Negotiate a minority government

Role-play a high stakes parliamentary negotiation in order to learn how government is formed in Australia.

Years 9-12
1-2 lessons

Before you begin

  1. Use the Government fact sheet to review how government is formed in the Australian Parliament, and the difference between a majority and minority government.
  2. Ensure students understand the following terms:
    • hung parliament
    • majority government
    • minority government
    • balance of power
  3. Present students with the following scenario: There has been an election in Australia but neither of the 2 major parties has a majority in the House of Representatives. The only way one of the parties can form government is if they can negotiate an agreement with the independents or minor parties – the crossbench – to achieve the support of the majority of members of the House. Without the support of the majority of members of the House, the government will be unable to get their bills, including the Budget, passed. One of the major parties needs the support of at least 3 of the 5 crossbenchers to form government.

Getting started

  1. Organise the class using the Group organisation table as a guide. Each student will either be a member of the House of Representatives or a press gallery journalist who will report on the negotiations as they unfold.
  2. Distribute the Secret instructions to each student and give them a few minutes to read and think about their secret instructions. Remind students they are to play the part they have been allocated and to focus on what they want to achieve.
  3. The major parties meet in their groups to develop a shared understanding of their party’s values and priorities. They should then elect a leader and a Treasurer, and announce who they have elected to the class. During this time, crossbench members should also talk to each other about their values and priorities. The press gallery listens to these discussions and may ‘tweet’ what they hear by writing on the whiteboard or putting post-it notes on the walls.


  1. Hold a press conference. Ask the press gallery journalists to interview the leaders of the major parties about what their values are and what they would achieve if they formed government. Then journalists interview each crossbencher about their values and what they would like to achieve during this parliament.
  2. Give both major parties 2 minutes to strategise. Whose support do they want to win? What are they prepared to say or do in order to win it? Meanwhile, the crossbench members may talk to one another and form alliances if they wish.
  3. Assign each crossbencher their own ‘office space’ within the classroom. Ensure crossbenchers understand that it is in their interest for one party to form government, as they would have to recontest their seats in another election if neither team gained the support of the majority of the House.
  4. Toss a coin or play rock, paper, scissors to decide which major party will negotiate with the crossbench first. The team that wins has 2 minutes to negotiate with the crossbench in their ‘offices.’ The team should send at least one representative to negotiate with each crossbencher. The students acting as the press gallery listen to these negotiations in order to report back to the voting public, including through live ‘tweets’. Meanwhile, the party that lost the coin toss can continue to strategise.
  5. The other major party then has 2 minutes to negotiate with the crossbench. The first party can return to their ‘party room’ and discuss the results of the first round of negotiations. Once again, the press gallery listens in and reports on the negotiations through live ‘tweets’.
  6. The press gallery journalists present a ‘news bulletin’ summarising the negotiations so far.
  7. The major parties have a second chance to negotiate for 2 minutes each with the crossbenchers. Based on what they’ve heard in the news bulletin, they may wish to make new offers to some of the crossbenchers in order to secure their support.
  8. The crossbenchers hold a press conference with the press gallery journalists after the second round of negotiations is complete. They will announce which party they have decided to support or if they won’t be supporting either party.

What happened?

  • If a party was able to form government, how did they gain the support they needed? If neither party was able to form government, another election must be held. Why do you think this outcome is usually avoided?
  • Did you notice any similarities or overlap in the values and policies presented by the 2 major parties? Did they make any similar offers or promises to the crossbench? Why did this happen?
  • In what ways did the media impact on the negotiations? At Parliament House, there is dedicated office space for journalists, as well as a gallery for them to watch proceedings in the Senate and House of Representatives. Why is there space for the media at Parliament House?