What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them?

A few weeks ago when I crowdsourced some election myths for this post, I was asked an interesting question by a Year 5 student: How do you know the difference between different political parties and what they are promising?

It turned out to be such a good question that I’m going to devote two blog posts to it! Today, I’ll be exploring political parties themselves.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

What are political parties?

Political parties are groups of people who believe in a set of values and ideals. They group together with the aim of winning elected positions at federal, state or local elections.

Members of political parties help to shape policies, vote to choose candidates for elections, help campaign for their political party and celebrate (or commiserate) after elections. Many Australians don’t belong to political parties, but might generally support one or another of them.

While the people in political parties share similar values, they don’t all agree all of the time. Party members, including MPs and Senators, might have strong disagreements about different party policies or ideas. However, these disagreements are usually worked out in party meetings and often aren’t argued in public. Australian political parties are known for having this ‘tight discipline’ which means that MPs and Senators from a certain party usually vote for that party in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Sometimes political parties with some similar values work together in a Coalition. Meanwhile, MPs or Senators who don’t belong to a political party are called independents.

Lesson idea: Students can develop their own political party. They should think about what kind of values are important to them, then create an advertisement convincing people to join their party.

Why are political parties important?

Political parties are important because they help groups of people work together to get people elected and to create laws and policy which promote their values. But there are other reasons why political parties are important.

In Australian federal politics, the political party (or coalition) which has the most elected MPs becomes the Government. This means they can choose ministers, develop policies, implement laws and run government departments. They also choose the Prime Minister.

Because the political party chooses the Prime Minister (and not the people of Australia), the ruling political party can change the Prime Minister anytime they want to (as we have seen a lot in recent years). This means any elected member of the ruling political party might become Prime Minister . . . This might be another reason for voters to choose a particular political party.

Lesson idea: Students explore how Prime Ministers are chosen - and discuss what qualities a good Prime Minister should have. Students can turn this discussion into a ‘job application’ to find an excellent Prime Minister.

 
What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them? A look at political parties in Australia and how we can create effective lessons to teach this sometimes complex topic. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

A Quick History of Australia’s Political Parties

In the early 1900s, Australia had three main political parties. The Protectionist Party wanted tariffs and taxes on imports into Australia to protect Australian products and jobs. The Free Trade Party wanted to get rid of taxes and tariffs to allow everyone to share in the wealth of the country. And the Australian Labor Party represented workers groups (or unions) to make sure that workers had fair pay and safe working conditions.

Over time, many political parties have come and gone in Australia. Some of them held positions of power in the Australian parliament, while others may have had a few elected members (or none) before dissolving. The Australian Labor Party is the only surviving party from the original big three.

Lesson idea: Students explore which Prime Ministers represented which party in the early 1900s. They can look a little closer at what policies they promoted and what kinds of laws were put in place.

Today’s Political Parties

Today there are still three main political parties who form government - but they’re a little different from the 1900s.

The Australian Labor Party still aims to represent workers and unions. They also describe themselves as a social-democratic party, which means they think the government should step in to promote social justice through social or economic means.

The Nationals Party is the second oldest party in Australia, founded in 1920. It aims to represent farmers, as well as people who live outside the big cities in Australia. The Nationals often work to make sure that people outside the cities have the same access to services as the people in the cities. They work in a coalition with the Liberal Party of Australia and share some - though not all - of the same values.

The Liberal Party of Australia was formed in 1944 after a meeting of organisations which opposed the Australian Labor Party. Their goal was to form a party based on individual freedom and personal choice. As part of this, they supported (and continue to support) free business - believing that business is the best way to create national and individual growth and wealth. They work in coalition with the National Party.

There are also a number of minor parties (or smaller parties) in Australia. At the moment, the biggest of those is the Australian Greens, a party which grew out of the environmental movement, but now works to develop policies around the environment and integrity, fairness and decency.

There are a number of other smaller parties who run in elections and have one or two elected members. These often change as their popularity grows or falls.

You can get a better understanding of different parties by exploring their values - what ideas they think are most important.

Lesson: Students can create a diagram showing the different political parties in Australia. They might like to research to discover what the core values of the parties are and if they’ve changed since the parties were first formed. Students can use these diagrams to highlight the differences between different parties.

In part 2, I’m going to take a little look at what political policies are, how to examine them, and how to tell the difference between them.

Want to read more? Try . . .

5 Things You Need to Teach Year 4 Civics and Citizenship

The Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship curriculum introduces students to some really important concepts - helping them understand the influence of government, laws and the communities they belong to on their everyday life. But what do teachers need to know to make these lessons more effective?

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. What is Government?

Year 4 students are asked to explore local government and the services of local government. But before students can effectively tackle this subject, they should have some understanding of what government is.

This may seem like a fairly simple concept, but like many simple concepts it can be hard to define clearly for our students.

You may like to start by gauging student understanding. Ask students to write or draw what they think government is or to engage in a think-pair-share while defining government. Students can work collaboratively to create a collage showing what government is or can interview each other about what they think government involves.

Students may also like to add to their understanding of government as they spend more time learning about local government.

2. What does your Local Government Involve?

The local government outcome is a great way for students to take an introductory look at elections and at how government plays a role in everyday life. But there’s a number of things which you can do to make this more successful.

It’s possible that you live in a different local council area to your students or that your students live across two different council areas. This means you may need to do a little research on a different council area and some of the services which the local council offers.

It’s worthwhile getting in contact with your local council as you are planning your lessons. They might have educational materials which you can use in your classroom or they might be able to suggest excursion opportunities or aspects of the council which you may not have thought of. You might also be able to get a guest speaker from the local council - many local councillors engage in school visits and might be happy to speak with your students about the services offered by local government.

Another area of your local government to explore is the local libraries. You may be able to take students there as an excursion, and librarians are often available to show students the many services available through the libraries and through library websites - all services offered by local governments. (They might even have teaching materials available!)

 
5 Things You Need to Teach Year Four Australian Civics and Citizenship. An overview of the Australian Civics and Citizenship HASS outcomes with teaching ideas for busy teachers. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

3. The Difference Between Rules and Laws

Another Year 4 Australian Civics and Citizenship outcome asks students to explore the place of laws in their life and how laws differ from rules.

As you approach these lessons, you might like to collect examples of rules which students might encounter. From school rules, to classroom rules, to household rules to shopping centre or play centre rules - although students see these daily, they may not have really examined them.

As they examine them, they can start to understand how rules differ from laws. The difference between rules and laws is another concept which can be simple, but can be complicated. It’s worthwhile spending a little time to write down your ideas on the concept to get them firmly worked out as you plan lessons and learning experiences for your students.

Students can also build a ‘growing’ definition of rules and laws - adding to or refining their understanding as they work through lessons on the topic.

4. Identity - and how it is shaped by different things

The Civics and Citizenship curriculum asks students to explore how their identity is shaped by the groups they are part of. This is a rather complex topic - what is meant by groups? What is meant by identity?

One way you can prepare to teach this topic is to take a moment to reflect on your own identity and how that has been shaped by groups. Some of the groups you belong to may not have much of an influence on your identity - my family background is Scottish, but other than an interest in visiting Scotland one day, it doesn’t have a massive influence on my day to day life. Other groups you belong to might make a daily impact on your life - my immediate family group prioritises dinner time, so we cook dinner and eat together almost every night - this is a group which has a big impact on what I do every day.

Reflecting on your own identity can help you plan a way for your students to explore the groups they belong to and how those shape their own identities. Students may be surprised to discover how many groups they belong to - from groups connected with their heritage, groups connected to their religion, groups connected to their family, friendship groups, school groups and activity groups. You can also explore other groups in your community - especially cultural, religious and activity groups.

5. Symbols and Traditions

As well as exploring groups in the community, Year 4 students are asked to reflect on the symbols and traditions of these groups. This might include ceremonies, activities, anthems, poems, school songs, colours or logos.

You might like to spend some time collecting examples of symbols and traditions before students start exploring these topics. This might include the logos, colours and uniforms of local sports teams; uniforms, mottos and school songs from local schools; traditions of local religious denominations or traditions of military or returned service people groups.

You can present these symbols and traditions to your students, asking them to reflect on why they might be important, why they may have developed, what they say about the groups and how they influence identity.

Looking for comprehensive Year 4 Civics and Citizenship resources? Explore the Year 4 Civics and Citizenship Complete Bundle and the Mini Units, Assessment Tasks and Word Wall and Poster resources which make up the Bundle.

Australian Election Myths (And Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding of Elections)

As elections approach in Australia, people begin to talk about voting. And while this talk is sometimes about policies and personalities (and sometimes about democracy sausages), sometimes misinformation creeps into the conversation.

How does this impact us as teachers? Well, teaching civics is part of the Australian curriculum. And teachers are in a unique position to arm their students with accurate information - the kind of information which will make our students more informed when the time comes for them to vote - and less likely to fall for misinformation when it comes up.

 
Australian Election Myths and Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding. Mythbusting misconceptions about Australian elections and voting in Australia and teaching ideas to help students be better informed. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Myth: A blank vote is a vote for the government
Reality:
A blank vote is regarded as an informal vote and counts for no candidate

Myth: If you don’t like anyone, you can cross them all out and write that you don’t want them. A new election will be held if a majority of people vote like this
Reality:
Crossing out candidates and writing on the paper will make the vote informal and it will count for no candidate . . . but it also won’t trigger a new election.

The myths which lead people to informal voting are probably the most dangerous (and the most likely to be promoted by groups looking to interfere with elections in Australia). An informal vote happens when a ballot paper is not filled in correctly. This might mean that the voter has ticked or crossed instead of numbering, written their name on the ballot, not filled in the ballot at all or hasn’t completed the vote under the requirements of the election.

In the 2016 Federal Election, about 5% of House of Representative votes were informal, with about 1.25% of voters leaving them blank, 1.25% of voters numbering incorrectly and about 1% writing slogans or protests on the ballots. While these votes do not count for any candidate (and do not trigger a new election), these votes are totally legal. Compulsory voting requires voters to have their names checked off and to put their ballot paper in the box - but secret ballot means there are no ways to check - and no punishment - if the voter deliberately submits an informal vote.

So why should we correct this myth? People trying to make a protest vote might not understand that preferential voting is designed so the majority of voters get the candidate they dislike the least. By voting correctly, you have a much better chance of getting the candidate you dislike least. It’s a protest against the ones you dislike the most!

Teaching about informal votes: Informal voting is more likely to happen if there are a lot of candidates running. You can work with your students to discuss why this might be the case - and to create a campaign of strategies to help people vote correctly when there are a lot of candidates. Students can create posters or leaflets with their strategies.

Myth: A donkey vote doesn’t count as a vote
Reality: A donkey vote is a perfectly valid way to vote - and why candidates want their name on the top of the ballot paper!

A donkey vote happens when someone votes ‘down the ballot’ without thinking about it - they number the first box ‘1’, the second box ‘2’ and so on. Because every box is numbered it counts as a valid vote. The first candidate on the paper gets the first preference, the second candidate the second preference (if required) and so on.

People might donkey vote if they don’t care who wins, if they don’t understand how the voting system works or if they’re lodging a protest vote. However, a voter might look like a donkey voter - but honestly be voting the way they want to vote! (Especially when there’s only a couple of candidates)

The electoral commissions in Australia work really, really hard to put the candidates names randomly on the papers. There is a double blind draw (they draw once to decide the order the draw will go in and then draw again to work out where the candidates go on the paper). The person drawing the ballot is - indeed - blindfolded (leading to some interesting and not terribly flattering photos of ballot draws!)

Teaching about donkey votes: Investigate the ballot draw system with your students - you might even be able to find video of a draw online. Ask students to create diagrams to explain the system. Or ask them to create their own better system of creating a ballot draw. Students can also explore why we don’t use other systems for the ballot like alphabetically or in the order candidates are registered.

 
Australian Election Myths and Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding. Mythbusting misconceptions about Australian elections and voting in Australia and teaching ideas to help students be better informed. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Myth: How to Vote Cards must be followed
Reality: How to Vote Cards are just guides

Myth: Preferences aren’t Important
Reality: Preferences can matter a lot

Whenever an election approaches, there’s a lot of discussion about How to Vote Cards. These are the cards which volunteers hand out as you walk into the voting booth. Candidates create them to try to convince people to vote for them - then for the people they like the most (or dislike the least).

But, even if you like a particular party or candidate, you can definitely preference your vote (vote 2, 3, 4 etc) any way you like. The how-to-vote cards are just guides. The surprising thing is that a lot of voters have no idea how they will vote until they turn up - so those cards can be influential!

Preferences are important though. Preferential voting can be difficult to understand - and it’s a whole blog post of its own! - but preferences can change the results of elections. It’s a system which allows the majority of voters to elect the people they dislike the least. It’s a little strange, but the preferences allow us to have a greater say about who represents us and which party is - or isn’t - in charge.

Teaching preferential voting in the classroom - You can find a resource with a closer look at preferential voting at the Galarious Goods store and the Australian Electoral Commission also have a video about preferential voting. Students can create diagrams or their own videos which explain preferential voting.

Myth: It’s not worth voting in my seat, the same person always wins
Reality: While some seats are ‘safe seats’ there are still benefits to voting.

It can be a real pain to get all excited to vote, only to see the same person - who you don’t like - get elected each time. It’s enough to make you wonder why you bother to vote when you live in a ‘safe’ seat.

A ‘safe’ seat is a seat which is likely to be won by the current candidate (or the same political party). However, there are examples of safe seats going to other candidates. Sometimes this might be because local people are tired of being a ‘safe’ seat and seek their own candidate (like in Indi in 2013); and sometimes a change in boundaries and population, as well as political changes can be enough to change the seat (like when the Prime Minister, John Howard, lost his own seat in 2007). When this happens, the votes are usually pretty close, so it’s definitely worth voting.

Voting also influences political funding. When a candidate gets more than a certain percentage of first preference votes, they are eligible for election funding. This can be especially helpful to smaller parties.

In almost all state and federal elections (Queensland is an exception), you’re voting for an upper house as well as a local representative. These votes are often closer, and a small number of votes can make a real difference, so these votes can help make changes, even when you’re in a safe seat.

Voting is also one of the responsibilities of being an Australian citizen. It’s a chance to become better informed, to have a say . . . and to get yourself a democracy sausage or two.

Teaching about voting in the classroom: Explore the campaign in Indi for independent representatives. It’s a fascinating story about voters having a say. You can also explore more about the responsibilities of voters with this resource from Galarious Goods.

Have you heard any myths about voting in Australia? Make sure you leave them in the comments below.

Find more information about voting at the Australian Electoral Commission website

A huge thanks to Mel, Heidi, Skyler and Kate for their help in uncovering election myths!

Exploring Australian Picture Books About Weather

Australia is well known for its wild range of weather - the drought and flooding rains. Already in 2019 the country has experienced floods, fires, an ongoing drought and the threat of a cyclone. One way to explore this weather in the classroom is through a range of picture books which highlight different weather conditions - using these picture books to help us to get a deeper understanding of this weather and its impact on Australians.

 
Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Flood, Fire, Cyclone and Drought by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

These are probably the best known picture books about extreme weather in Australia. Starting with Flood - a story of the 2011 Queensland Floods - these creators have built a powerful collection of text and illustrations which bring the events and the impacts of natural disasters in Australia to life.

Although these books are part of a series, there are little individual differences which are interesting to discuss as students compare and contrast the books. Two of the books are very clearly linked to specific events - the 2011 Queensland Floods in Flood and Cyclone Tracy (which hit Darwin in 1974) in Cyclone. Fire and Drought are more general - a look at natural events which can impact large areas of the country year after year.

One of the ‘must-do’ activities with these books is to explore the author and illustrator notes to look at the intentions of the creators as they come into the work. For both of the creators, there are personal elements or feelings to these creations and they have strived to create their work to show not just the events and impact of the disaster - but the way people come together to help and rebuild during and after the disaster.

Another great way to look at these books is to look at what is happening ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ - to explore the heavy stillness of the air in the heat before of fire or the endless days of rain before the waters being to rise in flood.

 
 

The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe and David Cox

This beautiful book - probably best for middle primary and upper primary - takes us through a story of a bushfire which rages into the mountain home of the narrator and destroys her family house. It looks at the race to escape the fire and the fight to rebuild life afterwards - including looking at the emotional impacts of the fire.

The author includes a powerful author’s note about her own experiences with the Black Saturday bushfires, where she lost her home and her parents. This may or may not be something you wish to share with your students (depending on their age), but for older students it might be interesting to explore the author’s focus on regrowth after a fire. This is an interesting aspect of extreme weather which can sometimes be forgotten as journalists and other story tellers begin to move away from natural disasters in search of the next story.

A House on the Mountain would also allow for an excellent timeline activity, tracing the events of the story - and how the narrator feels - through from before the fire to the rebuilding after the fire.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain by Cory Brooke and Megan Forward

This Christmas book is also an excellent look at drought for younger readers. Jane lives on a farm and wants rain for Christmas to break the drought. Jane believes that Santa is the perfect solution to the drought. This book highlights the difficulties of drought, the impact of a lack of rain on the environment and the people who work in it. It’s a particularly good introduction to drought for younger students.

There are a number of different activities which you can do with this book, including looking at what happens when there is a drought. Students can list some of the things which Jane highlights as issues, combining it with some videos of drought to enhance their understanding of drought.

 
Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood

This is a really gentle look at the impacts of drought - comparing a visit from a friend from one summer to another. As you progress through the book there are little mentions of how things are different, how things are harder.

This is a great book to use for looking at inference. There’s many places where the narrator just gives a little bit of the story, without fully telling the reader about the worry and concern they are experiencing. Even hearing that his friend will travel for seven hours gives the reader a little clue about the difference - the divide - between their life and the life of his friend.

The comparisons between one year and another is another things which students can use when talking about weather in the classroom. What is it like before a weather event? What is it like after a weather event? This could apply to floods and cyclones as well as drought.

Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein and Bronwyn Bancroft

Big rain is coming . . . but when? This lovely book, best suited for younger students, explores the anticipation of waiting for rain when it’s really, really hot. My favourite part is when the clouds gather, but it still doesn’t rain.

This is a great book for working on prediction, with its easy, repeating structure. Students can also use it as an example of what it’s like to wait for something - whether it’s rain or something else in their lives.

Big Rain Coming is also good for exploring what happens before it rains - whether it’s clouds gathering, a wind picking up, or even the sound of rain moving towards you. The beautiful illustrations also offer room for exploration, especially looking at how colour and lines are used to create a beautiful world. Students might like to compare this with some of Bronwyn Bancroft’s other illustration work as well.

 
Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle and Maggie Prewett

The children of Mrs White and the Red Desert are working hard to clean their house so they can entertain their teacher. They want to show her why their homework is grubby, but as she arrives a red dust storm also comes along, giving them the perfect demonstration.

As well as the dust storm at the centre of this book, there’s some lovely other exploration of weather. We hear about hot desert winds and the pitter-patter of rain. We see that the weather is a daily part of life, that is races around (and through) the house and soothes the children to sleep. And that it has an impact on the lives of the children when they are away from home.

This is another great book for inference - we don’t see what happens at school before the teacher comes to visit, but we can infer it. We infer how the dust storm destroys the dinner.

We also see what the impacts of a dust storm can be. Students can explore pictures of dust storms - both in the cities and away from the cities and discuss what the impacts of dust storms are during and after the storm. They may also like to explore the weather conditions which make dust storms more or less likely.

Mustara by Rosanne Hawke and Robert Ingpen

This is another book about a dust storm, but in this storm two children are caught in the middle of it, without warning, with a camel to protect them. Mustara is a historical fiction, giving a few glimpses into a different world of explorers and the use of camels in exploring inland Australia.

The historical fiction aspect of the book gives students another area to explore - what other weather events impacted people in the past? What other stories do we know of big weather events? Students might like to compare accounts of weather from the past with more recent accounts of weather and talk about how people deal with weather the same or differently.

 
 

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? (And How Can We Teach It?)

Civics and Citizenship education is filled with terminology: sometimes it feels like you’re learning a new - very specific - language. So how would you use that terminology to define Australia’s type of government? And how can we teach that in the classroom?

 
Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post
 

What is Democracy?

We can blame it on the Ancient Greeks.

Well, to be honest, there were probably small communities practicing elements of democracy before the city of Athens, but the Athenians were definitely the ones who made it popular. In Ancient Athens, any male who was a citizen (and over 20) could take part in government. That meant they could be part of the group which came up with new laws, they could vote on new laws, they could speak out about new laws. The power to guide the future of Athens was in the hands of lots of ordinary people (leaving out women, slaves and people whose parents weren’t Athenian).

Democracy is still about sharing power today, although we don’t tend to see democratic systems where citizens vote on everything anymore - that’s just too many votes on topics not too many of us really care about! Instead of that direct form of democracy, most democracies are representative. In a representative government, the citizens vote for people to represent us.

We hope that those representatives will have special talents or gifts or knowledge and will make thoughtful decisions and laws which help to move the country or state or city forward. Citizens still get to have a say - through voting for people who we think will make the laws we want and through being able to speak out about laws and other things - but we don’t make all the decisions ourselves.

How can we explore democracy in the classroom?

There are lots of ways to explore democracy, but a really easy way is just by voting! Students can propose ideas - like whether blue or green is a better colour, or if Baby Shark is really a good song or not - and then vote on them. The majority wins - and there might be a consequence. Like the teacher writing in only blue pen for the rest of the day. Or Baby Shark being played at least three times before the lunch bell.

To extend understanding, though, you can bring more options into the exercise. What if there were three songs for the students to choose from? What if the teacher offered 5 colours to vote on? In a class of 25 students, a majority of 6 students might be enough to decide on which pen colour would be used. Is it fair for only 6 students out of 25 to make that decision? This opens up an avenue for further conversation about democracy and majorities.

What is Monarchy?

A monarchy is - very simply - a government with a monarch at the head.

A monarch is the leader of a group of people - often a family - who symbolise the power and identity of the country. The monarch might have different title - king or queen, sultan, emperor - and they usually rule until they either die or abdicate - step down to hand over power to another member of the group or family.

While many monarchies are hereditary - they are passed down through the family following a set of rules about who gets it next - some monarchies are elected. For example, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church (who is the head of the Vatican City State) is elected from cardinals before holding the position for life. In Malaysia, the monarch is elected from a group of families and they hold the position for five years.

Absolute monarchy means that the monarch has all the power. However, these days many monarchs hold ceremonial roles or have limited roles in government, with most of the power for making laws and decisions the responsibility of elected governments. This is a constitutional monarchy.

How can we explore monarchy in the classroom?

Because monarchies have been popular throughout history until today, there are many opportunities for researching them in the classroom. One avenue of investigation is to look at the symbols of monarchy in different parts of the world and different times of history. Students can look at what symbols there were for the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt and compare them with the symbols for modern monarchies - such as the British Royal family.

 
Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post
 

Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy?

Australia is both!

In Australia, citizens over the age of 18 participate in representative democracy. We vote for representatives to represent us at the local, state and federal level and trust that they’ll make the laws and decisions which guide the country forward.

However, we’re also a constitutional monarchy. We have a head of state who has restricted (and rarely used) powers.

Who is the head of state? Well, the Queen of Great Britain . . .

Between the 16th Century and the early 20th Century, Great Britain collected countries and states around the world to make the British Empire. Those countries were all ruled by the British monarch - the head of the British Royal family. In the modern era, as the British Empire faded, many of these countries became members of the Commonwealth realm and chose to keep the Monarch of Great Britain as their head of state. Australia is one of those countries.

As Head of State of Australia, the Queen does very little. She has representatives in Australia - the Governor General and the Governors of the states, who swear in leaders and sign laws - but again those representatives do very little (and it causes a bit of an outrage when they do try to test their power). But for many people, the Queen is important as a symbol.

Of course, not everyone feels this way. During the 1990s, more and more people called for a referendum (our way of having a direct vote in Australia) to stop being a monarchy. The referendum was held in 1999 and was unsuccessful - keeping Australia as a monarchy. Many believe this will change after Queen Elizabeth the Second passes away.

 
Is Australia a Democracy or a Monarchy? And how can we teach this in the classroom? A civics and citizenship, government in Australia blog post exploring ways to teach democracy and monarchy and Australia's system in your classroom. A Galarious Goods post
 

How Can We Teach It?

Some people might ask if it matters that Australia is a democracy and a monarchy. This is actually an excellent question to pose to your students - does it matter what type of government we have? What if we changed one kind of government or the other?

Students might also like to explore how we got here. How were decisions made in the different Indigenous Nations before the First Fleet arrived? What did early government look like in the colony of New South Wales? How did government change with Federation in 1901? A timeline activity could be a great way for students to examine how governments change and how they come to look like they are today.

Students can also make predictions about what government might look like in the future. Do they think we will have a monarch from another country as the head of state of Australia in the future? Will we continue to have a representative democracy or will we make changes to that system? How might the types of government change?

Monarchy and democracy might not seem like fascinating topics on the surface. But they are the systems which have shaped our government - and have shaped governments and history in the past. By getting a better understanding of these systems, we can help our students see how they can shape the country going into the future!

What Does it Mean to Be Australian?: Using Picture Books in the Classroom to Explore Australian Identity

As you read through I’m Australian Too, written by Mem Fox, it is easy to see how this book can be used to explore Australian identity in the classroom. By adding a wide range of other Australian picture books, we can further facilitate these discussions and create a better understanding of what it means to be Australian for our students.

 
Introduction to Rowan of Rin - a look at Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda and teaching activities and discussion questions to go with the novel. Includes a look at novel study teaching resources
 

What it means to be Australian and how we define the ‘Australian way of life’ have been topics of discussion for a very long time. Many people, from politicians to journalists to public figures have weighed in on these questions and many different answers have been offered. It is a topic which features prominently in Australian discourse, especially from politicians - and a topic which can easily spill into our classrooms as politicians insist that ‘Australian values’ be taught to our students.

Getting adult Australians to agree on what it means to be Australian is a difficult task, but it’s important that we engage our students in what it means to them. By having these discussions in the classroom, we allow them to look at their own identity as Australians, the identity of the people around them and how Australia may be viewed by the world. We give them ideas and words which allow them to take part in a larger conversation.

There are a wide range of Australian picture books which can prompt questions and discussions of Australian identity. From books which focus on a range of different characters from different backgrounds (like I’m Australian Too or My Place) to books which explore moments of history (like Sorry Day and the many ANZAC Day related books) to books which give us a sense of place (like Mrs White and the Red Desert) to books which explore big and devastating events which tend to shape up (like Jackie French’s natural disaster books). There are books which help out students understand who we are, how we got here and where we might go next.

 
A few Australian picture books which can be used in the classroom to explore Australian Identity with your students. These picture books can help students examine how they see themselves, how they see others and what stereotypes of Australians are. Perfect for the classroom
 

But how can we use these books effectively in the classroom when we talk about Australian identity? In a 2012 Australia Day speech on Australian Identity, the Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke points out that identity is a tricky concept - that it is linked to our perceptions of ourselves, the way we view others and stereotypes which may or may not be accurate. These three links to identity allow us to form a great framework to explore Australian picture books which deal with Australian Identity.

How we view ourselves

If we offer a wide range of Australian picture books in our classroom, students should be able to find moments which offer a connection to their own experiences. They may talk about their local war memorial like the one in Gary Crew’s Memorial, or hearing about drought like the one in Jackie French’s book. They might recognise the tall buildings in Narelle Oliver’s Home or the tram in I’m Australian Too.

Students can keep a list of these connections or note them on sticky notes as they read through the books. They can examine these lists or collections of notes and reflect on how their experiences connect them to the ideas of Australian identity.

Using compare and contrast graphic organisers, students can explore how they ‘fit’ within the Australian identity shown in these picture books and how they are different.

Students can also dig deeper to see what ‘hidden’ messages the authors and illustrators have included about Australian identity and what that means to them. What is the author saying when talking about helpers cleaning up in Flood (by Jackie French)? What qualities are those people showing? Are they Australian qualities? How do I reflect those qualities in my own life?

How we see others (and the world around us)

As well as showing us connections to our own experiences, Australian picture books allow us an insight to other Australians, Australian places, Australian history and Australian experiences.

As students read these books they can take notes of questions they might have:

  • Why do farmers have to feed animals in drought?

  • Why were some children not allowed to swim in the pool?

  • Why did they take horses on the boats to war?

  • What would it be like to escape your country on a tiny boat?

Students can work in pairs or small groups to sort their questions, finding questions which are similar. They can discuss which value might go with those questions.

Students can also look at which books are connected to other books. They may put books about the Australian environment together and books about our history in another group. They might talk about how different books show different aspects of drought and how it impacts Australian identity. They can discuss how the authors might define Australian identity.

 
Three questions we can bring to the classroom when we explore Australian identity with our students. These questions can help teachers frame a bigger conversation about what it means to be Australian through the lens of Australian picture books
 

Exploring Stereotypes

As I write this post, I have just retrieved our family’s Christmas books from the cupboard. One of the books is an old Australian version of the 12 Days of Christmas, complete with a swagman in his singlet, boots and cork hat. What does that tell us about Australian identity?

As our students explore these picture books, it’s important to discuss the stereotypes of a ‘typical’ Australian. Students may like to draw a picture or write a description of a ‘typical’ Australian before they start reading any of the books.

Students can see that many Australian picture books offer an image of Australia which is mostly different from the ‘typical’ image. They can discuss why that it, why a stereotype may not be accurate, how we can better illustrate and describe Australian identity in the future. By using an understanding of stereotypes, they can identify the choices authors and illustrators make when they do and don’t follow those stereotypes of ‘typical’ Australians.

Every year we’re seeing more picture books telling us the stories of Australia and Australians. These are useful tools in our classrooms in a number of ways - especially as they guide us to a better understanding of what it means to be Australian.

 
 

Using I'm Australian Too in Upper Primary Classrooms

You will find I'm Australian Too (by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh) in classrooms across the country. But while it has been celebrated as a book for younger children, I'm Australian Too can be used as a teaching tool with classroom activities well beyond the early years. This is an important book - a book that students of all ages can learn from.

 
Using I’m Australian Too in UPPER PRimary classrooms - Teaching ideas and Teaching Activities for the mem fox book
 

I'm Australian Too introduces us to a wide range of children who live in Australia, exploring the history they and their family have with Australia and giving the reader a little insight into how they experience life in Australia. The story shows us that Australia has been a safe place for generations of immigrants and refugees, a place for those facing hardship and danger. And we can question whether we are honouring that legacy today.

There are a range of learning activities which can accompany this book, including

1. Discussing Australian Identity

I'm Australian Too shows the readers children who all consider themselves Australian, even if their family comes from other parts of the world. This is a great introduction to concepts of Australian identity, to explore what makes Australians Australian.

This is a particularly useful book for students to explore at those times of the year when we examine what it means to be Australian like Australia Day, Harmony Day and those times when Australians are involved in large international sporting competitions. These occasions often raise questions about Australian identity and this book gives students a starting place to work from to discuss these questions. Students can use I'm Australian Too as part of a discussion activity, exploring the text and illustrations to draw conclusions about what the author and illustrator believe. They can use these understandings from the text to shape and write their own belief statements, or compare and contrast with other books which look at Australian identity.

2. I'm Australian Too Character Postcards

There are a wide range of 'characters' in I'm Australian Too. The bright distinctive illustrations tell students additional information and allow them to draw conclusions. These conclusions and the illustration styles can then be combined as creative learning activities.

One option is for students to be inspired by the illustrations and characters to create a postcard which features one of the characters as well as a short piece of text about what it means to be Australian. They can touch on where the character family comes from, how it feels to be Australian, the atmosphere of Australian places or participation in Australian past times.

The postcard is a useful tool when students are trying to summarise their thoughts since they are restricted in space - therefore are restricted in how much they can say. This allows them to keep their character reflections succinct and to the point.

Students can then expand on this by creating a postcard which reflects their own experiences and understandings of what it means to be Australian.

Interested in creating your own postcards? Get the free folding template here.

 
 

3. Create a Character Diagram

The wide range of characters and their different backgrounds in I'm Australian Too also allows for visual comparisons. Students can combine text, shapes, arrows and lines to show different characters and how they are alike or different or connected.

Students might also like to explore how they can create different styles of diagrams to show different types of information. Students can then apply this knowledge of diagrams and organisers as they explore other books and novels.

Get I'm Australian Too resources here

 
 

6 Great Books to Integrate With Australian Social Studies


There are so many different ways to explore Australian social studies (or Humanities and Social Sciences as it is described in the Australian curriculum) in the classroom. One of the best ways is to use books - fiction and non fiction - which relate to the themes, ideas and events our students are exploring. I'm pleased to present six books covering Australian social studies which are perfect for middle grades classrooms.

 
6 Great Books to Integrate With Australian Social Studies - Galarious Goods
 

I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

While the text seems simple at first, there's a lot in this picture book to explore and discuss when it comes to Australian identity, those who come to Australia and things which represent Australia. Students can look at and research some of the different reasons people come to Australia, comparing and contrasting different stories. They may also like to contribute their own stories or interview someone who has travelled to Australia and become an Australian citizen. It would definitely be a great book to extend ideas when looking at citizenship and modern Australian history. You can also use the book to discuss global citizenship and the responsibilities different countries and individuals have - or should have - to people in other parts of the world.

You can get an I'm Australian Too Book Study resource at the Galarious Goods Shop

 
 

How to Build Your Own Country by Valerie Wyatt and Fred Rix

This is a brilliant non-fiction book for any classroom covering government or economics! What would you do if you had your own country? What would you need to know? How do you stop your country from falling apart? While this book walks you through the process of setting up your own country, it also looks at the knowledge which will help any young country builder make their country an excellent one. You can use it as the foundation of a teaching unit, dig into bits of it for different activities or make it available for those students who want to explore further. It's not an Australian-centric book, but it's a great general look at some really important topics.

 

Book Trailer for How to Build Your Own Country

 

The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim by Cassandra Golds and Stephen Axelsen

Australian history told through a graphic novel? Yes please! This graphic novel tells the story of Matthew Flinders who circumnavigated and mapped Australia. You can use this in small groups in the classroom, with students comparing the graphic novel retelling with other histories of Matthew Flinders. Students can discuss why Flinder's story is important and what his achievements meant to Australia and compare him to other explorers and map makers. Students can also look at the geographical challenges of map making and make their own maps - an activity which can also integrate reading and social studies with mathematics!

 

Say Yes: A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope by Jennifer Castles and Paul Seden

This beautiful book is centred around the friendship between an Aboriginal girl and a non-Aboriginal girl and the 1967 Referendum in Australia. Including images, paper ephemera and newspaper clippings from the time, it explores how many laws at the time were unfair to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia and invites readers to think about how things could be better going forward into the future. It's a perfect social studies book, which can be related to law making and the rule of law, to referendums, to what a census is and how it impacts decision making as well as modern Australian history. Examining the images in the book could also give students inspiration when they're sharing their own history research.

 

News story about the friendship behind Say Yes - A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope

 

Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman

It can be really meaningful to students to link a class novel study with a social studies unit. Morris Gleitzman's Boy Overboard is an excellent book for any class examining why people come to Australia and what it means to be Australian. The story of Jamal and his family who flee the Taliban in Afghanistan for the safety of Australia, readers get to see the difficulties refugees can face and the motivations which can turn people into refugees in the first place. It's a great book to read while looking at modern history, those who have come to Australia over history or global citizenship and one which students can study and read as a class novel or investigate as a teacher read-aloud.

You can get the Boy Overboard Complete Novel Study Bundle at Galarious Goods

 
 

Refuge by Jackie French

Jackie French has so many books which are excellent to tie in with Australian social studies - I could make an entire post containing only her books! Refuge is a really interesting book to read - it went in a totally different direction from what I expected. I think this one would make a particularly good read aloud - particularly if students make predictions about the story before it began. Refuge looks at different people from different time periods who have come to one land as refugees and find themselves in a rather odd place. It is very good to connect to Australian history and I highly recommend it.

You can read more about Refuge at Jackie French's website

Find a wide range of teaching resources at Galarious Goods

 
 

7 Things You May Not Know About Government in Australia

Are you thinking about teaching Australian Government in your classroom? Did you know these facts about the Australian political system and Australian political history?

 
7 Things You May Not Know About Government in Australia. A sneak peek into the government systems of Australia - perfect for social studies and government classes around the world. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. Australians Do Not Directly Elect the Prime Minister

Unlike the United State of America, Australians do not make a direct vote for the political leader of the country. Instead they vote for local representatives who are usually members of political parties. The political party with the most representatives chooses one of the representatives to be Prime Minister.

2. This Can Lead to Sudden Changes . . . 

Political parties can choose to change the Prime Minister without a public election - this often happens when they disagree with the leader or they think a new leader will do better. In 2010 there was a sudden change when the representatives of the Labor Party decided that Julia Gillard should replace Kevin Rudd. In 2013 they went back to Kevin Rudd. In 2015 the Liberal Party decided to change from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull, then in 2018 they swapped from Malcolm Turnbull to Scott Morrison. The main two political parties in Australia have made changes to stop this happening in the future - but it is totally legal and acceptable under the Australian constitution.

3. The Prime Minister is Not the Head of State of Australia

The head of state of Australia is Queen Elizabeth II. She has representatives in Australia - the Governor-General and the Governors. In 1999 there was a referendum vote to decide if Australia should become a republic with an Australian head of state. However, the Australian people voted to remain a monarchy and the Queen remains as the head of state.

4. Australia has Compulsory Voting

All Australian citizens over the age of 18 are required to register and vote - it's considered one of the responsibilities of citizenship.

5. Australians Usually Use a Pencil and Paper to Vote

All voters in Australia are given paper ballots and all voting booths provide pencils. Australia started using pencils because they were quicker to use than ink pens, but they continue to use them because they are easy to prepare, store and maintain. You can bring your own pen to voting if you wish.

6. Australians Vote on Saturday - and Eat Sausages!

Voting in Australia is held on Saturdays when most Australians are available to vote (although you can vote earlier if you need to). Voting is usually held at schools and churches and they often hold sales to raise money. The most popular sale is a sausage sizzle - barbecued sausage on bread with sauce. At recent elections voters have compared the best sausage sizzles and shared photos of their sausages on social media! Check out the #democracysausage tag on Instagram!

7. An Australian Prime Minister Once Went Missing

In December 1967, Prime Minister Harold Holt went swimming and never came back. Although it is presumed that he was drowned, his body was never recovered. After his death, a swimming pool complex was named in his honour.