Stage 1 | Subject outline | version control

Politics, Power and People Stage 1
Subject outline

Version 2.0
For teaching in 2022. Accredited in May 2020 for teaching at Stage 1 from 2021.  See subject changes for 2022.

Stage 1 | Subject outline | Content | Compulsory theme: Understanding how politics works

Compulsory theme: Understanding how politics works 

This compulsory theme consists of four inquiry questions that introduce fundamental concepts in the study of politics.

The four inquiry questions are:

  1. What is politics?
  2. What is Australian politics?
  3. How different are the political parties in Australia?
  4. In what ways does your vote count?

Students explore how politics works — a concept that is highly contested. They explore the nature of power and the implications that this might have for the study of politics. Students develop an understanding of the competing definitions of politics in relation to the exercise of power and decision-making. They compare the meaning of participation in different political systems, and explore how political ideas are represented through political parties.

In addressing inquiry question 1: ‘What is politics?’, students may consider:

  • power and decision‑making
  • the history and role of a nation‑state
  • political systems
  • political ideologies.

Students explore the range of forms of power: from those that they encounter in their everyday lives through to the levels of power on the local, national, and international stages. Using the lens of active citizenry, students consider where power lies and how power can be gained and lost. Students explore the characteristics of a nation state and develop a working definition of this concept. They explore the concepts of the political compass and develop knowledge on its application in a range of contemporary national political systems.

In addressing inquiry question 2: ‘What is Australian politics?’, students may consider:

  • the Australian Constitution
  • the federal political system
  • the interrelationships between, and comparative power of, the tiers of government
  • the separation of powers.

Students explore key underpinning ideas in Australian politics, such as the nature of the Australian Constitution (along with its strengths and weaknesses) and the implications for modern Australia. They develop an understanding of the workings and unique nature of Australian parliaments over time while considering our interpretation of Montesquieu’s separation of powers. Students explore the origin, nature, and implications of the federal system in an Australian context. They also consider state and local political systems and the relationships between the federal, state, and local levels of government.

In addressing inquiry question 3: ‘How different are the political parties in Australia?’, students may consider:

  • major parties
  • minor parties
  • independents
  • a comparative study of the Australian party system with another country.

Students explore the changing nature of political parties in Australia and appreciate the key values and ideologies advocated by the different political parties. They explore the policies and actions taken by political parties and independents by analysing the complex nature of decision‑making. Students reflect on the role of ideology and pragmatism in decision‑making, and the need for party identity to appeal to changing constituencies. Students gain an understanding of the party system in Australia and the complex relationship between the major and minor parties.

In addressing inquiry question 4: ‘In what ways does your vote count?’, students may consider:

  • the federal voting system
  • the voting systems of different states
  • factors that influence the outcome of elections
  • case studies.

Students explore how elections symbolise the practice of democracy.  Elections can change a country, and voting is a powerful way for citizens to make their voice heard and be part of decision‑making. Students reflect on the debates around compulsory voting. Understanding the voting mechanisms used in different parliamentary systems supports students in gaining an appreciation of how they can harness their political voice through voting. Furthermore, students evaluate the factors that influence the outcomes of elections, and the key factors that determine the way people vote.