Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Some stats on petitions

Petitioning Parliament is one of the final means of recourse in New Zealand. Anyone of any age, or even corporations, can petition Parliament for redress or asking it to undertake a specified course of action. And people do - in the past month people have presented petitions on the government's "20 hours free" policy, on the proposed ban on BZP party pills, on the New Zealand Superannuation Fund's poor investment ethics, and on taking a foreign policy stance against religious discrimination against Christians. Once received petitions are sent to the relevant select committee, which may summon witnesses and seek submissions before making recommendations. Most of those recommendations are variations of the same sentence: "the committee has no further matters to bring to the attention of the House". But some do result in concrete recommendations, and even those which don't help inform MPs of the public mood on a subject.

How well does Parliament do at handling these petitions? One of my readers has crunched some numbers. 314 petitions have been presented since August 2002 (the start of the last Parliament). of those, 251 have now been reported back to the House. The median time for a report back is six and a half months, and 75% are dealt with within a year. However, these numbers vary significantly between committees, as shown in the table below:

CommitteeNumber reportedNumber outstandingMedian time (days)Upper quartile time (days)
Transport and Industrial Relations21293197
Primary Production124189253
Social Services193176297
Justice and Electoral271214380
Law and Order191307407
Local Government and Environment288154443
Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade193, plus a group of 22 from the same person2841088
All Committees25163197363

(All figures since August 2002. Only committees which have received more than five petitions this term are shown individually).

So, if you're planning on petitioning the Foreign Affairs Committee, you should plan on waiting a while (though to be fair, much of this dates from the previous Parliamentary term, and things have improved now that Peter Dunne is no longer in charge).

Whether you think these stats are acceptable depends on the value you place on petitions and the workload of the select committees. But personally, I think it would be good if committees could deal with them within a year of receipt. As voters, we surely deserve that much courtesy from our politicians.


I think the perfunctory and slow way parliament deals with petitions is shameful. Parliament is essentially a very inefficient beast.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/20/2007 08:25:00 AM

I'd be interested to see some of these petitions. There is a limit to how much public attention should be paid to the purple ink brigade.

BTW, how do you get tables to come out so neatly in Blogger. Mine always get wrecked..

Posted by Rich : 6/20/2007 08:55:00 AM

Anon: well, there's an argument that inefficiency is the lifeblood of democracy (in that it gives time for deliberation), but sometimes it is just pure slackness. Fortunately its been getting a bit better of late.

Rich: They're all online here. You can get the resulting reports here if you search on the document type "petitions".

I just use HTML for the tables, and close my tags properly. How do you do it?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 6/20/2007 10:18:00 AM

I/S: "Fortunately its been getting a bit better of late."

Isn't this at least partly a corollary of Labour failing to set any major policy agendas (as you have often noted of late) -- i.e, there has been less government business being referred to select committees, so they have had more time to consider petitions?

Posted by Anonymous : 6/20/2007 01:24:00 PM