Discovering Democracy Units
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Focus question 1: What is democracy and what was Australia like before we had it?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Who has the vote? ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Some key elements of democracy ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Secret ballot ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Unequally sized electorates ESL Activity 4

Activity 1: Who has the vote?

To be eligible to vote in the colony of New South Wales (Australia) in the 1840s you had to:

  • be male
  • be over the age of 21
  • rent or own property such as a farm, house, shop or land worth 200.

To be eligible to vote in Australia today you must:

  • be over the age of 18
  • be an Australian citizen
  • not be serving a gaol sentence of five years or more
  • be officially registered on the electoral roll.

1a Look at Figure 1, which shows people in the colony of New South Wales in the 1840s. Use the information below to work out which of the people shown would have been allowed to vote. Then work out which of these people would be allowed to vote today. Structure your answer so that you clearly indicate the people in two columns headed 'Australia in the 1840s' and 'Australia today'. Count the number of people in each column.

1b Now work out the percentage of these people entitled to vote in Australia in the 1840s and today.

Figure 1 Australia in the 1840s

Australia in the 1840s

Figure 2
Australia in the 1840s
Australia today
Australia in the 1840s ... Australia today

As you can see, voting for the members of parliament, who then make laws for the country, is central to modern democracy. At some stage in your school life you will have been asked to vote on issues. As you know, the side with the most votes wins. This is democracy in its simplest form. However, being able to vote does not always guarantee democracy. Consider the following and you will see why.

Activity 2: Some key elements of democracy

2 Look at Figure 2. Working with a partner, write down why the situation depicted in the 1840s is undemocratic (that is, the government does not represent all the people or there is no system to ensure that elections are free and fair). You could start like this:

'Today every citizen who is allowed to vote can also stand for election to parliament. In the past only property owners could stand. This was undemocratic because '

To get a better understanding of some of these points try the following activities.

Activity 3: Secret ballot

What should be the legal age for buying cigarettes: 16, 18 or 21 years of age?

Vote on the age that you think is the most responsible age.

First, the class will vote by show of hands.

Second, record your vote by using a secret ballot. That is, record your vote in private and place the ballot paper in the ballot box. This way your vote remains a secret. Your teacher will provide the ballot papers and box.

Now compare the results. Were there significant differences in the results? How would you explain the differences?

Activity 4: Unequally sized electorates

4a Your teacher will divide the class into three uneven groups (green, blue and red). The groups should have the following numbers and should sit well away from each other: green = 5 people; blue = 3 people; red = the rest of the class. In your groups, try the following exercise:

4b It should be obvious to you that there were some problems with this system. As a class, discuss the difficulties this system had. Your teacher will write the ideas on the board.

4c Which individuals in the class, apart from the representatives, had the most say: those in red group, those in blue group or those in green group?

4d How could this system be made fairer and more workable?

ESL activities

Back to 'Democratic Struggles - At a glance'

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