeless man had slipped into a Covid-19 managed isolation facility — will no doubt have noted that the question was dodged and be seeking further, humour-free and figure-full answers in the future.