History Teachers' Association of Australia

New South Wales

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HTAA Celebrating Democracy in New South Wales

Date of Forum: Monday 28th October
Time of Forum:
6.00 – 8.00 pm
Judges Common Room, Hyde Park Barracks, Macquarie Street, Sydney
Guest Speakers:
Linda Burnie, Director General, Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Warren Duncan, Community Relations Commission
Eva Cox, University of Technology Sydney
Richard Fidler, Australian Republican Movement

Note:  Boxed sections in blue added by AFSSSE Project Officer.

AFSSSE suggests the following address could be used for discussion at teacher professional development meetings or as stimulus for students investigating the history and nature of democracy.


  1. How does the speaker’s address link with our current teaching for responsible citizenship?

  2. What values of responsible citizenship might we apply from the address?

  3. What are the future possibilities for using the Discovering Democracy resources to explore responsible citizenship?

Teachers might consider access the following Discovering Democracy units and topics:
  • Rules and Laws – Aboriginal Laws
  • The Law Rules – Myall Creek Massacre
  • Law – Aboriginal Customary Law
  • Human Rights – Indigenous people’s human rights
  • People Power – Australian Freedom Rides
  • Australian Readers

1. Summary of Speakers’ Addresses

A. Linda Burnie, Director General, NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs


  • Indigenous issues in relation to our civic society were part of an agenda for open debate in the early 1990s.

  • Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation has provided the opportunity for Indigenous people to share their experiences and to feel part of the nation.

  • There have been some improvements in education.

  • There has been an increase in the level of knowledge of Indigenous issues and how they affect all of us as a nation.

  • We now have acknowledgements of Indigenous people like "welcome to country" at functions and forums.


  • The "places and spaces" for the debates of the early 90s about Indigenous issues have disappeared. Any intellectual edge has been taken away and the debate has been relegated to a concern of the "chattering classes". True civil debate has been lost to the new form of political correctness and authoritarianism. We need to re-ignite the discussion about Aboriginal Studies and its part in civics education. Teachers have a great responsibility to promote discussion and debate.

  • The improvements in education have been negligible in relation to the seismic changes needed to achieve equity in our society. Many Indigenous Australians do not feel part Australian society, especially the kids. Some Koori children have to leave culture, home and family to get an education. There is pride in the current generation but also a tragically high suicide rate. (Linda mentioned five Koori teenage suicides in the last three weeks).

  • The alienation and disenfranchisement of young people is the biggest issue facing our society today. Civics education can embrace the young. It’s not only what is learnt in schools that counts, it’s what is projected by society.

  • The socio-economic reality for Indigenous people is not changing, despite the rhetoric of "practical reconciliation". The depressing conditions on some of the old reserves are stark evidence of this.

  • The impetus for Reconciliation has lost momentum.

  • The American idea of national identity, the "hand on heart" and flag-waving ceremonies is not the way forward. Perhaps we have been talking for more than 20 years about Indigenous issues – so what? We need the debate and much broader understanding if Indigenous people are to feel part of Australia’s "democratic" society.

B. Eva Cox, University of Technology Sydney

What Sort of Nation?


  • Australia is a much better society than it was in the post-war years, especially for women and migrants. We can congratulate ourselves on the progress made, however we are now sliding backwards. The old certainties and grand theories don’t work as well any more. This uncertainty and fear make a toxic mix which produces distrust of our fellow human beings and even our government and can lead to extreme forms of nationalism and fundamentalism.


  • The antipathy to immigrants is well established in this country. The demonising of groups of immigrants also has a long history. How do we address these attitudes?

  • We must teach respect, not tolerance. Let’s respect difference, lets argue with those who are different - as equals.

  • Harmony, consensus and conflict avoidance do not create an inclusive society. We need a society where we can deal with conflict and disagreement. We need to recognise and deal with the fear of the "other".

  • How do we create an atmosphere where we can deal with difference? We must learn and teach the capacity to work with and explore commonalities with others.

  • It’s no good teaching about democracy to students who are being bullied in the playground. This can often be a result of authoritarian leadership or administration.

  • Civics and civility are taught by example – where students are included and have some sense of agency, where they are taught to learn about and be respectful of difference. This sense of belonging builds a sense of responsibility and a sense of civility and democratic engagement. Issues must be approached in terms of how people treat each other, with values of respect, inclusion, ethics and democratic process.

  • Unless we work in organisations which operate ethically and democratically, it’s difficult to teach about democracy and civics.

C. Warren Duncan, Community Relations Commission
Democratic Struggles
What Sort of Nation?


  • NSW was the first state to establish a Ministry of Citizenship

  • NSW was the first state to implement a Multiculturalism Act

  • Principles on which the Community Relations Commission are based set the scene for an understanding of citizenship in the 21st century. Citizenship is not limited to "citizens", it encompasses the rights and responsibilities of all. Citizenship is a unifying commitment to Australia.


  • This is the most important time to discuss citizenship. Talkback radio is dominated by people’s "commitment to the nation", but really their commitment is to the dominant culture.

  • The link between citizenship and national identity is no longer relevant, it breeds discontent and conflict as citizens find themselves in a cultural trap from which there is no escape.

  • There should be a strong link between citizenship and social justice.

  • There should be no barriers to people passing on language, religion and culture and also being citizens. What is important is the obligation to the nation or state.

  • Governments need to manage their countries’ diversities. If they did, there would be far fewer refugees.

  • Citizenship should be seen as a unifying force with both common values and respect for difference.

D. Richard Fidler, Australian Republican Movement
Democratic Struggles
We Remember


  • There are three cores to Australian society, democracy, the rule of law and freedom of speech.

  • Australia is good at democracy, but not so good at debating democratic issues.

  • History teachers should be commended on promoting debate among students about an Australian republic.


  • The challenge is to convince teenagers that the constitution and constitutional change are interesting. Many adolescents are turned off because constitutional history and constitutional issues involve politicians and they don’t trust politicians.

  • The coming republic needs to be built on lasting foundations so we need to educate today’s students to have the confidence to become involved in developing the process for becoming a republic.

  • We need to engage the public and find symbols that fire the imagination. One of the reasons why the ARM failed in 1999 was that it did not appeal beyond rationalism and failed to engage the public with "feeling" rather than simply argument. "Fair go" and "mateship" are no longer enough to bind us, we need to look at a more emotional connection – and we can’t go past Australians’ abiding belief in democracy.

  • Australian Constitution does need fixing and we must counter the notion "if it’s not broke, don’t fix it".

  • The Governor General is appointed by the discretion of one person, the Prime Minister, and reports to the Queen. He does not serve the people.

  • Monarch may annul laws (Section 59).

  • There is no definition of the role of the PM and the ruling party.

  • The Senate, which is supposed to represent states, now operates along party lines.

Today’s youth have the opportunity to make a future republic without a war or without a revolution, but by "gentle democratic process". The challenge is to give encourage them to become informed, interested and confident - and to fire them with a democratic spirit.

2. Summary of Discussion of Three Focus Questions

How do the speakers’ addresses link with our current teaching for responsible citizenship?

  • They highlight some of the problems in the current teaching for responsible citizenship:

  • the importance of student engagement;

  • the need for appropriate curriculum documents and realistic time-frames for using participatory pedagogies;

  • the need for teachers to be confident and assertive in the ways we teach about democracy;

  • the importance of student participation in discourse and debate both in the classroom and society,

  • the need for inter-agency development of resources which relate to community dimensions of citizenship which will have relevance at home and school;

  • the importance of schools modelling democratic processes and providing opportunities for real student engagement and involvement.

What values of responsible citizenship might we apply from the addresses?

  • Groups proposed the following values of responsible citizenship:

  • responsible citizenship is dependent on students experiencing opportunities for voicing informed opinions and for informed decision-making;

  • responsible citizenship assumes not only the ability but the inclination or desire to take part in civic life;

  • acknowledgement of and respect for difference, as opposed to "tolerance";

  • discovering and respecting what binds us together in our diversity;

  • civic issues are fundamentally about how people treat each other;

  • respect, responsibility and relationships.

What are the future possibilities for exploring responsible citizenship?

  • Future of civic education depends largely on availability and quality of appropriate resources. Discovering Democracy materials are a start, but now is the time for a move towards inter-agency development of resources and more community based models of curriculum and resources that can be "taught" in a number of social contexts, not just school.

  • Appropriate pre-service education and professional development opportunities for teachers, similar appropriate opportunities for community leaders.

  • Syllabuses which allow appropriate time for participatory pedagogies rather than sterile civics content – this is a particular issue in NSW.

  • Opportunities for students to investigate an issue of consequence to them, an individual personal civics study.

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