2.4 Petitions

A petition is a document that has been signed by people who want to request that the government takes action on something. A petition is one way for citizens to take action on environmental matters.

As a petition is a request to take action, it is important to make sure that a petition is addressed to the government which has the power to consider the petition and take the action you want. Petitions can be made to the Commonwealth, Northern Territory or local government. Who to petition will depend on the action that is being sought in the petition.

Petitions can be submitted to the:

  • Commonwealth House of Representatives or Senate – If an issue concerns Commonwealth legislation or administration a petition can be submitted to the Commonwealth House of Representatives or to the Senate. These are the two houses of the Australian Parliament. Commonwealth laws and administration typically relate to issues affecting the whole of Australia. The House of Representatives and Senate can make changes to the law and to administration for matters on which they have been given the power to legislate under the Australian Constitution.[1] The Commonwealth Parliament has the power to make environmental laws for the Northern Territory.[2]

  • Northern Territory Legislative Assembly – if your issue concerns a matter which the Northern Territory can make laws on, you can petition the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly has the main responsibility for making environmental laws in the Northern Territory.[3]

  • Local councils – these are responsible for making local laws called by-laws.[4] By-laws can be passed in relation to any function that the council can legally carry out, including some environmental matters. If your issue only affects your locality, it might be appropriate to petition your local council to take action.

Rules for petitions

There are rules for petitions, which are different depending on which level of government you are petitioning. It is important to make sure that your petition is written so that it complies with the rules in order for it to be accepted.

Petitions to the Commonwealth House of Representatives

The House of Representatives has a Standing Committee on Petitions. The Standing Committee receives and processes petitions on behalf of the House. It is able to inquire into and report on matters relating to petitions following their tabling in the House, and the petitioning system in general. The House of Representatives has rules for the format and content of petitions, which are explained on the House of Representatives website.

Petitions to the Commonwealth Senate

The Senate has rules for the format and content of petitions it can receive. The rules are explained on the Senate website.

The Senate also accepts electronic or online petitions. These are petitions which are distributed and signed electronically on the internet. The rules for petitions apply whether the petition is written on paper or electronically. Petitions that are posted and signed electronically are accepted by the Senate if the Senator presenting the petition to the Senate certifies that the rules have been complied with.

Petitions to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has rules for petitions. These are explained in Information Paper No. 4 on the Legislative Assembly website.

Petitions to local councils

Some local councils have rules (called by-laws) about petitions.[5] You must comply with the rules set out by your local council in order to make sure that it will be accepted.

For example, Katherine Town Council has a by-law on petitions. This is found in s143 of the Katherine Town Council By-laws.

Contact your local council to find out whether it has rules on petitions. The contact details for your local Council can be found on the website of the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory.

[1] Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act

[2] See s122 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.

[3] See s4 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Regulations 1978.

[4] See the Local Government Act.

[5] Note that the Local Government Act does not contain any rules on petitions. Only those councils that have passed by-laws will have them.

© 2019 Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc.