Discovering Democracy Units
HomeThe UnitsTeachers NotesState & Territory LinksKey TermsA Guide to Government & Law in AustraliaSelected SourcesESL InformationCivics and Citizenship Education About DDUDownloadsSitemapSearchHelpDiscovering Democracy Banner

Parties Control Parliament

Teacher notes

Political parties are important elements of modern democracies. While independent members exist, parties with the largest following form governments. Variations in parties’ policies provide the matter of electoral and parliamentary debate.

About the unit | Indicators of student achievement | Background notes | Discovering Democracy resources | Other resources | Links to other units | Notes

About the unit

  • Political parties in Australia: origins; purposes; objectives, ideologies; constituencies; operations
  • Impact of the party system on parliament, pre-Federation to contemporary Australia

Contexts: the 1949 and 1972 Australian federal elections (case studies)

Indicators of student achievement

The student can:

  • describe the role of political parties in Australian democracy
  • describe origins and beliefs of Australia’s main political parties
  • investigate and report on public opinion about political parties and policies
  • justify a set of political aims and beliefs.

Background notes

The unit outlines the origins and nature of political parties in general and of the major parties in Australia, and examines the significant role of political parties in the governance of Australia.

In Australian elections, voters usually choose candidates from the party they think will best represent their interests, often knowing very little about individual candidates. Elected representatives therefore need to represent the interests of both the party and the electorate.

Although political parties provide stable government, party discipline, which is strong in Australia, could also be said to diminish parliament as a debating chamber and its role of keeping governments accountable. Minor parties and independents, particularly in the Senate, extend the range of views represented in the parliament. Students are asked to investigate any need for further diversity of opinion and argument in the House of Representatives.

In examining the origins, ideology and constituencies of the major parties, concepts of the political 'left' and 'right' are explained in relation to Australia’s major parties today and in former times. Differences between Labor and the Liberal-National coalition parties are explained, in part, through describing the influences of socialism and free-enterprise notions. The 1949 election, a battle between socialist and free-enterprise ideas, is compared with current media releases and party policies to work out if each major party has maintained or adapted its traditional ideology and constituency. The 1972 election campaign was the first to make extensive use of marketing techniques and electronic media. These methods are examined, as well as whether socialist and free-enterprise ideas continued to influence policy at that time.

Some differences between parties, however, have more to do with attracting votes and denouncing opposing parties than they have with the actions of parties in government. When parties have to attract a large uncommitted group of voters (who, in Australia, must vote) they will inevitably have many similarities in their organisation and campaigning. Students investigate today’s party politics by polling voter opinions.

Discovering Democracy resources

The Commonwealth Government poster

Parliament at Work CD ROM - 'Pass the Bill' section

Parliament at Work Website

Stories of Democracy CD ROM - 'Parties Control Parliament' section

Discovering Democracy - A Guide to Government and Law in Australia

Further teacher reference material can be found in Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Units, page 203.

Other resources

The Parliament of Australia website ( provides a variety of links to sites including those of State and Territory parliaments and all major political parties.

Links to other units

  • This unit extends the consideration of direct and representative democracy found in 'Should the People Rule?' (lower secondary) by dealing with the effect of the party system on the way representative democracy operates in Australia. 'Should the People Rule?' also considers the reasons for having upper houses and the role of the Senate in particular.
  • 'Getting Things Done' (middle secondary) examines State and Federal Liberal and Labor parties and government responses to the Franklin dam dispute.


Content for each section of this unit is provided as ‘briefings’ to which students refer to complete their activities.

Opinion poll

One of the unit’s two major summative activities is the conduct and reporting of an opinion poll, the other being the development of students’ own youth-based political parties.

The opinion poll activity places the issues raised within each focus question into the real world of voters and political activists today. Since the answers to the poll are unpredictable, students need help to interpret them and relate them to issues discussed within each focus question. The opinion poll requires each student to find three to five voters with given characteristics, to organise deadlines, and to complete work between classes.

The opinion poll outlined in the Introduction should be undertaken concurrently with the rest of the unit. Although analysis of the opinion poll occurs towards the end of section 3, it could be undertaken at any point from the end of section 2.

Developing a new political party

The development of students’ parties is intended to culminate in a public display of work and perspectives. Public displays demand some organisation to be successful.

In the section, ‘Pass the Bill’, the Parliament at Work CD ROM presents a substantial simulation of the legislative process. The roles of the parties and the capacity of independent members and small parties to influence legislation is dealt with very clearly at the point when the ‘Bill’ reaches the Senate. The ‘Parties Control Parliament’ section on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM also provides some information about Australian political parties and their role in government.

Political parties as organisations

Although there is little reference in the unit to party organisations and their work, teachers might wish to include work on these aspects of political parties. Particularly if there is an actual election campaign in progress at the time, such work could be based on research.

Back to 'Parties Control Parliament - At a glance'

AcknowledgementsLegal Information