House of Representative and the Senate: Activity 2

  1. Provide students with a copy of How the Senate operates as a check on government which is an extract from Senate Brief No 10 (March 2008): The Role of the Senate.

    Explain to students that it is sometimes said that the Senate ‘gets in the way of democracy’ as the government of the day (in ‘the People’s House’) can be forced into negotiation and compromise in order to pass legislation. But the former leader of the Australian Democrats, Don Chip, had a different opinion. He believed that smaller parties and Independents had a role to play in keeping the major parties ‘honest’ or accountable to the parliament. Remind students that smaller parties and Independents with sufficient members in the Senate can ensure a bill’s passage through that chamber when the major opposition party opposes it.

    Before students research how smaller parties and Independents have influenced legislation in the past, ask them to record whether or not they believe that the Senate compromises democracy, and to justify their belief. Students will be asked to revisit this opinion after their research.

  2. Ask students to form teams (4–5 students) that will be the basis of an ‘expert groups’ approach where each group will be responsible for researching how smaller parties and Independents have influenced the passing of legislation. Provide students with a copy Influencing the legislation. Encourage students to examine a range of sources as they use search engines to research the passage of a piece of legislation. Examples include:
    • Native Title Act 1993
    • Native Title Amendment Act 1998
    • A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999
    • Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002

    The teams of students will research:

    • the Act (providing a brief description)
    • reasons for safe passage or amendment/s
    • which party/parties/Independents were involved
    • the outcome (immediate and long term).

    At the conclusion of their research, ask the teams (expert groups) to share what they have learnt with their classmates and teacher as a:

    • PowerPoint presentation
    • radio news report
    • piece of poetry or rap
    • Wiki
    • other (which can be negotiated between the students and teacher).
  3. Ask students to revisit their opinion about whether or not they believe that the Senate compromises democracy. Has their opinion changed? Why or why not?

Reflection

Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory each have only one house of parliament, whereas the other states have both a lower and an upper house. Ask student to:

  • make a list of advantages and disadvantages of having two houses
  • make a list of advantages and disadvantages of having one house
  • state an opinion for their preferred option and to justify their choice.

Introduction | Activity One | Activity Two

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