with thanks to Alec Crespo, Rights Resource Network Volunteer and UniSA Law Student
The South Australian Parliament’s legislative agenda during the recent sitting period has been jammed packed with rights-impacting laws – including the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 (SA) which was debated by the House of Assembly on 26 May 2021.
While many Network members have expertise or experience in dealing with rights issues and representing community members, it can be hard to work out exactly what’s going on when a Bill gets introduced into Parliament, and how to find out where it’s up to and who said what about it. It can also be tricky to work out what happened to the 16 other Bills that have been introduced on the same topic in the past, and whether they have been looked at by any parliamentary committees or amended along the way.
Both the South Australian Parliament and the Rights Resource Network SA recognise that improving access to information about the Parliament and its processes is important and the Parliament’s website is continuing being improved and updated. We still think there’s a long way to go, but in the meantime there are plenty of ways you can keep track of what’s happening in Parliament and make sure your voice gets heard at the right time.
If you are just getting started, and you need a rundown of the legislation process, you can check out this Guide.
If you think a Bill has been introduced recently but you are not sure what it might be called, you can check the Index of Bills here. This is when the Rights Resource Network SA can help too – we might have a volunteer who can provide short legislative history of the Bill for you.
And if you know the name of the Bill then you can access the really useful Legislative Tracking search tool that allows you to see where the Bill is at (for example whether it has been debated in the House of Assembly or the Legislative Council) and you can see who said what about the Bill (these are called the Parliamentary Speeches or Parliamentary Debates and are recorded in the Hansard). The Network is advocating for changes to this system to make it easier to see whether amendments have been made to the Bill through this system.
If you want to see if a Bill with a similar name has been introduced in the past you can search for it via the SA Government’s Legislation website, but you will need to know a bit about when the Bill might have been introduced and what it might have been called. This website is also good for finding Regulations and Directions (such as those relating to COVID-19).
If you think the Bill might have been subject to a Committee hearing (that’s when a group of parliamentarians look carefully at the Bill and ask the public to make submissions or come and give evidence) you can try looking at the Committee’s page here. This can be a little tricky if you are not sure which Committee looked at which Bill. Again the Rights Resource Network can help with this if you are not sure.
If you know the Bill has been referred to a Committee and you know that a public inquiry is underway but you are not sure how to get your voice heard, you can check out this page. And this is when the Rights Resource Network SA can often help too – we can support you by connecting you with others who might also be interested in the inquiry and/or help you access relevant research.
And of course, you can always contact your Member of Parliament directly and get some answers that way (often this is an excellent strategy as you can use it as a chance to tell them what you think of the proposed law at the same time!). You can search for your MP here.
If you are keen to get your MP and the rest of the Parliament talking about something that’s important to you, petitions may be an option. A petition with 10,000 signatures will be referred to the parliamentary review committee who will investigate and report on it to the parliament. However, you will need to make sure the petition is completed in the correct form (no online petitions allowed in South Australia!) and presented by an MP. All the information you need to know about petitions is here.
If you want to raise your voice outside of Parliament, then perhaps a demonstration is worth considering. It is possible to stage a protest on the steps of Parliament House but there are a few things you should know. First, you will need permission from the Parliament obtained via this form. As the Organiser, you are responsible for making sure everyone follows any instructions from the staff at Parliament House and/or the police – including COVID-19 restrictions. It is unlawful to paint or vandalise the exterior of Parliament House, the same goes for posters and banners. Once the Demonstration is over any rubbish, posters or materials must be taken with you.
We wish you well as you raise your voice and will continue to work with the South Australian Parliament to look for ways to improve the quality of public engagement with this most precious of democratic institutions.