The remainder of this module looks at a number of conventional forms of political participation with an emphasis on how we can work with allies within the political system to influence policy decisions. Parliamentary levers are specific tools or processes that exist within the parliament to allow for debate, the expression of ideas and to seek input from stakeholders.
An understanding of parliamentary levers can assist health promotion practitioners to influence the parliamentary process and either push forward an agenda or access information using allies in parliament. Some levers, such as petitions and rallies, do not rely on an ally and instead can be done from outside (other external strategies will be explored in Module 12) although such levers can benefit from being done in conjunction with other levers.
The following are a number of the levers that can be used in Federal parliament to source information or get an issue discussed and into the poltical agenda.There are similar levers in state parliaments.
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE: Members may, at any time, address written questions on notice to ministers and other members. Questions are forwarded to the appropriate ministers’ offices and to the relevant departments where replies are drafted for consideration by the minister within 30 days. When a reply is approved by the minister it is delivered to the member who asked the question and both the question and reply are printed in Hansard. Questions on Notice are a useful way to hold the government to account by asking Members to provide information, explain policy decisions and justify actions of their departments.
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: Question time in the
House is scheduled to begin at 2pm (Senate/Legislative Assembly) or 5pm (Legislative Council) on each sitting day and usually continues for 40-60mins. The President asks if there are any questions without notice and members wishing to ask questions rise in their places. After the question has been asked the President calls on the appropriate minister to answer. This can be a useful way, particularly in the Lower House, to draw public/ media/minister attention to issues rather than get answers to detailed questions.
ADJOURNMENT SPEECHES: At the time specified by Standing order 55 for each sitting day, the President proposes the question that the House now adjourn. The question is open to debate, which allows Members to refer to any matters they wish to debate with a 10 minute time limit. Members unsatisfied with answers given during Question Time may sometimes raise the issue again here. This is an opportunity to get material on the public record and quote from it as something discussed in parliament. In some cases, NGOs have prepared talking points, background and issues which have been used in Adjournment Speeches.
TAKE NOTE: 30 minutes is set aside after each Question Time where members who asked a question are able to give a 5 minute -take note- speech. This provides an opportunity to analyse the answer given by the relevant Minister, and to speak on the issue again.
MOTIONS: These are a clear and succinct proposed resolution or order of the House, submitted with at least one day advanced notice on a matter that is not business which is before the House. Motions can be used to provide a platform for a topical issue and suggest a course of action for the Government to take.
INQUIRIES: Moving for the establishment of an Inquiry is not really an opportunity to speak but rather to move a motion to establish an inquiry. Inquiries provide an opportunity for raising issues and bringing evidence to hearings. See more information below under Parliamentary Committees.
MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST: Members can speak on matters of public interest without any question before the chair, for 15 minutes per speaker. This can be a useful tool for reaching media as they pay attention and it is timed to fit with TV deadlines. Provide question/issue, background, talking points and try to coincide with rallies outside parliament house.
MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: A member may rise for a debate, without the usual notice of not less than one day, on any matter which is regarded by five or more members as warranting immediate debate. The matter has to be delivered in writing to the President earlier the same day. If more than one proposal is received, it will be determined by lot which subject prevails. Total time limit of 90 minutes, each speaker can speak for 10 minutes.
PRIVATE SENATOR’S/MEMBER’S BILLS: Most Bills debated in the Upper House are introduced by the government in the Lower House. Bills introduced in the Upper House have to go back to the Lower House and are rarely passed. Private Senator’s/Member’s Bills are a way to set an agenda, and show the government how a particular end could be achieved. It may be useful for NGOs to provide information to the Member about the issue, the proposed legislation and talking points.
AMENDMENT TO LEGISLATION: To debate a bill and negotiate amendments, the House goes into the Committee of the Whole, where members speak to and move amendments.
SECOND READING SPEECH: Usually immediately after a bill is introduced (first reading) the most significant stage of the bill begins, which is when second reading speeches are given. This is when the House considers the principles of the bill and decides whether to accept or reject it in principle, and when Members express their views about the bill and whether it ought to be passed. The second reading speech of the Member in the Lower House or Upper House is especially useful because it provides the justification and arguments for the bill. The second reading speeches of others in response are also useful because they provide a record of the various parties’ positions on the Bill in question.
DISALLOWANCE OF REGULATIONS: Regulations sit underneath legislation. Regulations have power as legislation but they can get changed more easily, designed to be the nitty gritty, the detail for how the legislation works. Some governments put detail and substance into regulations as a way of avoiding scrutiny and debates and to be able to quickly and easily change things. The problem is you have to disallow it, and then you have a debate about why it is disallowed. It takes one to move to disallow, and a majority to pass the disallowance.
CONSIDERATION OF COMMITTEE REPORTS AND GOVERNMENT RESPONSES TO REPORTS: On Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, Senators can speak for 10 minutes for up to an hour in this part of the agenda.
CONSIDERATION OF GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS: On Tuesday, and Wednesdays documents presented by a Minister can be the subject of a 5 minute speech, total time limit for the agenda item is 30 minutes.
PETITIONS: A petition is a written request for an action to be taken by Parliament. Every citizen has the right to petition parliament. Certain rules must be followed in preparing the petition for it to be considered. The written document states a point of view on an issue of public policy, requests for an action to be taken (or not taken), and includes a list of signatories. The petition may be tabled in parliament and subsequently inquired into and correspondence with Ministers is very productive for constituents. There are protocols in the way that Ministerial correspondence must be dealt with. To get politicians to write letters it is useful to write dot points. Remember, sometimes a conversation can be better and more productive.
MEETINGS WITH POLITICIANS: Be very clear with the reason for the meeting. If you’re coming in cold make the case as to why it makes sense for the politician to meet with you.
BRIEFINGS: politicians can request briefings on issues which are opportunities to put questions.
RALLIES: A rally is a coming together of people in protest or support of an issue. Advice for organising a rally at Parliament House includes never have a rally on a nonsitting day as there are no politicians, no staff, no media. Timing the rally around midday will ensure an audience of politicians coming in and out. Around 11.30am before parliament sits, the media are in attendance. Connect with a politician prior to the rally to organise a microphone, permission, and so that security is expecting you. They will facilitate the public right to protest outside parliament house and can tell you if there is a competing rally. You cannot prevent MPs from entering parliament. If you have senior politicians, you will have dignitary protection. Take advantage of that to link it in with an MPI, Bill, Adjournment, tabling of a petition.
reported on. Petitions can be used to call for a Committee Inquiry. The petition gets referred to the Environment and Public Affairs Committee, who may write to the tabler of the Petition and invite them to put in a submission to support why the House needs to be looking at that issue further. 30 days is allowed to put in the submission, and the Committee has the power to call for a public hearing.
LETTERS TO MINISTERS: A way to get information that is not public, it can be done privately. If a sensitive or private matter comes to attention, private