These initial activities aim to introduce students to the concepts explored in this resource, and to build an understanding of the rights and freedoms granted to Australian citizens. Australia is a representative democracy, meaning it values rights and freedoms such as:

  • freedom of election and being elected
  • freedom of assembly and political participation
  • freedom of speech, expression and religious belief
  • rule of law 
  • other basic human rights.

You can read this definition and more about democracy on the website of the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Throughout Australia’s history, peoples’ rights and freedoms have changed, in many cases through decisions made as part of the parliamentary process.

However, certain basic freedoms have endured: freedom of election, freedom of assembly and freedom of political participation. The ability for the public to have a say in who their  representatives are, and to express freely their views on disputed issues, is not to be taken for granted. 

Freedom of assembly and association can be defined as follows:

The right to peaceful assembly protects the right of individuals and groups to meet and to engage in peaceful protest. The right to freedom of association protects the right to form and join associations to pursue common goals.
Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department

Discuss

  • Ask students how they think people exercise the rights and freedoms outlined above every day. For example,  freedom of speech can be exercised by writing a public blog on a subject of interest, and freedom of religious belief by visiting places of faith.
  • Ask students specifically about freedom of assembly and association. How are these freedoms to be exercised? For example, by joining a trade union or non-government organisation.

Research 

Have students conduct research using the 2019 Democracy Index, created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The index’s rankings are based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture. 

  • What is the EIU? How does it get the data to create this index?
  • Where is Australia ranked in this index? Is Australia included as a full democracy?
  • What is the overall state of democracy in the Asian and Australasian region? What is the ratio of full democracies to authoritarian regimes around the world?
  • Assign students countries at various positions in the rankings. Ask them to describe the regime classification of that country (for example, full democracy, flawed democracy) and to consider some of the country’s characteristics that might have contributed to their ranking.