Discovering Democracy Units
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Getting Things Done

Teacher notes

The Franklin dam dispute of the late 1970s and early 1980s provides an excellent case study of 'getting things done' politically, both through established institutional frameworks and through direct citizen action.

Should the people of a small state in a federation have the right to make decisions about their economy and environment or should people beyond the state have that power in some circumstances? Where does sovereignty lie in an increasingly globalised world?

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

About the unit

  • Processes of influencing the views and actions of others
  • The evolution of a community political debate
  • Party political policies and practices
  • The role of media
  • Resolution of disputes between State and Federal governments

Context: The Franklin River dam dispute (case study)

Indicators of student achievement

The student can:

  • identify and evaluate strategies citizens’ groups use to achieve political change
  • identify the role of the media in a political dispute
  • justify opinions about how a political dispute was resolved
  • explain the forces which affect party policy or government action in relation to a particular issue.

Background notes

This unit examines the nature of Australia’s political system by analysing the Tasmanian Franklin dam dispute of the late 1970s and the early 1980s. This dispute is used to highlight the complex nature of government decision making. The key groups in this dispute are identified and their methods analysed to show how citizens can directly influence political processes in 'getting things done'.

The key political issue at the heart of the Franklin dam dispute centred on the balance of power between the Commonwealth Government and State governments as prescribed in the Constitution. Was the Hawke Labor Government’s decision to intervene in Tasmania’s domestic affairs constitutional? The significant economic issue at the centre of the dispute was achieving an appropriate balance between economic development and environmental conservation.

The unit focuses on efforts by various contesting groups to shape or seize the political agenda to achieve a desired result. It examines the role of pressure groups, political parties, significant individuals, the media and the judiciary in determining political outcomes. It illustrates political power being exercised in a contest which was played out in political party rooms, in the public arena of the media, on the ground in Tasmania and in the High Court.

Discovering Democracy resources

Parliament at Work CD ROM

Stories of Democracy CD ROM

Discovering Democracy Secondary Video

Discovering Democracy - A Guide to Government and Law in Australia

Discovering Democracy website:

Further teacher reference material can be found in Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Units, pages 206-207.

Links to other units

  • Law (lower secondary), which examines the basic principles underlying Australia's legal system, in particular, the Constitution and the role of the High Court.
  • Men and Women in Political Life (lower secondary), which examines contrasting forms of civic participation and different methods used by citizens and political institutions to influence government decisions.
  • Parties Control Parliament (middle secondary), which evaluates the role of political parties in developing policy.


Focusing on the debate about the will of Tasmanians as opposed to the will of people on the mainland and internationally should encourage students to understand that there are legitimate arguments on each side of the debate while being encouraged to clarify their own political values.

A topic such as citizen action provides great scope for independent investigation as well as for contact with local action groups and first-hand encounters with their concerns and methods.

Back to 'Getting Things Done - At a glance'

AcknowledgementsLegal Information