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:
|Committee||Number reported||Number outstanding||Median time (days)||Upper quartile time (days)|
|Transport and Industrial Relations||21||2||93||197|
|Justice and Electoral||27||1||214||380|
|Law and Order||19||1||307||407|
|Local Government and Environment||28||8||154||443|
|Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade||19||3, plus a group of 22 from the same person||284||1088|
(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.