Social Educators Association of Australia

Australian Capital Territory

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SEAA/ACTSEA Celebrating Democracy in the Australian Capital Territory

DATE OF FORUM: October 23, 2002
VENUE: Parliament House, Canberra
GUEST SPEAKER: Hon. Jenny Macklin

Visions and Values in democratic society: teaching for responsible citizenship

Speech to ACT Society and Environment Association.

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:
  • Should the People Rule?
  • Parties Control Parliament


Hon. Jenny Macklin

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you at the beginning of Celebrating Democracy Week.

Anyone who thinks young people are bored with politics haven’t been out to Sherbourne Primary School, which is in my electorate.

Earlier this year, as part of the school’s Discovering Democracy program, students at both junior and senior levels formed political parties and held vigorously fought elections, complete with campaign speeches, policy platforms, party pamphlets and posters.

They campaigned just as hard as any in this building.

The winning candidate at the junior school really knew how to put together a winning platform, promising chocolate frogs, videos and free time.

Things were equally hard fought in the senior school elections. The budding politicians had gathered – boys in suits and ties, girls dressed in their best clothes – to outline their vision to the voters. It was at this most serious moment that one candidate promised finger painting as an activity. They didn’t win.

For its innovative Discovering Democracy program Sherbourne won the Victorian Discovering Democracy Achievement Award and was nominated for the national awards announced earlier today.

The work being undertaken by schools such as Sherbourne is deserving of recognition because of the importance knowledge of politics and government has in unsettled times.

Given last week’s terrible attack in Bali it is timely to reflect on the values we hold as important as Australians and the nature of the world in which we live.

Australia prides itself as an egalitarian land of opportunity.

But the reality is we live in a world of staggering inequality where vast wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few.

Australia is not immune from this concentration of privilege, or the conflict it can generate.

It is visible in the way people are using their wealth to protect and separate themselves from the less well-off – private health insurance, private schools, gated communities.

It is a development that cuts at the core of democracy – the idea that we as a society share values and beliefs that transcend individual differences of wealth and background.

Education involves developing the capacity of both the individual and society.

As respected sociologist Bob Connell notes, what many parents value in public education is the common ground it provides in an increasingly divided world. Not by imposing conformity but by opening up the possibility of social encounter.

Schools should be places where different views and experiences are aired and exchanged, where children from different social backgrounds can encounter one another.

Of course, central to the great democratising task our schools perform is the development in young people of capability and potential.

To fulfil their role schools must provide a breadth of education that embraces diverse knowledge and experience and the validity of differing points of view.

Schools also show us a way to transcend the apparent religious and ethnic conflicts that surround us.

It is in our public schools that multiculturalism works, that differences are discussed and conflict negotiated.

Teachers have a wealth of experience to offer us in how to conduct ourselves democratically in a culturally diverse society, and to turn democratic principles into practice.

Labor understands the critical nation-building role public education plays. That is why our policies will make public education a national priority.

It is through our public schools – and only through our public schools – that governments can guarantee universal primary and secondary education for all.

Public education is central to our democratic way of life, to the fostering of tolerance and diversity, and to achieving high education standards and outcomes for all students.

The work undertaken by schools such as Sherbourne in developing an understanding and knowledge of our political system and mode of government is also very important.

To remain a healthy and vibrant democracy we must ensure all – especially our young people - understand the way we govern ourselves and encourage them to become active citizens.

It is only with a well-informed, politically engaged, community that Australia can develop.

Teachers have a key role in helping young people develop the knowledge and understanding they need to become active citizens able to contribute fully to the community in which they live.

Although we must all play a part in helping our young people become full and active citizens, our teachers have a critical role to play.

Civics education means giving young people the opportunity to:

  • Learn about and understand our system of government;

  • Understand how to participate fully in our democracy;

  • Develop abilities and traits important to success and satisfaction in life, such as the capacity for empathy and critical thought;

  • Understand the role government has in society and the impact it has on individuals; and

  • Understand the rights and responsibilities we all have as citizens, and how they are exercised.

This is a vital task teachers bear, and they must have all the support governments can provide in fulfilling it.

But schools and teachers pay a greater service to keeping our democracy vibrant and healthy by opening our children up to broad cultural and social experience.

Teacher education and the quality of teaching is key.

A democratic agenda for our schools must include improving the professional capacities and abilities of our teachers.

As Bob Connell also said today, this means encouraging and enabling teachers to act as intellectuals. Giving them the time and resources to consider broad issues affecting society, and to develop new ideas and strategies in response.

It is in the interests of both students and teachers that the relationships between schooling and university be strengthened and broadened. This will enrich the education our children receive.

I congratulate ACT teachers for the skill and dedication they bring to their very important job.

© Commonwealth of Australia [2003]
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