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Focus question 4: How does the Australian federal system of government work?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Tuning in (30 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: The federal system (60-90 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: People in parliament (20 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: The future of our system (60 min)  
Further activities  

Activity 1: Tuning in (30 min)


1a Ask students to suggest how government affects their daily lives. Assist them by unpacking your briefcase or handbag (see 'Preparation') and asking them to identify whose responsibility each item represents. List them on the board in three columns: 'Federal', 'State/Territory' and 'Local'. For example: a library card (local), a car registration certificate (state/territory) and a passport (federal).

1b Ask students to suggest other ideas to be added to the lists. Refer to the Levels of Government poster, which outlines some responsibilities of federal, state/territory and local government.

Activity 2: The federal system (60-90 min)

2a As a class, develop a diagram to illustrate the current structure of federal government. The diagram should show the main parts of the federal system. Consider how the structure is set up and how the people are represented. Handouts 16, 17

2b Distribute Handout 16 and discuss the structure detailed in the Australian Constitution.

2c Form student groups of four to six to construct a diagram on poster paper that illustrates the structure of the Commonwealth Parliament based on the system discussed in the conventions. Students may wish to refer to previous notes or handouts. They should use pencil to allow for later amendments.

2d Provide copies of Handout 17 which provides information about the current parliamentary system. Groups should use this information to amend their posters.
If you have a copy of the Australian Constitution in your resource collection you may wish to use it for display.

2e Share information by asking each group to display and explain their diagram.

2f Use a blank OHT sheet or a white board to develop a class model. Develop a list of criteria to identify our Commonwealth Government. For example:

  • It has two Houses of Parliament.
  • The people elect representatives who make decisions for the nation.
  • The House of Representatives is the people's or lower house. It is made up of representatives drawn from local area electorates and its membership is based on population.
  • The Senate is the states' or upper house. It is made up by equal numbers of representatives from each state (plus two representatives from each territory).
  • Laws are made when both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill and it is signed by the governor-general.

Parliament at Work CD ROM provides information on state and territory systems of government.

2g As a class, identify and discuss similarities and differences between group diagrams. Develop a class diagram based on the ideas drawn from the group designs. Modify the diagram until the class is satisfied that the diagram meets all the criteria developed earlier and illustrates the federal system.

2h Extend the diagram by including state and territory government and local government. Remind students that:

  • each state has its own parliament; the territories have legislative assemblies
  • local governments make up the third level of government.

Parliament at Work Web Parliament at Work CD

2i Compare the class chart with the information provided on The Commonwealth Government poster. Discuss similarities and differences and modify the class diagram if appropriate.

2j Ask students to locate the names, areas and representatives for their state and federal electorates using the database on the Parliament@Work website.

Activity 3: People in parliament (20 min)

3a Allow time for students to investigate the roles of people connected with parliament by completing the 'People in Parliament' interactive on the Parliament at Work CD ROM.
Students can add information on the roles of people in parliament to their diagrams.

3b Prepare a 'Parliamentary People' gallery by designing a poster outlining one person's role in parliament. Choose from: Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Speaker, Ministers, Shadow Ministers, Backbenchers, Clerk, Serjeant-at-Arms, President of the Senate, Usher of the Black Rod.

Activity 4: The future of our system (60 min)

Handout 18

4a Over the years since Federation, the form and operation of the federal system have been discussed and criticised. Display Handout 18 and discuss the issues raised in the letters and some possible consequences of the changes.

4b Allow time for groups to select an issue and conduct some independent research.

4c In groups, students should construct a futures wheel on poster paper to predict the consequences of some possible changes. Students can choose to use one of the issues from the Handout or pursue their own ideas.
The letters provided are created for this activity and are not actual letters.

To construct a futures wheel:

  • Write the proposed change in the centre or hub of the wheel.
  • Changes resulting from this should branch out from the hub.
  • Changes resulting from these changes should form the next layer, and so on.

Example of a futures wheel
The Constitutional Centenary Foundation site provides useful information and links on constitutional issues.
Example of a futures wheel

Example of a futures wheel

4d Ask groups to display their futures wheel and explain the issues they see as important.

Further activities


  1. Students can complete the quiz on the Parliament at Work CD ROM to test their knowledge of the federal parliamentary system.
  2. The Federation Herald Centenary Edition: Prepare a front cover for a souvenir edition of the Federation Herald to mark the centenary (or bicentenary) of Federation. Divide the class into working groups to draft and publish:

    • a headline
    • a lead story
    • a political cartoon
    • an information report of the current form of government
    • a report on Federation celebrations
    • a pictorial spread illustrating Australia's past and present.

ESL activities

Back to 'The People Make a Nation - At a glance'

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