Why We Need to Teach Australian Elections - and Resources to Help You

With all the noise around politicians, elections, campaigns and promises, it can be tempting to tune it all out. However, in the classroom it is our job to teach about elections to ensure we have informed voters in the future.

 
Why We Need to Teach Australian Elections - and a Wide Range of Resources to Help You. This Blog post looks at why to teach Australian elections and offers a range of blog posts, websites and resources you can use to teach them effectively. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Voting is Part of the Curriculum

The Civics and Citizenship strand of HASS in the Australian Curriculum includes a number of outcomes connected to elections and voting. From learning about the role of voting in a democracy to learning how voting works in Australia, students are expected to gain a wide understanding of voting and elections through their lessons in the classroom.

It Helps to Prepare Informed Citizens

Australia has compulsory voting which means most of your students will be required to vote one day. As well as understanding the way campaigning works and the responsibilities of voters and elected officials, students need to understand the mechanics of how voting works and how votes are counted. The more informed students are about voting, the more likely they are to be informed voters as adults.

 
Why We Need to Teach Australian Elections - and a Wide Range of Resources to Help You. This Blog post looks at why to teach Australian elections and offers a range of blog posts, websites and resources you can use to teach them effectively. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Blog Posts, Websites and Resources to Help You Teach Elections

Blog Posts

Elections in the Classroom - 7 Tips for Real Learning with Minimum Controversy
Teachers should always take care to teach government and elections without bias, but this is particularly important around election time - the last thing you want is to appear on the front page of a newspaper because a student or parent took objection to your views. This blog post offers a range of ways you can teach elections in an interesting and factual manner without inviting controversy

7 Things You May Not Know About Government in Australia
This post is a collection of facts about government in Australia and is a great starting point for students exploring Australian government and Australian elections.

Australian Election Myths (And Teaching Ideas for a Better Understanding of Elections)
Unfortunately there is a growing collection of myths about voting in Australia - it’s so bad that the Australian Electoral Commission is having to run advertising to warn people about misinformation. This post explores a number of commonly held myths and provides teaching ideas and further links for teachers and students to explore.

Why We Should Explore Compulsory Voting in Our Classrooms
Many people know that we have compulsory voting in Australia, but do they know about the history of compulsory voting and the senator who introduced it? This post contains some of that history as well as other teaching ideas to explore in the classroom. This is perfect for students exploring the features of Australian democracy.

What are Political Parties, Why Do They Matter and How Can We Teach Them?
When we look at election campaigns, we are usually dealing with political parties. This post offers information about political parties and how you can teach more about them in the classroom.

What are Election Policies? (And how can we teach students about them?)
As well as political parties, many students will come across election policies and campaign promises from candidates. This blog post takes a closer look at policies and how we can better understand them.

Websites

Resources

The Elections in Australia resources are the most comprehensive look at Australian elections. These resources include a mini unit which looks at different elements of voting and elections in Australia, posters, word wall cards and research tasks.

You can also use the Run Your Own Preferential Election resources to get a better understanding of preferential voting in Australia and how preferential votes are counted. Word Wall cards are also available for this topic.

There is a duo of resources for Year 6 students looking at the responsibilities of voters and the responsibilities of elected representatives. This is an excellent way to look at what is expected of voters and the people we elect to lead us.

Australian Electoral Process and Running an Australian Election takes Year 5 students through the elements of Australian elections including secret ballot and compulsory voting.

If I Was Prime Minister is a fabulous book by Beck and Robin Feiner. There are two available book studies for this book: one for Year 2, 3 and 4 students and another for Year 5 and 6 students.

Finally, students can explore their own feelings about compulsory voting with a persuasive writing task asking students to take a position for or against it.

What are Election Policies? (And how can we teach students about them?)

In the first part of this blog post, I explored what political parties are, why they are important and how we can explore the differences between different parties and their values.

In this post I’m going to take a closer look at election policies - or what different political parties are promising - as well as some ideas for exploring election policies in the classroom.

 
What are election policies? (and how can we teach students about them?) A government and civics themed blog post exploring election policies, how they're made and how we can read them. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

What are Party Policies?

Every political party creates a set of policies - goals for different areas of government which are shaped by the values of the party. These policies might be very general - we are aiming to promote penguins - or very specific - we are aiming to use government money to build statues of penguins around Australia.The parties who have a better chance of winning seats in an election are more likely to have specific policies - because the voters will expect them to turn the policies into laws if they win the election.

During an election campaign, political parties may release, discuss and promote these policies. They might talk about how these policies are different from the other parties, talk about how they are going to pay for these policies or talk about how these policies will create a better country or state.

The party policies combine to make the party platform - the goals the political party will aim to achieve if they win government.

Lesson idea: Students can brainstorm some general policies for their school and then see if they can make them more specific. So ‘air-conditioning the classrooms’ may become ‘work with the P and C to come up with fundraising ideas so we can air-condition at least three of the classrooms next year’. Students can then discuss whether general or specific policies are more helpful for voters.

How are Party Policies Made?

There are a number of ways policies are made. Sometimes party leaders might make up policies as they go. More commonly, though, policies involve political parties identifying issues which people care about or problems which need to be solved, then working through a process to develop a policy which would solve the problem or address the issue.

The process often asks political parties to think about any potential issues which would come up if the policy was turned into laws. For example, a policy to promote penguins might sound great in theory, but additional tourists travelling to visit penguins might put penguin habitats in danger and it would definitely mean more traffic on the roads. Political parties have to work through all these potential problems in their policies to create the best policy possible.

Lesson idea: Provide students with a list of possible school policies and ask them to consider the implications of these policies. They might like to create PMI charts or other ways of exploring the policies.

 
What are election policies? (and how can we teach students about them?) A government and civics themed blog post exploring election policies, how they're made and how we can read them. A Galarious Goods blog post.
 

How Can Regular Citizens Understand Election Policies?

This is possibly the hardest part! Political parties often release a lot of policies before elections. They want to use these to convince voters to vote for them. So many times they are written in a way which is very persuasive and this can sometimes be a bit confusing.

Some political parties might use their policies to be negative about other parties. Other political parties might use their policies to show that they are very serious - which means they include so much detail it can be hard to understand what the policies are. And some policies are just down-right confusing if you don’t understand complex tax systems!

There are a few ways we can get through to the nitty-gritty of policies though:

1. Try to rewrite them in your own words.

Your own words will include less of the persuasive language used before elections. By writing out some of the policies from different parties in your own words you can get a better idea of what those policies are and how they compare with other policies.

Students can easily explore this in the classroom. By rewriting the policies and removing persuasive language, they can explore how persuasive language is used in election campaigns. They can use this knowledge to create their own persuasive statements.

2. Compare policies with the values of the political party

The political party will have a set of values which they follow. Usually policies are created in alignment with the values of the political party. If they don’t seem to align, it’s worth exploring why that is the case. It’s possible that the policy is more complex than it first seems!

Students can work on these comparisons in groups. They can also try to match policies to different political parties, or create their own political parties with different values and decide what kind of policies would suit each set of values.

3. Compare policies with speeches

It’s always good to explore primary source material. In many cases politicians give speeches which look at what they believe and why they believe it’s important. They might also give speeches which give more information about different policies - these are a good way to take a closer look at policies and how they align with what the politicians are saying.

Then how do I work out who has the BEST policies?

Honestly, that really depends on what you think is most important. The best way is to spend a little time reflecting on what is most important to you - jobs, education, penguins?

When you have determined what is most important to you, you should look for whichever political party has policies which best match with what you believe. It’s unlikely that you’ll get an exact match, so you might need to determine which is the closest on the most important and be more flexible with less important beliefs.

Lesson Idea - Students can be provided with different aspects of school life and school decision making (like types of lessons taught, school events, uniform decisions, food in the tuckshop) and determine which one is most important to them. Students can use this information to write the kind of policies they’d like to see at school.

Read Part One of this post - exploring political parties - here

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. Click here to read more now.

Want to read more? Try . . .

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!

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.

 

Elections in the Classroom - 7 Tips for Real Learning with Minimum Controversy

Learning about real life elections in the classroom sounds a lot like a disaster waiting to happen - especially in heightened political situations. However, there are definitely ways we can talk about political situations in the classroom so our students are informed and we don't attract controversy.

 
Elections in the Classroom - 7 Tips for Real Learning with Minimal Controversy. An insight into how to teach elections effectively in the classroom and to make sure you don't have a classful of parent complaints the next day. A thoughtful look at staying objective at election time. A Galarious Goods Blog
 

1. Don't Avoid Talking About Elections

Elections happen and they're important topics to cover in the classroom. Students are future voters and they deserve to have a good understanding of how elections work so one day they will be informed voters. Avoiding the topic in front of students might keep things from becoming controversial, but it can also be a disservice to our students who should be educated about the electoral system.

2. Keep Your Feelings Out of It

You might have really strong opinions about a particular candidate or a particular political party, but it's best to work to keep a neutral approach when you're talking about politics in the classroom. Students don't need to know about how you might be inclined to vote - it's ok to talk about how voters often prefer to keep their votes to themselves. It can also be an opportunity to talk about the use of secret ballots in elections and why they are used.

3. Set the Ground Rules for the Students

Classroom discussions about elections can get heated, especially if students or their parents hold strong opinions. Establish some strict ground rules early, ensuring students participate in lessons in a respectful, considerate manner. Make the rules explicit, write them down and refer back to them if required.

4. Use 'Primary' Sources

If you want your students to investigate to political positions of the candidates or how they use language in speeches turn to the words of the candidates themselves. Look for speeches on similar topics or speeches from similar events (like campaign launches or party conventions). Comparing the words of the candidates side by side allows students to see both sides of the political arguments and can also serve as a informational reading lesson.

 
Elections in the Classroom - 7 Tips for Real Learning with Minimal Controversy. An insight into how to teach elections effectively in the classroom and to make sure you don't have a classful of parent complaints the next day. A thoughtful look at staying objective at election time. A Galarious Goods Blog
 

5. Take a Technical Approach

It's possible to talk about elections in the classroom without focusing too much attention on candidates or political parties. Your students can look at how elections work, what people need to do to vote, how votes are counted. Look at the levels of government and what the different electable positions are. You can even take a look into how the government works. Taking a technical approach allows students to look more critically at the political process and how they can be involved in it.

6. Take a Historical Approach

Instead of focusing on a current or more recent election in the classroom, take a look into the past. What were earlier elections like? How have political parties changed over the years? What are the notable or interesting elections of the past? So much of history shapes the events of today - learning about the past can allow students to understand how we got to current political situations.

7. Take an International Approach

Lots of countries have democratic systems and elections, but they all have their own ways of voting and forming governments. Take your students on a look back at Ancient Athenian Democracy or take a peek into elections within other democratic countries. Compare and contrast the electoral systems and their principles with the electoral systems of your own country. Taking a wider view of elections can allow your students to have a better understanding of the electoral systems of their own country - and a global understanding of political events.

A controversial election can make the idea of teaching government in the classroom seem scary. But with some firm ground rules and interesting side journeys, you can make the most of election season while avoiding controversy.