Petitioning for Change

Graham Clements
Summary 
Have you signed a petition lately? There seem to be a lot of them around. Many of them are about disability issues. Alexandria Lancaster wants tactile markings on banknotes for the vision impaired. Lucy Haslam wants cannabis decriminalised for medical use by the terminally ill. Petitions can be in the traditional paper form or online. Change.org and gopetition.com are online petition services. They both have Australian pages that list a number of petitions on disability issues. A petition can help get an issue into the media. Once the media is onside, change can become irresistible.
Posted by: 
Graham Clements on 03/11/2014
Photo of Dean with a background of rubble and a damaged car.
Dean Gray

Sixty thousand people signed Dean's petition.

Have you been wronged? Did the wrong doer ignore your complaint? Rather than just sitting around getting angry, a petition might prompt them to fix the problem. Many people create petitions. You see them every day, sitting at fold-up tables outside supermarkets asking for signatures. Petition requests stream into inboxes, and they are all over social media.

Sometimes you sign a petition because you think it is a worthy cause. Other times you sign because they ask so nicely. But is it really worth it? What happens to those petitions after you sign them? Do they change anything?

Petitioning the state government

So far this year the Victorian state parliament has officially received around 150 petitions. Many of the petitions were about education issues, only a couple were about disability issues. The state government accepts petitions presented to members of parliament. The petition is then given to a parliamentary committee that deals with that issue. Petitions to the federal government travel a similar route.

Petition websites

A number of websites have been set up for people to start petitions. Two of these websites are change.org and gopetition.com. Both are free to use and have pages listing Australian petitions. Many of these petitions are on disability issues. Current and recent petitions include:

  • Getting tactile markings on banknotes so people with a vision impairment can easily tell the difference between them.
  •     Allowing people with terminal illnesses to use cannabis for medical purposes.
  •     Getting an insurance company to pay a pension to a Queensland firefighter who has depression due to trauma from his work.
  •     Saving the RampUp website.
  •     A request for an extension of government funding to help a man with Friedriech's Ataxia to stay in his home.
  •     To get more funding for the Pararoos.
  •     To raise awareness of Dyspraxia.

Petition to decriminalise medical cannabis

The issue of decriminalising medical cannabis is currently attracting a lot of interest in the media and politics. Part of the reason for this interest is a change.org petition by Lucy Haslam. She is petitioning the NSW government to allow the terminally ill to use cannabis for medical purposes. Her son has terminal cancer and uses cannabis to manage his nausea, vomiting and poor appetite.

Her petition has 196,000 signatures. She has used the petition to conduct a media campaign that has seen her make numerous newspaper, radio and television appearances. She has met many politicians, including the Premier of NSW, Mike Baird. In September Mr Baird announced that NSW police discretion to not charge terminally ill adults caught using cannabis for pain relief would be formalised in new guidelines.

A flood of emails

An interesting feature of change.org is that every time a petition is signed an email is sent to the target of the petition. So an organisation would become very aware of the support a petition aimed at them is receiving. Online petitioning is also easily linked to social media. Alexandria Lancaster's tactile banknote Facebook page has over 950 likes.
What makes a good petition?

Before creating a petition its target must be identified. The target should be an individual or organisation that can do something about the issue. For example, there is no point sending a petition demanding an increase in the Disability Support Pension to the state government as pensions are a federal government responsibility. According to change.org an effective petition should state the problem and then suggest a solution.

Getting the media involved

The submission of a petition to its target can be only part of a successful campaign. A petition can also help the petitioner gain access to the media. Many media reports mention the number of people who have signed a petition as if to emphasis its importance to their readers. An article in the Ballarat Courier began: "More than 17,000 people have signed an online petition to keep Ballarat Friedreich's Ataxia sufferer Wil Hobbs in his home."
Advice and moral support

Many people sign a petition because they are in a similar situation to the petitioner. They might also have a vision impairment and want tactile markings on banknotes. Or they might also have depression like the fire-fighter. These people may offer advice to the petitioner on how to deal with their situation. At the very least, people signing a petition gives moral support to the petitioner.

Success

On his Facebook page Dean Gray said he was close to giving up his fight to get a pension from an insurance company. But then "a friend started my change.org petition – and your support has blown me away". When 25,000 people had signed the petition he said, "I am sure that this amazing response is what has brought my situation to the attention of senior management "of the insurance company. He was eventually successful. On change.org he said, "60,000 of you signing this petition helped".

Other petitions, like Lucy Haslam's one for medical cannabis, appear well on the way to achieving their aims.

So don't just sit there grumbling about what they did or didn't do to you, start a petition.

Parliament of Victoria - petitions (opens in new window)

Dean Gray's petition (opens in new window)

Lucy Haslam's petition (opens in new window)

Alexandria Lancaster's petition (opens in new window)

go.petition.com (opens in new window)

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