Debate a Bill of Rights for Australia

Analyse arguments for and against having an Australian Bill of Rights, before debating the issue in a class parliament.

Students
Years 9-12
Duration
2-3 lessons

Before you begin

  1. Read through the Make a law: House of Representatives classroom activity. After completing the Getting started activities you will use this activity to role-play a parliamentary debate with your class.
  2. Print a copy of the Write your own bill script [PDF, 10 pages]
  3. With your class, use the ‘rights’ discussion starters in the Rights, power, action discussion starters for older students section of the Unpack democracy classroom activity to prompt conversation about the rights of citizens.
  4. Ask students to read the Rights in Australia infocus paper to give context to the parliamentary debate.

Getting started

  1. Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with students. There is also a youth-friendly version. As a class, discuss:
    • Which of these rights are most important to you?
    • Which of these rights are most important in a democracy?
    • Which of these rights do you think are well protected in Australia? Which could be better protected?
  2. Define what a Bill of Rights is.
  3. Ask students to research arguments for and against an Australian Bill of Rights, either individually or in pairs. Remind students to record their sources and think critically about each source’s reliability.
  4. Use the opinion continuum discussion strategy from the Unpack democracy classroom activity to find out if students think Australia should have a Bill of Rights. Ask students to justify their position on the continuum using arguments they have uncovered in their research.
  5. Divide students into groups and ask them to draft a Bill of Rights for Australia. Ask groups to share with the whole class which rights they have included and why.
  6. Select one group’s Bill of Rights to be debated by the class parliament as a possible Bill of Rights for Australia. Let one group member know that they will be the minister who introduces the bill to the class parliament next lesson. Write the name of the bill to be debated in the Write your own bill script [PDF, 10 pages].
  7. Before the next lesson, distribute a copy of the selected Bill of Rights to all students. Remind students that during their class parliament debate on this bill they may give a speech supporting, opposing or suggesting a change to the selected Bill of Rights.

Activity

  1. Use the Make a law: House of Representatives classroom activity to role-play a parliamentary debate about an Australian Bill of Rights.
  2. The Make a law: House of Representatives classroom activity has been written for students from years 5 to 12. To differentiate the activity so it is suitable for your students, you may wish to:
    • Divide the class so the government does not have a clear majority. A minority government will make for a particularly close debate. If you have already completed the Negotiate a minority government classroom activity you may wish to have students return to the same political parties. This will test some of the relationships that were formed with the crossbench during this earlier negotiation activity.
    • Give your opposition the option of supporting the bill. Inform them that, in reality, the majority of bills are supported by both the government and the opposition. If your opposition chooses to support the bill, they should ask the government questions about their bill and push for changes to be made. (Which additional rights do they think should be included in the Bill of Rights? Which rights should be left out and why?)
    • Give your students a free – conscience – vote on the Bill of Rights, so that instead of agreeing with their team, they can vote as they wish.

What happened?

  1. If the bill passed the House of Representatives, what would need to happen before it could become a law?
  2. Is it democratic for the Australian Parliament to decide which rights belong in an Australian Bill of Rights?
  3. A Bill of Rights can be passed as a law through parliament (legislative) or enshrined in a nation’s constitution (constitutional). Today we argued for a legislative Bill of Rights. What steps would need to be taken for Australia to have a constitutional Bill of Rights? What might be the advantages and disadvantages of having the rights of citizens enshrined in the Australian Constitution?