Parliament and you
The laws made in Parliament affect Australians every day. For example, Parliament has made laws about:
- wearing seatbelts and bike helmets
- protecting children online
- listing ingredients on packaged food
- how much it costs to post a letter.
All Australians 18 years or over have the right to vote. You can enrol to vote if you are 16 or 17, so when you turn 18 you are ready to vote. When you enrol, your name is put on the electoral roll. This is a list of all Australians who are registered to vote in federal elections and referendums. By voting, you have a say about who represents you in Parliament.
With the right to vote comes the responsibility to make an informed decision. You can do this by:
- learning about our parliamentary system
- finding out about candidates and what they stand for
deciding if your members of parliament have represented you well.
Even if you are not old enough to vote, there are ways you can get involved in Parliament’s decision-making.
Committees and you
If a committee investigates an issue you feel strongly about you can let them know what you think. Public input into committees is important. It is one way Parliament can learn about community attitudes and concerns, and work towards fixing problems.
Committees invite people to send them a written submission (statement) or attend a public hearing (meeting) to outline their views. For example, a committee investigating cyber safety for children and young people conducted surveys of people under the age of 18. The committee also held meetings at schools and invited young people to speak at public hearings to learn more about their online experiences.
Committee hearings are held in towns and cities across Australia, as well as at Parliament House in Canberra. Anyone who takes part in a committee is considered to be protected by parliamentary privilege. This means they can speak freely without any action being taken against them.
A petition is a request by an individual or group of citizens for Parliament to take action to solve a particular problem. It is the oldest and most direct way citizens can draw attention to a problem and ask the Parliament to help them.
Anyone can start or sign a petition. Members of parliament will present petitions to either the House of Representatives or the Senate on behalf of the public. Each chamber has rules about how a petition can be presented.
One of the most famous set of petitions was presented to the House of Representatives in 1963 on behalf of the Yolgnu people of Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. The Yolgnu people asked the Parliament to recognise their traditional land on the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land, which was under threat from mining. As a result, the Parliament established a committee to investigate the issue.
Some unusual petitions have been presented to the Senate, including one that was written on a jacket and continued on a roll of cloth. This petition related to the textile, clothing and footwear industries and was presented on 2 April 1992.