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National Forum ePetition site

26 September, 2005

By Graham Young

On the 30th May, 2005, The National Forum launched http://petitions.nationalforum.com.au/ which is a dedicated site for petitions to be presented to any Australian parliament. The site is unique compared to most existing petition sites. It has the following characteristics:

  1. Petitions can be posted by any member of The National Forum as of right through their membership. Other persons and organisations can post a petition by paying a small fee.
  2. Petitions are in the form of a poll and allow for votes to be cast for or against them.
  3. They can also optionally be configured as a petition to be presented in one of the houses of federal parliament.
  4. Respondents are asked to provide their name, email address and street address (all compulsory) as well as to optionally nominate the electorate in which they live.
  5. Respondents can also opt-in to receive follow-up information or join a general distribution list.
  6. The validity of email addresses is checked by the system. This is also used to verify that there is a high likelihood that the respondent is who they say they are. It also makes it difficult to vote multiple times.
  7. Part of the verification process includes establishing a profile with The National Forum. Once this profile is established it allows signatories to complete other petitions without having to verify their email address again.
  8. Respondents are able to register a comment as well as voting on the proposition.
  9. Immediately after a response has been received the respondent's name, suburb, comments (if any) and response are added to a list published on the website.
  10. After the close of the petition names, street addresses, email addresses, comments and responses are printed so that a document can be presented in parliament by a member or senator. (Standing orders vary between the houses, so this may be done in several different ways.)
  11. Reports on action taken on the petition are sent to those respondents who have opted-in to a feedback list.
  12. The names and details of those who nominate their electorate are sent in a text file to their local member along with all other respondents who nominated that electorate. This allows the member to send a form acknowledgement using the data, rather than receiving separate emails which may well be dealt with them as spam.
  13. Respondents who nominated an electorate are then resurveyed after two weeks to see whether they received a response from their member. Results of this are also posted to the website.

A report on the first petition, which was on Mandatory Detention and Petro Georgiou's Private Members Bills can be downloaded from here. The press releases which accompanied it can be downloaded from here and here. The online results of the petition are available from http://petitions.nationalforum.com.au/petitions.asp?id=1, and the report on politicians' responses to it is at http://petitions.nationalforum.com.au/responses.asp?petition=1.

This site "closes the loop" for The National Forum's site. The concept of the site is that it should be a place where Australians can read about policy, discuss it with others, including policy makers and legislators, and also take action on it. The first element of the site was the eJournal On Line Opinion, which originally wasn't interactive. Since then discussion forums have been added, and the site has a tradition of conducting qualitative research on current issues and elections. With the petition site The National Forum can now provide the whole range of activities, including interacting with the legislative process.

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