Introductory activity: The Franklin Dam dispute and the role of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society

In the late 1970s and early 1980s a dramatic political confrontation took place over whether a dam should be built on the Franklin River in Tasmania. A group of people who wanted to save the proposed dam area as wilderness, skilfully managed a campaign that resulted in a State premier being toppled, contributed to Tasmanian and Federal governments losing and gaining power and brought the issue to the attention of the whole of Australia, the United Nations and countries around the world. International treaties were entered into and made into law. Later the High Court of Australia was called upon to decide if these laws were constitutional and if the Commonwealth could override a State on heritage law. It was one of the largest and most effective citizens' action movements Australia has ever known.

Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Units, Curriculum Corporation, 1998, 'Getting Things Done', (p 171) or

Focus questions

What is an interest group?
What actions and strategies are available to citizens and interest groups in Australian democracy to influence government decision-making?
How successful were these strategies in the case of the Franklin Dam dispute?
What key interest groups are active on current issues?

This activity is designed to introduce students to the characteristics of interest (or pressure) groups and the strategies available to citizens who are concerned about an issue through the case study of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the Franklin Dam dispute.

An interest (or pressure) group is a group of people or a formal organisation that seeks to protect the interests of its members or promote a particular cause. Interest groups aim to influence a particular government policy in a particular area. They are not necessarily interested in offering candidates for parliament but in influencing government policy.

Provide students with Student handout 1 to record their observations from the Discovering Democracy Secondary Video, (part of the Discovering Democracy Secondary Kit), and answers to discussion questions in Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 1
  • Show students the 'Getting Things Done' section of the video. Students answer questions first in groups and then by report their group's findings to the class.
Part 2
  • Students make a list of other actions that are mentioned in these sources. Then they discuss how many of these actions could be used by other citizens or groups of citizens who are concerned about particular issues.
  • Broaden students' understanding of the range of interest groups by discussing the meaning and types of interest groups in Australia such as environment groups, for example Clean up Australia, health and welfare groups, for example the Australian Red Cross, trade unions, for example the Australian Teachers Federation, groups interested in immigration issues, for example the Refugee Action Committee, and local groups such as Residents Action groups.

Extension activity

Teachers and students may wish to pursue this issue further and complete other activities in Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Units 'Getting Things Done'. This unit is also available on the Discovering Democracy website at:

General resources for the Whose democracy? unit

Discovering Democracy Lower Secondary Units, Curriculum Corporation, 1998, 'Men and Women in Political Life', (pp 99-135). This unit examines contrasting forms of civic participation and different methods used by citizens and political institutions to influence government decisions.

School Showcases are available online on the Discovering Democracy website.

Narrogin Senior High School, Western Australia
This school showcase outlines the process of the development of a community survey, the publication of results and the formation of various working parties to address the findings and recommendations of the survey report. The survey is downloadable in Word format.

Lowood State High School, Queensland
This school showcase linked students to the local council. Students researched the council and local issues and presented information back to the council. The purpose of the project was to encourage active student participation in local community and political life.

Overview | Notes for teachers | Introductory activity | Topic 1 | Topic 2 | Topic 3 | Student handout 1 | Student handout 2 | Student handout 3 | Student handout 4 | Student handout 5