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Parties Control Parliament

Activity 1 | Activity 2

Student introduction

By the time the Australian colonies federated, members of colonial parliaments were already grouping into parties with the aim of forming stable governments. Later, parties organised outside parliament to select candidates and organise support.

Since the middle of the twentieth century, Australians have chosen between two main contenders for government: the Australian Labor Party or a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party.

Parties are an essential part of Australia's democratic parliamentary system. In this unit you learn about the differences and similarities between Australia's main parties and reflect on the role of parties in Australia's political life.

Activity 1: Preparing for an opinion poll

Groups and firms often rely on opinion polls to help them to know how their message is being received. The results often appear in the press.

During the course of this unit, your class will conduct its own opinion poll. You will interview people to collect information about their opinions of political parties and events in Australia. Assemble the information and use the findings to support your views about present-day political parties and events. The total number of people approached by students in your class becomes the 'sample' population for your opinion poll.

1a Allocate about four pages of your workbook for the opinion poll.

1b Your teacher will give you the schedule for class completion of the opinion polls. Take note of these dates.

1c Individually, arrange to get opinions from 3-5 people who are entitled to vote and whom you can contact readily. In pairs, discuss how you will go about selecting your 3-5 voters so that you get:

  • voters who are outside your school community of teachers and students
  • at least one male and one female voter
  • voters from a range of ages such as one aged 18-24, another aged 25-55 and a third aged over 55.

Consider whether you should have any further set of characteristics to ensure that you have an unbiased sampling of voters within your community - for example, town/country dwellers or new/established residents. Since you and your partner are interviewing only 3-5 people each, your list of further characteristics should be short.

1d Contribute your 'other characteristics' to a class list of 'other characteristics' for voters whose views should be covered in the class opinion poll. After discussion, record the agreed final list of characteristics.

1e Check that your potential interviewees cover all (or most of) the agreed characteristics.

1f With a partner, take turns to practise inviting people to take part in the opinion poll sample. Practise using the Introduction above to explain to your interviewees why you are polling their opinions.

1g Your teacher will have some students present a rehearsed invitation to join in the opinion poll, as described in 1f. Contribute tips for doing it well. Make a checklist of 'dos and don'ts' for your own use.

Activity 2: Conducting the poll

Use an interview form like the one below to conduct your opinion poll. Any changes or additions to the form should be made by each person in your class.

As with many opinion polls, each interviewer needs to use exactly the same words and style with every interviewee. When the experience is much the same for all people interviewed, their responses can be compared reliably.

2a Make sure that you have a separate interview form for each interviewee.

2b Conduct your interviews. Remember there may be some questions that people don't want to answer. Respect this right.

Interview form

Male/Female: .............................

Age group: .................................

Other characteristics (as agreed in class)

Members of our class will keep the identity of people for this opinion poll confidential and use only the information they provide.

In the first section, we want to know if the people in our sample have been or are members of political parties.

Section 1

  1. Do you belong to a political party?

If the answer is YES:

  1. Which party do you belong to? .............................
  2. How long have you been a member? .............................
  3. Did you have a particular reason for joining a political party? .............................

Go to Section 2

If the answer is NO:

  1. Have you ever belonged to a political party? (Yes/No) If the answer is YES:
  2. Which party did you belong to? .............................
  3. How long were you a member for? .............................

Section 2

In this section, we want to find out which political parties you think various people in Australia vote for. I'm going to read you a list of groups. For each group, give the name of a political party you think they are likely to vote for.

  1. A union representing some transport workers
  2. Stockbrokers
  3. Dairy farmers
  4. A union representing some clerical workers
  5. Recent migrants
  6. Young unemployed people
  7. Parents of young children
  8. Owners of manufacturing businesses
  9. Popular and rock musicians
  10. Members of an environment group
  11. Supporters of an Australian republic
  12. (a group suggested by you)

(Record the answers alongside each item)


Section 3

In this section we want to find out your views about the best ways for governments to act in the areas of health, education and industry. We also want to later compare your responses to these questions about government activity with your responses to our questions about your voting preferences.

Would you mind telling me which party you voted for at the last election?

(Some people may not wish to answer this question.)

I am going to give you three scenarios and I would like you to tell me how you think governments should act in each situation. Tick the response.

If health care is in trouble should the government expand Medicare services by:

  • increasing taxation, or
  • encouraging more people to take out private health insurance?

Government gives support to private and public schools. Do you think:

  • the current situation is all right
  • private schools should get more
  • government schools should get more?

Do you think governments should:

  • protect Australian industries through tariffs
  • encourage Australian industries to survive by being competitive?

Section 4

That's all for this time.

Thank your interviewee.

Back to 'Parties Control Parliament - At a glance'

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