Discovering Democracy Units
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Focus question 1: How can Australian citizens influence government action?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: How can people influence others? ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Development and environment ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Citizen action ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Citizen action - Franklin and beyond ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Your view ESL Activity 5

Activity 1: How can people influence others?

1a In pairs, think of the tactics you use to get your family, parents, friends, to do what you want them to do. (Clue: your answers might range from throwing a tantrum to presenting cast-iron logical arguments for doing things your way.)

1b Collect as many ways of influencing people's actions as you can from other pairs of class members, and then grade them for effectiveness from your own life experience.

There are occasions when ordinary people come to feel that direct involvement to influence government is necessary. They may be concerned about actions being taken by local, state or Federal governments, or private industries or organisations. They may feel that their needs and wishes are being ignored or not taken seriously. For example, your local government may decide to open a new garbage dump or close the local library. At any particular time, people all over Australia are taking action to encourage governments to do particular things.

The South-west of Tasmania: portrait of a region

The region is remote in every sense of the word. The area:

  • lies between 42 degrees South and 44 degrees South - it is therefore often very cold
  • is extremely wet - with approximately 2500 mm of rain per annum across the region
  • has a landscape for which the term 'rugged' is an understatement. During the last ice age the landscape was carved up into deep gorges with rapidly flowing rivers, including the Gordon and the Franklin, with many rapids and waterfalls
  • has contrasting areas of tranquil beauty such as the highland lakes, of which Lake Pedder (now flooded) was the most famous
  • is home to many rare and endangered plants and animals such as the Antarctic beech and the orange-bellied parrot
  • (in the Kutikina Cave) contains important evidence of Aboriginal occupation as early as 15,000 years ago.

Tasmanian World Heritage Area

Tasmanian World Heritage Area

The South-west: not just an area of beauty

Despite its remoteness and difficulty of access, the region has attracted, and continues to attract, the attention of people keen to exploit its resources and physical beauty.

The first Europeans in the area were timber-cutters and miners. Tin, gold, silver, lead and zinc mines all operated at various times.

Today Queenstown's devastated landscape is a grim testimony to how not to treat a fragile environment.

The most significant schemes to tap the resources of the region centred on the generation of hydro-electric power. By the 1960s, the free-flowing rivers of the Gordon and the Franklin were the only Tasmanian rivers which had not already been dammed for the generation of hydro-electric power. By 1970, the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) had built forty dams across Tasmania, and was the State's largest employer.

All Tasmanian governments, whether Labor or Liberal, accepted unquestioningly the need for continued expansion of Tasmania's hydro-electric capacity. The provision of cheap electricity was seen as a way of attracting industrial development, creating jobs and winning elections.

An early dispute between conservationists and the Tasmanian government occurred over the proposal to flood Lake Pedder for the production of hydro-electricity. Conservationists lost this battle but learnt many lessons about how to rouse public opinion about an issue.

In 1979, the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission proposed the construction of a new dam in the South-west, to be built on the Gordon River below its junction with the Franklin.

Perhaps because Lake Pedder had been flooded so recently, there was an immediate reaction on the part of conservationists to the proposal. This reaction spread rapidly to other parts of Australia, and drew international attention.

Today, although the number of Hydro-Electric Commission jobs has declined, carefully managed tourism in the South-west has created other skilled and unskilled jobs.

Activity 2: Development and environment

2a List the main features of the Franklin area which made it important to:

  • the Hydro-Electric Commission
  • conservationists.

2b Using Sources 1 and 2 below as a guide and drawing on the information you have already gained, write two sentences, one describing the Franklin River as an officer of the Hydro-Electric Commission might see it, and one as a conservationist might see it. In each sentence, include a reference to what each person might regard as the value of the area from his or her point of view. Points of view.

Points of view

Source 1

We're providing for ten years ahead and surely it's not the right thing to do to condemn people to having to live in a depressed manner ... through failing to build what looks to be necessary [for the future power needs of the state].

From an interview with Russ Ashton, Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commissioner (1977-87) for a news report on ABC TV 1982.

Source 2

It's a world matter. This is a World Heritage area. It is one of the most beautiful places left on the planet and it's here in our back yard. And if we, in this relatively wealthy, well-off place, can't save a little like that for future generations, we can't ask anybody else to be doing it.

From an interview with Bob Brown, Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Saving the Franklin video 1996, The Australian Experience series, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Activity 3: Citizen action

Video 3a Divide into groups, to examine sources 3-17 and the Discovering Democracy Secondary Video segment for this unit. Make a list of all the citizen actions identified throughout the sources and the video.

A table such as the following may be useful for each group, as well as for completion when reporting back. Against each source, list the individuals or groups involved (such as anti-dam group; pro-dam group; political party; government) in the first column, their aims in the second column, the actions they undertook in the third column, and their likely success in the fourth column.

Individuals or groups involved Aim Type of action Likely success/failure
Video: Saving the Franklin

Source 3


Source 4


Source 5


Continue for each source



Citizen action

For sources 3, 4, 6, 7 and 10 see page 174 of Commonwealth of Australia 1998, Discovering Democracy Middle Secondary Units, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.

Source 5

Anti-dam protesters are still being arrested in large numbers in the Franklin dam site in south-west Tasmania. A spokesperson for the Tasmanian Wilderness Society ... said 80 protesters were arrested for trespassing on Hydro-Electric Commission property in the past five days.

Australian, 9/2/1983, p 3 © The Australian.

Source 8

The Federal Government has received 18,000 letters protesting at the State [Tasmania] Government's commitment to the Gordon-below-Franklin power scheme.

Hobart Mercury, 18/12/1982, p 2.
Davies Brothers/The Mercury.

Source 9

No Dams

Reproduced with permission of The Wilderness Society.

Source 11

The director of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Dr Bob Brown, announced the [Tasmanian Wilderness Society's] new strategy at a news conference ... Dr Brown issued campaign pamphlets which carried the slogan 'Put the Liberals last'. He said the general theme of the campaign would be 'Save the Franklin: this time vote for Australia's heritage'.

Trounce, David 1983, 'Dam opponents throw in their lot with Labor', Australian, 21/1/1983, p 1.
© The Australian.

Protesters demonstrating on the Franklin River
Source 12

Protesters demonstrating on the Franklin River
Coo-ee Picture Library.

Source 13

The effort was set for ... two weeks before polling day. The strategy was simple. Every house in Tasmania would be visited by teams of volunteers. The message was: 'Hello. I am from the Wilderness Society. I hope you vote "no dams" in the referendum. Here is a brochure outlining the reasons.' There were 125,000 homes to be reached.

Thompson, Peter 1984, Bob Brown of the Franklin River, George Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, p 142.

Source 14

Plans for the blockade were well advanced. A communications centre had been designed and built in Hobart. It would be transported to the Gordon River ... Non-violent action workshops were being conducted in all parts of Australia. They were an intense two-day familiarisation course in the techniques of peaceful resistance.

Thompson, 1984, p 60.

Source 15

... the TWS [Tasmanian Wilderness Society] held a meeting in Melbourne in December 1982 to form an Australia-wide coalition of conservation groups and to co-ordinate strategy for the national election ...

Galligan, B, 'The dams case: A political analysis', in Sornarajah, M (ed) 1983, The South-West Dam Dispute: The Legal and Political Issues, Law School, University of Tasmania, p 111.

Source 16

By 1982 when the heavy machines rolled south down the Franklin Valley and were barged up the Gordon to Warners Landing, the nation knew what was at stake. Thanks again to modern communications. Thanks to a warm-hearted group of wilderness workers: to the thousand arrested and jailed, to the donors, the letter-writers, the stall-holders, shop volunteers and voters ... Through television, books and newspapers the river had found a transformed Australian audience ... At the Franklin blockage we were bolstered to hear of spontaneous support on the streets of Dublin, London and Paris. Messages poured in from people in dozens of countries.

Bob Brown 1987, 'Greening the conservation movement', in Hutton, D (ed), Green Politics in Australia, Angus & Robertson, North Ryde.
Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers as publisher.

Source 17

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre's campaign adopted a different focus from that of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. Aboriginal people travelled to the area of the Kutikina cave. They laid out the Aboriginal flag and claimed that the cave should not be flooded because it was needed to get the dreaming back. The Age (23/12/1998) reported a spokesperson as saying, 'Kutikina is the greatest physical connection with our past of any site in the state'.

Activity 4: Citizen action - Franklin and beyond

Still in groups, discuss the following. Then individually write answers in your workbooks.

4a Which actions described in sources 3-17 were so particular to the Franklin issue that they might not be generally relevant to other community action groups?

4b Which of the actions might well apply to other examples of direct citizen action - for example, which ones might be employed by a neighbourhood action group as well as by a large community organisation like the Wilderness Society?

4c Which actions might be employed if citizens wanted to influence government action by expressing their opinions, but did not want to participate in direct action?

4d Report back to the rest of the class on your group's findings.

Activity 5: Your view

5a If you were living in Tasmania at that time, which side would you have supported and why? What action would you have been prepared to take to influence government? What action would you not be prepared to take? Contribute your view to a class discussion.

5b Write a letter to the paper, expressing your view of the actions being taken by either the pro-dam or anti-dam activists. You need to explain what the actions are and why you think they are justified (have a good reason) or why you think they are not justified. Draw on the sources you have examined for actions and opinions about them.

ESL activities

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