Make a law: Senate

Discover how bills—proposed laws—are introduced, debated and voted on in the Senate by turning your class into a Parliament and doing it yourselves!

Students
Years 5 to 12
Duration
1 to 2 lessons

Role-play the Parliament: Senate

This video demonstrates a parliamentary role-play, where students can learn how new laws are made in the Australian Parliament. It outlines what content is covered in the lesson, and what preparation is required to use this immersive learning strategy in a classroom.

Duration: 14 min

Read the transcript.

Preparing to make a law

Topic for debate

  1. Choose an issue relevant to your students and to the curriculum, such as the amount of homework students are required to do. If you'd like to see the kinds of issues the Parliament has been discussing recently, look at News from our Parliament. If you're stuck for ideas, use one of our scripts in the toolkit.
  2. With students, develop a plan to address the issue, for example, to ban homework. This plan will be your bill.
  3. Write the name of the bill and its purpose on page one of the law-making script template, available in the toolkit. For example, 'The No Homework Bill: A Bill for an Act to ban homework in all Australian schools.'

Teams

Divide the class into government, opposition, minor parties and independents.

For the current composition of the Senate, visit Parliamentary statistics

  • Minor party and independent senators—a quarter of your class
  • Government—half of the remaining students
  • Opposition—the other half of the remaining students

From the government, select:

  • a Leader of the Government in the Senate
  • a minister for the relevant portfolio to introduce the bill—for example, the Minister for Education
  • a Party Whip—team manager

From the opposition, select:

  • a Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
  • a shadow minister for the same portfolio who will respond to the minister's speech
  • a party whip—team manager

Write speeches (optional)

You may want to give your students time to write speeches.

  • Government members will support the bill
  • Opposition members will disagree with the bill
  • independents and minor party members can choose to support, oppose or suggest changes to the bill.

If you plan on using the same bill to debate in the House of Representatives and the Senate, you may choose to allow some students to make speeches in the House of Representatives and some in the Senate.

Select other roles

These students may write speeches, but will not deliver them.

When selecting these roles, ensure the ratios of the parties remain the same.

Set up room

Turn the classroom into a chamber by arranging chairs and tables into a horseshoe shape as indicated by the seating plan in the toolkit.

Making a law

You can follow this process in the master script.

  1. The Clerk rings the bell and instructs the members to stand.
  2. The Usher leads the President into the chamber, carrying the Black Rod
  3. The Usher announces the President and moves to their seat.
  4. The President tells everyone to sit down and begins the session.
  5. The Clerk stands and reads the rules of the chamber and the title of the bill (first reading).

The Debate

  1. The minister introduces the bill and the shadow minister responds to the bill.
  2. The President selects Senators to make speeches, alternating between government and non-government Senators.

Voting on the bill

  1. When the debate is finished, the President announces the vote. The independents and minor party senators choose a side.
  2. The whips count the number of people on their side and tell the President. The President declares the result.

Passing the bill

  1. If the bill is agreed to, the Clerk reads the title of the bill again (second reading). If the bill is not agreed to, skip this step.
  2. The President adjourns the Senate.
  3. The Usher takes the Black Rod and leads the President from the chamber.

What happened?

  1. Discuss with the class what happened in your Senate. For example, did the bill pass? Why or why not?
  2. Discuss what other steps the bill needs to go through to become a law.

Reflection

After the debate, explore the following questions with your students:

  1. Parliamentary debates are public, they are broadcast on television, radio, and the Internet, they are recorded in the Hansard and reported on in the media. Why? How would our country be different if the parliament made laws in secret? For example, because bills are debated in Parliament the public can learn:
    • about the advantages and disadvantages of the bill
    • what the parties and independents think about the bill
    • how their member of Parliament is representing them
  2. Why do we need laws in Australia? For example, laws are formal rules which society uses to define how people and organisations are expected to behave.
  3. Why is it important for the Australian people to choose members of Parliament to make decisions? What qualities would you look for in a representative? For example, they make decisions for everyone, so it's fair for the people to have a say. The people can choose members who will work hard to represent their interests.
  4. How might members of the public get involved in the democratic process? Why would they want to? For example, people can pay attention to what is happening in the Parliament, contact their representatives, protest, join a political party or community group.