Teaching About Parliamentary Committees
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Teaching About Parliamentary Committees

December 8, 2019


#Music# There is a lot more to the Australian
Parliament than the debates and speeches that take place in the chambers. Members of Parliament work in a variety of
ways to ensure they are making the best decisions for the country. With this video, your class can discover through
role-play how parliamentary committees gather information to help them make informed decisions. The Parliament makes detailed decisions on
a wide variety of subjects. When members of Parliament feel they need
more information about a subject, they can ask a committee to investigate it. Committees are usually made up of six to ten
government and non-government members of Parliament. Committees may consist of senators or members
of the House of Representatives, or may be joint committees, which include members of
both houses of Parliament. Using role-play, your students will run their
own committee in a simplified way. The role-play captures the ideas and essence
of the committee process. While we show secondary students running their
own committee the role-play works just as effectively with upper primary students. All the scripts, resources and information
that you’ll need for the role-play are on the PEO website. If you want to know more about parliamentary
committees, watch the PEO’s committees video. A parliamentary committee will investigate
a matter that the Parliament thinks is important. It can also examine proposed laws, which the
Parliament may be considering. A committee advertises around Australia to
let people know what it is investigating. It invites the community, experts and interest
groups to write submissions to provide information, or give their opinion. Committee members read these submissions and
may invite these people to answer questions, or give more information in person. #Music# ‘What are some of the issues in Australia
that the Parliament might want to investigate further or might want to talk to people about?’ ‘Voting.’ ‘We could look into voting.’ Do a few preparation activities before you
start. Have your students think about the range of
decisions that Parliament has to make and what research they might need to do to ensure
that they make informed decisions. You will need to decide a topic to investigate. Once you decide on your topic you should write
some terms of reference, which explain what specific areas the committee will investigate. The PEO website has some suggestions for how
you can decide on topics and terms of reference. It also has a script for an inquiry, which
looks at lowering Australia’s voting age to 16, which we will be using. ‘The committee members. Who would like to be on our committee?’ You will need to divide your class into groups. One group will be committee members, and the
others will be witness groups who provide information to the committee. #Music# Your committee members will need to get ready
for the hearing. They should think carefully about the issue
they are researching, then prepare questions to ask the witness groups. The committee needs to choose a committee
chair to run the hearings, which are the meetings where the committee members question the witness
groups. #Music# Your students in the witness groups will also
need time to prepare. They should discuss the issue, and then decide
on their group’s opinion. Later they will want to persuade the committee
to agree with their point of view. All the students in the witness group will
have to be ready to answer questions on the issue, so they will need time to research. It helps to divide the research amongst the
group so that each member has their own individual knowledge to share. The committee hearings work best when the
witness groups have had plenty of time to prepare. Give them time to get creative with their
research. The witness groups will also need to select
a spokesperson. This student will make a short statement to
the committee to introduce the group and give a brief summary of the group’s opinion. #Music# When your students are prepared you can begin
the committee hearings. You will need to set up your room with two
rows of desks facing each other. The committee members sit along one row, ready
to call the witness groups. The rest of the students wait until their
witness group is called. The hearing begins when the chair of the committee
starts the proceedings. ‘I declare open this hearing of the
committee into the Voting Age Bill. I welcome all the invited representative groups. The terms of reference are to determine the
advantages and disadvantages of giving 16 and 17 year old Australians the right to vote
in elections, what changes will be necessary to enable 16 and 17 year old Australians to
vote in elections. The committee will now hear from several witness
groups who have expressed interest in the inquiry. I welcome representatives from Voice for Youth. Please approach the table. Please state your names for the Hansard
record.’ ‘Elizabeth.’ ‘Rosemary.’ ‘Lucy.’ ‘Jay.’ ‘Do you wish to read a statement to
the committee?’ ‘Thank you Madam Chairperson. We are the Voice for Youth and we believe
that the voting age should be lowered to 16 years old and that the current voting system
and age is unjust and setting double standards for Australian youth and society. 16 year olds are treated like children and
yet are expected to behave and think as adults in our society and the voting age must be
changed to remove this injustice from the lives of young people and advance Australia
as a whole.’ ‘Committee members, do you have any
questions for this witness group?’ ‘Will lowering the voting
age improve the lives of young Australians?’ ‘Yes, it will and this is because
they will have more control over their lives. It is important for their school lives, as
it will influence the way their school and education is run. It will also influence the privileges that
they already have such as driving or work or taxes. The election they vote in at 16 or 17 will
be the election that elects a party for the Parliament when they are kids, but it will
also be the party that’s in power when they are adults, so it will affect all the issues
they will face as both adolescents and adults.’ The committee members take it in turns to
ask questions, including spontaneous ones, to explore the issue further. ‘If we lower the age on voting,
does that mean that we would be able to lower the age on drinking and other things?’ ‘I do not believe that we’ll need
to lower the drinking age or the age of adulthood as we already have 16 year olds doing adult
responsibilities such as driving on a road with other people’s lives in their hands when
they are not considered adults themselves.’ ‘Do you believe that the
average Australian teenager can comprehend how their vote will affect the nation.’ ‘Yes I think they do. I think the voting age should be lowered as young adults are comprehensive of the environment around them. There’s social media, they know a lot more. They learn 10 or 100 times more information
than their parents did. And I think that’s important as to why they
should vote at a younger age. If they have that knowledge, why not put it
to good use?’ The committee members continue to ask questions
until they have heard as much as they need to, or until they run out of time. ‘I thank the representatives from Voice
for Youth for coming today.’ The witness group leaves the table and the
committee calls the next group. ‘I welcome representatives from Elections
Australia. Please approach the table. Please state your names for the Hansard
record.’ ‘Ted.’ ‘Kelly.’ ‘Brooke.’ ‘Charlotte.’ ‘Do you wish to read a statement to
the committee?’ ‘Yes thank you Madam Chairperson. We are the spokespeople of Elections Australia. We believe that we will be facing many
obstacles getting 16 and 17 year olds to vote. These obstacles being cost, employment and education.’ ‘Committee members, do you have any
questions for the witness group?’ ‘What extra cost would your
group face if we lower the voting age?’ ‘You would lose money by sticking
to the previous system, by paying more wages to more employees and more for ballot papers,
but we can gain money by putting the system online.’ ‘As well as lowering the cost, teenagers
will be using a familiar system that’s easy to access and easy to use.’ You can hear from all witness groups at one
session, or you can spread the hearings across different days. Once all of the witness groups have spoken
to the committee, the chairperson brings the hearing to a close. ‘This committee inquiry is now adjourned. The committee will consider the evidence heard
here today and will write its report. The report will be tabled in the Parliament.’ #Music# The committee thinks about the evidence it
has heard and prepares a report for the Parliament. The report will summarise the evidence from
the witness groups and will recommend what action, if any, the committee thinks the Parliament
should take. It may not be easy for a committee to come
up with a report when the witness groups have contradictory points of view. The committee may need to compromise in order
to come up with the most useful recommendations. ‘Thanks everyone. So we know that the committee have been working
on their report and they now have their recommendations to share. So come on, Jess, you can come and share your
recommendations with the class.’ ‘The Senate Voting Age Committee has
investigated the issue of lowering the voting age to 16 and makes the following recommendations:
Lower the voting age to 16, but for 16 and 17 year olds it’s voluntary. The system should be updated to an online
one, but the original voting system should still be in place on a smaller scale. School education for voting starts at Year
7 but grows into a full scale topic at Year 8. 16 and 17 year olds have to apply to vote
at a post office and they proof. If they don’t give a notification beforehand
that they don’t vote, they will be fined.’ Once a committee completes its report it is
tabled in Parliament. This means that members of Parliament can
use the information in the report to help them better understand the issue, and decide
what action, if any, they will take. ‘The committee has
recommended that the bill be passed by the Parliament and made 23 additional recommendations.’ Use the committee role-play to learn how the
Parliament researches issues in Australia, but don’t stop there. Also use this process to explore any other
curriculum areas your class may be studying. It won’t be long before your class is running
its own committees all by themselves. #Music#

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