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Teaching

Law-making: Senate

Role-play lesson plan – Law-making: Senate [PDF 892kb, 6 pages]

Law-making is one of the main activities of the Parliament. Laws are made through a process of debate and decision-making. During parliamentary debates, 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.

Outcomes

By participating in this role-play, 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.

Focus questions

Generate discussion about the role-play by exploring some of the following questions with your students:

Who works in the Senate?

  • 76 Senators
  • 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.

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 introductory videos in the Toolkit (to the right).
  • 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? For more information about senators, check the Fact Sheet – Senators
  • Ask the students to choose a state or territory to represent. Have them identify the issues important to the people in their state or territory.
  • Encourage students to get into role as senators and to understand that they:
    • represent the views of their state or territory
    • may belong to the government or opposition so will be working as part of a large team
    • may be an Independent or member of a minor party.

Main activity: Conducting a law-making role-play

Scripts

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. You can download a full script or a template, which allows you to write your own script, from the Toolkit (to the right).

Choosing a bill (proposed law)

Your class will need a bill to debate. 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 the Law-making: House of Representatives role-play, 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.
  • Identify a local issue that needs fixing.
  • Use a bill and script set provided in the Toolkit (to the right).

Once you have chosen a bill, you can write its name and purpose on page one of the law-making script template, available in the Toolkit (to the right).

Set-up

Transform the classroom into a chamber by arranging chairs and tables into a horseshoe shape as indicated by the seating plan. The seating plan, as well as diagrams of the actual chamber, can be downloaded from the Toolkit (to the right).

Props and costumes

The Clerk will need a bell. You may like to use other props, such as a Black Rod for the Usher and gowns for the President and Clerks. Instructions for making these are in the Toolkit.

Getting into role

  • Divide the class into government, opposition, minor parties and Independents. Refer to Parliament Now for the current numbers in the chambers. Use these to work out the 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 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 who 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.

Starting the role-play

  1. The Clerk rings the bell and asks the senators to stand.
  2. The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President into the chamber, carrying the Black Rod vertically in their right hand.
  3. The Usher of the Black Rod 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).
  6. The minister introduces the bill and the shadow minister responds to the bill.
  7. After a few speeches from government and non-government senators, the Senate may be adjourned. If you do not wish to adjourn, go straight to step 11.
  8. The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President from the chamber, holding the Black Rod.
  9. If you choose to adjourn the debate, team members can hold party meetings to plan more speeches. Independents and minor parties can decide whether  to support or oppose the bill; they may also wish to suggest changes (amendments).

Continuing the debate

  1. Repeat steps 1–4.
  2. The President selects senators to make speeches, alternating between government and non-government members.

Voting on the bill

  1. When the debate is finished, the President leads a 'vote on the voices' (uncounted vote) before declaring the vote.
  2. If the opposition lose the vote on the voices, the opposition whip may call for a division (formal counted vote); if so, the Clerk rings the bell to let members who are not in the chamber know a vote is about to happen.
  3. The President conducts the division with help from the whips and then declares the vote. The President must always vote in a division.

Passing the bill

  1. If the majority of votes are for the bill, it is agreed to and the Clerk reads the title of the bill (second reading).
  2. If the majority of votes are against the bill, the bill is defeated and there is no second reading.
  3. The President adjourns the Senate.
  4. The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President from the chamber, holding the Black Rod.

Debrief

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

Do bills always pass this chamber?
A bill will only be passed if it is supported by a majority of senators. If the government doesn’t have a majority, it will need to convince the opposition and/or the Independent and minor party senators to support the bill.

What happens when the vote is a tie? How is this different to the House of Representatives?
The government can only pass a bill with the support of a majority of senators. If the vote is a tie, the bill is defeated. This is different to the House of Representatives, where in the event of a tie, the Speaker casts the deciding vote. The President does not have a deciding vote in the Senate because their vote is already counted with the other votes.

How might the government get the support of the Independents and minor party senators?
If the Independents and minor party senators are unhappy with the bill, the government may have to consider making amendments (changes) to it.

What other steps must a bill go through to become a law?
If a bill started in the Senate, it is then debated and voted on by the House. If the House agrees to it, the bill is signed by the Governor-General and becomes a law or Act of Parliament. If the House has already passed the bill, and it is passed by the Senate, it then goes to the Governor-General.

Extension activities

House of Representatives

If the Senate passes a bill that has not been passed by the House of Representatives, the bill is sent to the House to be debated and voted upon. 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: House of Representatives role-play lesson plan.

Amendments

Both houses of Parliament can make changes or make 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 Amending a law role-play lesson plans for both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Committees

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.

Diagrams

Photos