History Teachers' Association of Australia

Western Australia

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HTAA Celebrating Democracy In Western Australia

Date of Forum: 30 October 2002
WA Constitutional Centre
25 participants; 6 speakers – all sectors represented plus government bodies; two primary teachers; DD PD coordinator. Nineteen Celebrating Democracy folders prepared and distributed

Discovering Democracy materials on display; promotional material on AFSSSE and HTAA displayed

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

Speakers and Topics:
Daniel Stepniak - Religious freedom, tolerance and diversity in Australian democratic
society: The ideal, the reality, and the future.
Dr Christina Gillgren - The importance of democracy within the scope of the shift from government to governance and the need to empower our students and strengthen the link between government and citizens.
Martin Whitely - A politician’s perspective on how holding true to vision and values brings long-term political rewards
Len Collard – Issues of democracy and Aborigines
Bill Leadbetter - Saving the village: defending democracy in the contemporary world
Dr Aidan Davison - Me, Them, Us: Inflaming the Democratic Imagination

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?

Welcoming remarks:

Let me welcome you all to this inaugural forum that is part of the Federal Government’s on-going commitment to the Discovering Democracy Project across Australia. For the past three years the Dept. of Education Science and Training has made funds available to the Australian Federation of Societies for the Study of Society and Environment (AFSSSE) to develop case studies for teachers using the Discovering Democracy materials - most of which you are familiar with and are displayed in this room. These case studies have resulted in some excellent teaching strategies for primary and lower secondary teachers and learners. This year the focus was on upper secondary with attention to Geography, History, Economics, Political and Legal Studies, Business Education and Environmental studies. All of which can be accessed via the AFSSSE website.

I mention these now because I know you will all be so thoroughly challenged and stimulated by the presentations this evening that mentioning it all at the end would be pointless!! The aim of tonight is two fold - firstly, to place before you some ideas that you might not have considered using in your classrooms as part of a civics and citizenship education programme, and, secondly, to discuss practical ways of implementing these ideas in your classroom.

All speakers have been set the almost impossible task of covering some really important issues and concepts in only 12 minutes each! All presentations will be taped and transcripts available on both the HTAWA and AFSSSE websites. In light of this let me introduce our first speaker Daniel Stepniak.

Daniel is a lawyer and former secondary school teacher of politics
and legal studies.   He currently lectures in law at the University of
Western Australia, where he developed and teaches the only Australian law
school course devoted to issues of law and religion. His topic tonight -

"Religious freedom, tolerance and diversity in Australian democratic
society: The ideal, the reality, and the future.


Dr Christina Gillgren has been involved in the area of citizenship and multiculturalism for almost two decades as an academic, human/civil rights advocate, policy consultant and public servant. Having completed her doctoral thesis on citizenship, she worked on European Union Citizenship as a visiting scholar in Denmark in 1998.

Christina spearheaded and directed the development of a ground-breaking State citizenship policy since introduction of this portfolio in late 1998. She also placed an anti-racism strategy on the State agenda.

Christina now heads the new Citizens and Civics Unit within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet following the elevation of the Citizenship portfolio with the Premier as Minister in February last year.

She is also a member of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal in Western Australia.

Christina will briefly discuss the importance of democracy within the scope of the shift from government to governance and the need to empower our students and strengthen the link between government and citizens.


Martin Whitely is the MLA for Roleystone and electorate that covers covers 1648 square kilometres and six local governments: Kalamunda, Gosnells, Armadale, Serpentine-Jarrahdale, Rockingham and Kwinana. Before entering parliament Martin was a high school teacher. He had previously worked as a university lecturer and accountant and has been involved in numerous small businesses. Martin has a long history of involvement in community and sporting organisations, coaching both junior soccer and cricket.

Martin will offer a politician’s perspective on how holding true to vision and values brings long-term political rewards. In particular he will outline why he believes that in the long run, populist poll driven politicians who stand for nothing fall for everything.


Len Collard is a senior lecturer at Murdoch University in the Department of Indigenous Australian Studies. He recently played a vital role in engaging teachers in strategies for Indigenous studies at the History and S&E teachers PD at Murdoch during the April school holidays and Term 3. Len is passionate about his work and tonight will talk on issues of democracy and Aborigines.


Bill lectures in the field of Social Science Education in the School of Education at Edith Cowan University. He holds a doctorate in the field of Ancient History, and before being appointed to the School, of Education, lectured and taught Ancient and Modern History.  His interests and publications lie in the areas of the Ancient Mediterranean World, the History of Religions, and the History and Sociology of Genocide, and the emerging discipline of "World History". He also acts as a regular media commentator, both for the print media and for radio.

Bill’s presentation is entitled "Saving the village: defending democracy in the contemporary world".


Dr Aidan Davison has a broad interdisciplinary background that encompasses biochemistry, science and technology studies, environmental policy and moral philosophy. He lecturers in and is Chair of Murdoch University’s degree (offered as both a B.Sc and a B.A.) in sustainable development. His interest in democracy stems from his wider research interest in questions of sustainability and from his conviction than participatory democracy and ecological well-being are absolutely interdependent objectives. Aidan’s main concern these days is to see how questions of sustainability can lead us beyond despair, and beyond a simplistic, blind optimism in science and technology, to become clearer about what it is we most want to sustain in our lives. He takes up this theme, in the context of academic philosophical debates, in his recent book, Technology and the Contested Meanings of Sustainability (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001), and hopes to write something more readable on this topic in the near future.

Presentation Title: ‘Me, Them, Us: Inflaming the Democratic Imagination’

Summaries of the six key presentations – each presenter had 12 minutes to deliver ideas to stimulate discussion.

Daniel Stepniak – Lecturer in Law at the University of WA.

"Religious freedom, tolerance and diversity in Australian democratic society: the ideal, the reality and the future."

Daniel took an historical approach to the issue of religious freedom in Australia since the 1960’s when some States tried to ban Scientology – an effort that was repeated in the 1970’s. He also referred to the 1988 rejected referendum and the 1997 human rights study of religious freedom which revealed some unwelcome findings. He pointed out the inadequacy of anti-discrimination laws and the role of Judeo-Christian doctrine in society. Comments were also made concerning the separation of State and Church.

As a result of recent events religious freedom becomes more debated. There will need to be a distinction between religion and acts committed in the name of religion. He asked the question as to whether society would be prepared to draw a line, and adhere to it.

Teachers might access the Discovering Democracy units The Law Rules and Human Rights

Christina Gillgren – Director, Civics and Civics Unit, Policy Office, Dept. Premier and Cabinet.

"Educating for democracy: Building Citizenship Capacity"

Christina outlined some definitions of citizenship, why we need to build the capacity of young people to be proactive citizens now more and ever and the way we could go about educating for citizenship. In particular she noted the shift from government to governance leading to citizens feeling a remote and disconnected from proceses that affect their lives. These may be due to the impact of factors such as globalisation, importance of markets/corporate world. Key elements of governance are about openness and accountability which reinforce the "legitimacy of people as stakeholders". She noted the two roles involved in citizenship – "to be a citizen and to act as a citizen" , and the role of government in developing citizenship. As with other speakers she noted the importance of educating by doing and thus the "need to build the capacity of citizens to participate effectively."

Teachers might access
  • People Power
  • Getting Things Done
  • The People Make a Nation

Martin Whitely – MLA for Roleystone, WA.

"Holding true to visions and values as a politician."

Martin’s presentation drew much from his experiences as a both a teacher and a politician. He discussed the reasons why some seek election and the possible conflict that develops between the desire to hold onto power and be re-elected and the desire to do things in a responsible way to benefit society. He pointed out that politics was in fact the least political environment he had encountered due to the clear "rules of engagement". He pointed out the dangers of populist policies and the mistakes politicians often make in assuming people’s ignorance means stupidity. He noted the lack of information and interest in the four referendums of 1988 with the interest present during the republic debate but the failure of the republican movement to effectively convey the strengths of the proposed model. Martin also referred to the one-value/one-vote issue in WA. He finished commenting on the role of educators in providing the tools and knowledge needed for active citizenship. "We need to be educating for creative young minds not compliant young minds."

Len Collard – Senior Lecturer at Murdoch University’s dept. of Indigenous Australian Studies.

"Democracy, Aborigines and the Land."

Len opened with an acknowledgement of the support of many who had allowed access to Nyungar (people), moort (relations), Boodjar (country) and katitjin (learned knowledge). He also related a story of his grandfather of the arrival of white people to WA. His presentation outlined that the interpretation and documentation of the history of Australia has been the province of non-Aboriginal people. Only recently have the reflections of Indigenous peoples (and not only in Australia) begun to emerge. "An important component of Nyungar interpretation of history and its politics is the incorporation of Nyungar language to describe places, people, flora and fauna." Len concluded by telling the story of the south west of Australia through the voices, memories and stories passed from one to another and asking us to consider the impact of democracy on the Indigenous peoples both in the past and into the future.

Discovering Democracy Australian Readers
  • Stories of the People and Rulers
  • Should the People Rule?
  • Getting Things Done
  • Joining In
  • People Power

Bill Leadbetter – Lecturer in Social Science Education, Edith Cowan University.

"Saving the Village: defending democracy in the contemporary world."

Bill outlined the historical precedents and outcomes for executive power such as that given to President GW Bush by the United States Congress authorizing him to take whatever steps he deemed necessary to deal with Saddam Hussein. From the Roman Republic through to the Cold War he noted the "enormous temptation in democratic states to concentrate executive authority in response to crisis", especially when the role of the state is to protect its citizens. Thus democracy is very fragile. He especially noted the role of education – "Education is the sentinel of democracy", in creating citizens aware of rights and responsibilities who "participate thoughtfully and critically in the political process." He noted that we have the content (eg. the Discovering democracy kits and the way it is embedded as a outcome in the WA Curriculum Framework), what is needed are ways "which are meaningful and engaging to teach the content…….(in) …limited classroom time…."

Aidan Davison – Lecturer and Chair Murdoch University’s degree in Sustainable Development.

"Me, Them, Us: Inflaming the Democratic Imagination."

Aidan began with his definition of citizenship - " In its essence it is an deep awareness of the beauty of just acts and of the ugliness of unjust acts." Aidan suggested that citizenship is a reaction in the gut to things that appal us and things that inspire us. He also addressed the issue linking the knowledge with a more proactive approach in teaching for citizenship. "I do not think there is any logical or rational framework in the end that is going to make people committed to the idea of justice or to be committed to the idea, for instance, of reconciliation of the first people of this land or any important democratic idea. It comes from a deeper source of our passions and that can actually fire our rationality. His presentation focussed on passion and inflaming the imagination, about feelings being valued as they lead to facts. That democracy is all about dialogue not monologue.

Participant Responses To CDW Questions:

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

  • Bill Leadbetter – outcomes rather than content , values important.

  • Panel presented a diversity of perspectives.

  • Dialogue V’s monologue

  • Depends on the school.

  • PD on Action Research shows Primary Schools switching to school councils and class meetings in a more proactive manner.

  • Some Indigenous issues – schools getting better….

  • Acknowledges a range of perspectives – (Culture, Time, Continuity and Change….)

  • Passion for learning is about active learning (also the hardest!)

  • Engage interest.

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

  • Give citizens the time and the information – and they will make an informed decision.

  • Human rights need closer scrutiny and broader discussion in the classroom.

  • Diversity

  • Participation

  • Diversity ……knowing…….being informed. Eg. referendums – need to be really informed to participate as an informed citizen.

  • Understanding

  • Responsiveness/Acceptance.

3. What are the future possibilities for exploring citizenship?

  • Interest in national benchmarks for citizenship

  • Learning by experience (participation) rather than by lecture.

  • Look at citizenship models in other countries including non-democratic models – to ascertain what students think is a good model.

  • Informed debate in the classroom on current affairs issues – both national and international.

  • Informed citizenship = find…….increase knowledge……. thus informed……response……participation ……..citizenship.

  • Being involved in a variety of ways

  • Knowing and doing

  • Trying something new.

Speakers’ Papers are published in the following sections:

Bill Leadbetter
Aidan Davison
Daniel Stepniak

© Commonwealth of Australia [2003]
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