Whose democracy?


It is very easy to reach the view that citizens exert very little influence over modern government. We commonly complain that governments ignore us or that the parties are too much alike or that politicians break promises. In fact our governments are still very responsive to citizens' pressures. Think of some issues which concern governments today - the environment, heritage, equal opportunity, and childcare. Thirty years ago governments took little or no interest in these matters. They have been made important by citizens' efforts.

- John Hirst, Discovering Democracy: A Guide to Government and Law in Australia, p 93.

Australian democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. It is a minimum requirement in Australia that people over the age of 18 vote in State and Commonwealth parliamentary elections. However, apart from this compulsory participation citizens can seek to influence government policies through a range of avenues and activities which include: signing petitions; writing to newspapers; local councils and parliamentarians; taking part in public meetings and demonstrations; standing for parliament or councils; or joining with like-minded citizens in interest groups.

This unit is designed for lower and middle secondary students and teachers, and for both SOSE/HSIE and the English curriculum.

In this unit students will:

  • look at a case of dissent in a democracy from our recent history - the Tasmanian Franklin Dam dispute - to examine some of the actions that citizens can take to directly influence government policy
  • survey current issues of importance to themselves and their local community and the groups that are involved in these issues
  • research the aims, strategies, role and importance of an interest group or groups which are active on a particular issue.
  • use the Discovering Democracy website and other resources to investigate the role of interest groups in the resolution of issues in the past.

This unit is structured as follows.

For teachers

Notes for teachers

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

Topic 1: Issues important to our class and the local community

Topic 2: The role of interest groups in Australia

Topic 3: Key issues in Australian history - the role of interest groups
PDF downloads

Discovering Democracy Through Research, Curriculum Corporation, 2000 'Introduction' (pp 1-20).

Discovering Democracy through Research, 'Taking Issue' (pp 21-34).

For students

Student handout 1: The Franklin Dam dispute and the Tasmanian Wilderness Society

Student handout 2: Issues important to our class

Student handout 3: Community issues survey

Student handout 4: Interest group research - task planner

Student handout 5: Issues in Australian history and the role of interest groups

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