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Teaching

Matters of Public Importance: House of Representatives

During Matters of Public Importance (MPIs), members of parliament, particularly shadow ministers, raise issues for discussion in the House of Representatives. This lesson involves a role-play that helps students understand the purpose of MPIs. It explores how members use MPIs to speak on behalf of the community, to call on the government to take action on an issue or to criticise the government’s handling of a matter.

About MPIs

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday up to one hour is set aside in the House to discuss MPIs. Between six and eight members speak on each issue. Any member of parliament can propose an MPI. However, they are usually raised by shadow ministers and are about matters of ministerial responsibility.

MPIs might be about a topic such as the government's handling of the economy or its response to a national emergency or international crisis. It could be about a call to bring Australian troops back home, or the need to support families.

Discussion will only proceed if it is supported by eight members of the House, including the member who proposed the MPI. The discussion is opened by the member who proposed the MPI. The speeches then alternate between government and non-government members. If an MPI is critical of the government, the relevant minister will respond first. If more than one MPI is suggested the Speaker will select which MPI will be discussed.

Choosing an MPI

Help your students choose an MPI by:

  • brainstorming ideas with the class
  • selecting a topic connected to a relevant curriculum area
  • identifying a problem in your school or community 
  • finding a topical issue in the media
  • identifying a matter currently before the Parliament. 

You can choose to discuss one or more MPI. Write the MPI topics on the whiteboard so students can refer to them.

Getting into role

  • Divide the class into government, opposition, minor parties and Independents
  • 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 member to introduce the discussion. For example, if the MPI is about banning homework, the Shadow Minister for Education would speak first. 
  • Ensure that for each MPI you have between two and six other members who wish to speak on the matter. Ask these members to prepare a short response on the topic.
  • Provide the Speaker with a list of the MPIs that are to be discussed.

Starting the role-play

  1. The Speaker announces the MPI and asks the members who support the discussion to stand.
  2. Members who want to speak on the MPI stand up.
  3. The Speaker calls on the member who has proposed the MPI to speak first.
  4. Speeches then alternate between government and non-government members.
  5. The Speaker thanks the members.

Script

Madam/Mr Speaker: I have received a letter from the Member for ________ , (use the student's first name) proposing that the House discuss the following matter of public importance, that ________ [insert topic].
I call upon those members who support the discussion to stand [pauses to allow members to stand]. I call the Member for to speak (call the member who proposed the MPI).

Member for ________: Madam/Mr Speaker...

Madam/Mr Speaker: I call the Member for ________ (use the first name of a student who is standing).

The Speaker repeats this step for any other members who wish to speak.
When there are no more speeches, the Speaker ends the discussion.

Madam/Mr Speaker: I thank the members for taking part in the MPI.

Debrief

How effective is an MPI in raising an issue or scrutinising the government?

Speaking on an issue in Parliament can put it on the public agenda and may lead to government action. MPIs may highlight government mismanagement or mishandling of a matter, which can then put pressure on the government to address the problem. By highlighting government weakness, opposition members can remind Australians that the opposition is the alternative government.

Why is it important that other members of parliament agree to the raising of the MPI?

This indicates that the issue is considered serious enough to be discussed in Parliament and may be one that affects a significant number of people or even the whole community.

How is an MPI different from a debate on a bill?

An MPI is a discussion on a topical issue, on which no vote is taken. A debate on a bill is a formal discussion about the merits of the bill. MPIs give members of parliament the opportunity to raise issues that are not the subject of a bill before the Parliament.

Who might take notice of an MPI?

The government may act in response to an MPI, particularly if it is an issue that requires urgent attention. The media may report the issue, which may then put pressure on the government to respond or take action.

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