"THIS is my petition to normalize farts. I'm tired of going on dates and having to hold in my farts until I get back to the car to unleash my wrath. We all fart. Let's normalize it already."
The above is the reasoning for an ePetition that inhabits the sometimes-whacky, sometimes deadly serious, world of change.org. This ePetition is attributed to a young woman by the name of Claire Talbot from the USA. The ePetition had only averaged two signatures a month in the past year.
I felt sorry for Claire, so added my name to the 24 others who had taken the plunge to help her live in a world where she, and others like her, would no longer suffer.
Yet as soon as I had signed the petition, I had signer's remorse. Thankfully I had chosen to not display my name on the petition. The webpage informed me that thanks to my signature, "this petition has a chance of winning".
But I don't want to live in a world where Claire's affliction is any more normalised than they are in the silent carriage on trains from Gosford. There appears to be no option on the page to rescind my signature. Locked in, Eddie.
After now regrettably signing Claire's petition, I was taken to another page that asked me to chip in $3 "to get this petition on the agenda". It's no good having a petition if you can't get it on the agenda. But whose agenda? Which agenda?
Petitions demand, but rarely receive, response and action. Who would Claire's petition be sent to and what, if any, action might result? Is Claire seeking widespread attitudinal change enforced by legislative muscle? How many signatures is sufficient to get a petition attention? Does a cause receive legitimacy because there is a petition?
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Maddy Kirchoff kicked in three bucks to help Claire's quest which change.org informed the reader would allow the organisation to facilitate the promotion of the petition or send it on to like-minded readers. "Within an hour, thousands more supporters could be added if everyone chips in. Can you help reach the signature goal?"
ePetitions have never been easier to set up. ePetitions are useful as part of campaigns to raise awareness of an issue and gather media attention. People who might otherwise not be prepared or unable to take public action can sign an ePetition and the more signatures, the more likely media is to pay attention.
Petitions demand, but rarely receive, response and action
ePetitions were introduced in the 45th Parliament and the House of Representatives now has an ePetition system that allows people to create them. Active ePetitions to the House include 'To Take the Kangaroo Off The Australian Coat of Arms' and 'Ban the use of all sirens by radio advertisements'. If an ePetition gets 'enough' signatures, that ePetition then goes to a standing committee for discussion. 'Enough' is not defined. But there is no requirement that the ePetitions be acted upon, and the biggest criticism of both paper and ePetitions has been the lack of follow-up. Zilch. Black hole. Gawn.
The NSW Legislative Assembly also has a petition system. Petitions of more than 10,000 signatures (or 20,000 for ePetitions) are scheduled for debate in the NSW Parliament.
Giles Martin's ePetition rejecting "the NSW Liberal and National Government's plan to dump in Newcastle 12,000 tonnes of toxic sludge from the construction of Sydney's Northern Beaches Link" had attracted 14,906 signatures when it closed at the beginning of this month. But as an ePetition, it needed just over 5000 more to be scheduled for debate. Of the currently open ePetitions on the NSW Legislative Assembly, none have yet received even half the number of Mr Martin's.
Last week, the Herald reported the NSW state government backflipped three times in as many weeks on dumping Sydney's toxic sludge in Newcastle. Our elected representatives were adamant this idea was as toxic as the sludge itself and let the government know it.
The weight of the petition surely helped the backflip, but to what degree can't be determined.
The effectiveness of petitions will always be hard to gauge because government decisions are mostly made in response to numerous considerations.
But this does not challenge the rationale behind petitions or the basic argument that the rules, structures and practices relating to petitions should help, not hinder, public engagement.
Requiring an ePetition to have twice the numbers of a paper petition in NSW in 2022 is out-dated. ePetitions are as close to participation in the political process that most people get.
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