Role-play lesson plans
Law-making – in the Senate
Lesson plan target
- Level: Upper primary to secondary
- Lesson duration: 40-70 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 Senate, 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 Senate?
- the 76 Senators elected by the people
- parliamentary officers, including: the Clerk and Deputy Clerk, Usher of the Black Rod, Hansard reporters, chamber attendants, security and broadcasting operators.
- How do you become a senator? Senators are elected by the people of the states and territories at a federal election.
- Who do senators represent? Senators represent their state or territory.
- How many senators are there? There are 76 senators.
- What do senators do in the Senate? A senator's work includes debating bills (proposed laws), proposing amendments (changes) to bills and representing the interests of people in their state or territory.
- How is the Senate different to the House of Representatives? The senators represent states and territories, not electorates. There are 76 senators and 150 members of the House of Representatives. Government is formed in the House of Representatives, and the Prime Minister and most of the ministers are in the House of Representatives.
- What is a law? A law is a rule for Australia.
Setting the scene for the role-play
Before the role-play begins you may like to do some short activities with the students to help set the scene. For example:
- Watch the 'What is Parliament?' video and 'The Senate' video on the PEO website.
- Ask the students to imagine that they are senators. 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 senator?
- Encourage students to get into role as senators and to understand that they:
- represent the views of their state or territory
- 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 Fact sheets.
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.
If you have passed a bill in Law-making role-play: House of Representatives, you could now debate this bill in the Senate.
Otherwise, 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 (on the right).
Once you have chosen your bill topic you can write it as a formal document using the Bill Template in the Toolkit (on 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 (on 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 theToolkit (on the right).
Getting into role
- Divide the class into government, opposition, minor parties and Independents (go to Parliament Now on the PEO website for current numbers in the chambers). Use these numbers to gain the right proportions for your parliament.
- Select a President from the government this is a
non-debating role and needs to be someone who can exercise authority in the room.
- Select a Clerk (pronounced 'Clark') and Usher of the Black Rod 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 Leader of the Government in the Senate and the opposition elects the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
- 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 Role-play Toolkit) Note: these actions coincide with the scripts.
- The Clerk rings the bell and tells the senators to stand.
- The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President into the chamber, carrying the Black Rod vertically in their right hand.
- The Usher of the Black Rod announces the President and moves to their seat.
- The President 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 Senate is adjourned.
- The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President from the chamber, holding the Black Rod.
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 President selects senators to make speeches, alternating between government, opposition, minor parties and Independents. Senators make their speeches in turn.
Voting on the bill
- When the debate is finished the President leads a 'vote on the voices' (uncounted vote) before declaring the vote.
- If anyone disagrees with the bill, a whip may call for a division (formal counted vote); if so, the Clerk rings the bell for four minutes.
- The President 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 President adjourns the Senate.
- The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President from the chamber, holding the Black Rod.
After the debate, explore the following questions with your students:
- Do 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 senators to vote for the bill in order for it to pass.
- What happens when the vote is a tie? How is this different to the House of Representatives? If the vote is a tie, the bill is defeated. The government can only pass a bill with the support of a majority of senators. This is different to the House of Representatives, in which the Speaker casts the deciding vote in the event of a tie.
- Why are the Independents and minor parties important? If they hold the balance of power in the Senate, they can determine whether a bill will pass or not, and they can put pressure on the government to amend the bill.
- What other steps must a bill go through to become a law? It must be debated and passed in the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor-General.
House of Representatives
After a bill has passed through the Senate but has not been debated or voted on in the House of Representatives, it will be sent to the House of Representatives. You might like to conduct a role-play that follows the progress of a bill through the House of Representatives. To do this, check out the Law-making role-play - in the House of Representatives 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.