Role-play lesson plans
Law-making – in the House of Representatives
Lesson plan target
- Level: Upper primary to secondary
- Lesson duration: 45-70 minutes
- Classroom set-up: 10 minutes
Law-making is one of the main activities of the Parliament. Laws are made through a process of debate and decision-making. During parliamentary debate, ideas are tested, challenged, refined and ultimately accepted or rejected. This lesson involves a role-play that demonstrates how proposals for federal laws—bills—are considered by the Parliament.
By participating in a role-play that simulates the process of law-making in the House of Representatives, students will:
- understand how the federal Parliament debates and votes on bills
- understand the role of government ministers, the opposition, minor parties and Independents
- explore the concepts of representation and scrutiny
- inquire into real and current issues
- practise public speaking, careful listening and quick thinking
- engage in critical thinking.
Generate discussion about the role-play by exploring some of the following questions with your students:
- Who works in the House of Representatives?
- 150 members elected by the people
- parliamentary officers, including: the Clerk and Deputy Clerk, Serjeant-at-Arms, Hansard reporters, chamber attendants, security and broadcasting operators.
- How do you become a member of the House of Representatives? Members are elected by the people at a federal election.
- Who do members of the House of Representatives represent? Members represent their electorate.
- How many members of the House of Representatives are there? There are 150 members in the House of Representatives – one from each electorate.
- What do members of parliament do in the House of Representatives? Members of parliament make sure the concerns and views of the people of their electorate are heard, by talking about issues in Parliament. They also debate bills (proposed laws) or propose amendments (changes) to bills.
- What is a law? A law is a rule for Australia.
Setting the scene for the role-play
Before the role-play begins you can set the scene by doing some short activities with the students. For example:
- Watch the 'What is Parliament?' video and 'House of Representatives' video in the Toolkit (to the right).
- Ask the students to imagine that they are members of the House of Representatives. How old would they be? Where would they work? What tasks would they have? What skills would they need? What did they do before becoming a member of parliament?
- Encourage students to get into role as members of the House of Representatives and to understand that they:
- represent the views of their electorate
- may be working as part of a team; for example, they may belong to the government or opposition.
Students can find out more about the roles of people in Parliament by checking the Factsheet series on the PEO website: www.peo.gov.au/students/fact_sheets/index.html
Main activity: Conducting a law-making role-play
You can create a more authentic atmosphere by rearranging your classroom to look like a parliamentary chamber, and by using props and a script. This will also help students embrace their roles.
Choosing a bill (proposed law)
Your class will need a bill to debate. Students get the most out of the role-play if the bill is about a topic which is appealing and relevant. If time allows, you may wish to have your students research the topic and write speeches prior to the role-play.
Choose the bill using one of the following options:
- Brainstorm ideas with the class.
- Select a topic to meet the requirements of a curriculum area.
- Select a bill from the current federal Parliament.
- Identify a local issue that needs fixing.
- Select a topic from the list of bill suggestions in the Toolkit (to the right).
Once you have chosen your bill topic you can write it as a formal document using the Bill Template available in the Toolkit (to the right).
Transform the classroom into a chamber by arranging chairs and tables into a horseshoe shape as indicated by the diagram. A larger printable version of this diagram, as well as diagrams of the actual chamber, are in the
Toolkit (to the right).
The PEO scripts provide a framework for the role-play. The scripts include specific roles that can be assigned to students and indicate what they have to do and say. A full script, and a template which allows you to write your own script, are available in the Toolkit (to the right).
Getting into role
- Divide the class into government, opposition, minor parties and Independents (go to Parliament Now for current numbers in the chambers). Use these numbers to gain the right proportions for your parliament.
- Select a Speaker– this is a non-debating role and is generally someone from the government who can exercise authority in the room.
- Select a Clerk (pronounced ‘Clark’) and Serjeant-at-Arms – these are parliamentary officers who do not debate or vote. A teacher may take up the role of Deputy Clerk. This role does not require active participation, but puts the teacher in a central position in the room so they can assist with the running of the role-play.
- Elect party leaders – the government elects the Prime Minister and the opposition elects the Leader of the Opposition.
- Select a minister to introduce the bill – one that has a responsibility (portfolio) relevant to the bill. For example, the No Homework Bill would be introduced into Parliament by the Minister for Education.
- Select a shadow minister.
- Choose party whips (managers) to count the vote at the end of the debate.
YOU ARE NOW READY TO BEGIN THE ROLE-PLAY
Starting the role-play
(See the role-play flow-chart in the Toolkit to the right)
Note: these actions coincide with the scripts.
- The Clerk rings the bell and instructs the members to stand.
- The Serjeant-at-Arms leads the Speaker into the chamber, carrying the Mace on their right shoulder.
- The Serjeant-at-Arms announces the Speaker, places the Mace on the table and moves to their seat.
- The Speaker tells everyone to sit down and begins the session.
- The Clerk stands and reads the rules of the chamber and the title of the bill (first reading).
- The minister introduces the bill and the shadow minister responds to the bill.
- After a few speeches from each side, the House is adjourned.
- The Serjeant-at-Arms leads the Speaker from the chamber, holding the Mace.
Adjourn the debate for party meetings
The members of each team get together to plan more speeches for or against the bill, and the Independents and minor parties decide whether they will support or oppose the bill. Changes (amendments) may also be suggested. If you choose not to adjourn, you can go straight to step 10 below.
Continuing the debate
- Repeat steps 1-4.
- The Speaker selects members to make speeches, alternating between the government, opposition, minor parties and Independents. Members make their speeches in turn.
Voting on the bill
- When the debate is finished the Speaker leads a ‘vote on the voices’ (uncounted vote) before declaring the vote.
- If the opposition disagrees with the bill, the opposition whip may call a division (formal counted vote); if so, the Clerk rings the bell for four minutes.
- The Speaker conducts the division with help from the whips and then declares the vote.
Passing the bill
- If the majority of votes are for the bill, it is agreed to and the Clerk reads the title of the bill (second reading).
- If the majority of votes are against the bill, the bill is defeated and there is no second reading.
- The Speaker adjourns the House.
- The Serjeant-at-Arms leads the Speaker from the chamber, holding the Mace.
After the debate, explore the following questions with your students:
- Do government bills always pass this chamber? Not if a majority of Independents, minor party members and opposition members vote against the bill. The government needs to secure a majority of members to vote for the bill in order for it to pass.
- What happens when the vote is a tie? The Speaker votes on the bill to break the deadlock.
- Why are the Independents and minor parties important? If they hold the balance of power in the House, they can determine whether a bill will pass or not, and they can put pressure on the government to amend the bill.
- What other major steps must a bill go through to become a law? It must be debated and voted on in the Senate and then signed by the Governor-General.
After a bill has passed through the House of Representatives it progresses to the Senate where it is also debated and voted on. You might like to conduct a role-play that follows the progress of a bill through the Senate. To do this, check out the Law-making role-play: Senate lesson plan.
Both houses of Parliament can make changes called amendments to the wording of a bill. Often the opposition, minor party members and Independents will agree to pass bills if amendments are made to them. You might like to conduct a role-play that incorporates amendments. To do this, check out the Amendment role-play lesson plans for both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Parliamentary committees are a subset of the Parliament. Committees investigate issues and bills in more detail than is possible in the chamber. The committee process helps parliamentarians become informed by gathering information from government departments, experts in the field, lobby groups and interested citizens. You might like to conduct a role-play of a committee. To do this, check out the Committee role-play lesson plan.