Stage 2 | Subject outline | Version control

Politics, Power, and People Stage 2
Subject outline

Version 2.0
For teaching in 2022. Accredited in May 2020 for teaching at Stage 2 from 2021.  See subject changes for 2022.

Stage 2 | Subject outline | Content | Compulsory theme: Making meaning about democracy – exploring Australian political narratives

Compulsory theme: Making meaning about democracy – exploring Australian political narratives

This compulsory theme consists of five inquiry questions that focus on democracy. By exploring this concept, students gain an understanding and appreciation of the nature, strengths, and limitations of democracy.

The five inquiry questions are:

  1. What is democracy?
  2. To what extent does Australia’s political system reflect democratic values?
  3. Can political participation influence political change?
  4. To what extent do political parties effectively represent the will of the people?
  5. Can an election be won without ‘playing’ politics?

In this compulsory theme, students gain an appreciation of the key ideas, ideals, and challenges to democracy in a variety of situations, both past and present. Students evaluate the Australian political system and consider how its democratic nature has changed over time. In addition, they review the unique features of our democratic system, reflect on the roles of active citizens, and analyse ways of making significant impacts. Students consider the effectiveness of the political parties in Australia as vehicles of democracy, and examine the mechanisms that political parties use to exercise power and sway public opinion.

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

  • Ancient Greek democratic practice
  • the ‘game‑changers’ of politics
  • active democratic citizenry
  • the role of government in society.

Students gain an appreciation of the key ideas in the development of the concept of democracy. Students revisit the traditional roots of democracy in Greece, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the concept in its original context. Students consider the contributions  and evaluate the ideas of  key political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. They review the challenges to democracy in the twenty‑first century. Students consider the roles and responsibilities of active citizens in a modern democracy, while considering the extent to which governments become involved in the personal, social, and economic activities of individual citizens.

In addressing inquiry question 2: ‘To what extent does Australia’s political system reflect democratic values?’, students may consider:

  • the rule of law, through a comparative study with non‑democratic countries
  • responsible and representative government
  • the separation of powers
  • free, regular, and representative elections.

Students consider the rule of law in theory and in practice, both in the Australian context and in selected comparative international situations. Students explore the ideals of a democratic society, with a focus on responsible and representative government. They consider the role of the Australian Constitution in protecting core democratic values, and compare the Australian interpretation of the separation of powers with international examples. Students explore the importance of limiting the power of authorities, and debate the concepts of compulsory voting, voting age, and national participation in an Australian context.

In addressing inquiry question 3: ‘Can political participation influence political change?’, students may consider:

  • different electoral systems
  • referenda and plebiscites
  • the power of collective action in advocating for change
  • case studies of political movements.

Students evaluate the comparative fairness of the major voting systems in Australia at local, territorial, state, and national levels. They review how some electoral systems change over time and review the impacts of examples of malapportionment at a range of levels. They consider the effectiveness — and the mechanisms — of employing both referenda and plebiscites in an Australian context. Students explore and evaluate how they can be active citizens. Students critically examine contemporary social movements and pressure groups as avenues of political expression, at both the national and international levels.

In addressing inquiry question 4: ‘To what extent do political parties effectively represent the will of the people?’, students may consider:

  • the political spectrum
  • the ideology, pragmatism, policy, and practice of political parties
  • classification of independent, major, and minor parties
  • a case study of public opinion impacting party policy.

Students explore the ideas associated with the political spectrum, and the strengths and weaknesses of thinking about politics through an ideological lens. Students evaluate the extent to which parties in Australia are driven by their founding or modified ideologies or by political pragmatism, and investigate how conflict between ideology and pragmatism translates into party policy. Students review the impacts that this conflict have on electoral success. They evaluate the reasons for the long-term comparative success of major parties and the ephemeral nature of nearly all minor parties.

In addressing inquiry question 5: ‘Can an election be won without ‘playing’ politics?’, students may consider:

  • short- and long‑term factors that affect voting
  • influence of minority groups
  • the power within parties – accountability and decision‑making
  • a case study about how global politicians have used strategies to gain power.

Students review a range of Australian elections at different levels to analyse the multi‑factorial nature of election results. Students consider the various psychological, geographical, economic, social, and systemic factors that influence voter behaviour. Students review the impacts of minority groups in selected geographic and ideological areas. In addition, they explore the vexed question of power within parties, such as executive power, party‑room decisions, national and state policy decisions, pre‑selection factors, gender inequality, and sub‑branch activities. Concurrently, students explore the situation in an international context, through a comparative study.