“Our school is located in the federal electorate of Whitlam, or Throsby as it has been known since 1984, covers 1,331 sq.km in the southern Illawarra and NSW southern highlands. Along the coast it takes in all of the suburbs to the south and west of Lake Illawarra in the Wollongong and Shellharbour local government areas, including Warilla, Albion Park and Dapto. The electorate also extends up the Illawarra Highway through Macquarie Pass to take in Robertson, Moss Vale, Berrima, Bowral and Mittagong.” SOURCE
Our Nurturing Democracy Civics and Citizenship program provides practical experience with the nature of living in a democracy. Students elect their own representative by secret ballot and a team of students assist with counting using preferential voting. The Student Representative Council (SRC) act as polling officials. Students attend forums with federal politicians to propose ideas and have also influenced the local council by attending meetings with ideas to improve the local facilities. Increasingly students are participating in forums to support their personal agendas about progressive social change.
On the 24th June, the SRC conducted our third candidate’s forum prior to a state or federal election as an important part of our Nurturing Democracy program to provide opportunities for students to practically engage with learning about civics and citizenship. Five of the six candidates, contesting the federal seat of Whitlam on the 2nd July, participated:
Tom HUNT (The Greens)
Jan MANDELSON (The Nationals)
Wayne HARTMAN (Non-Custodial Parents Party)
Stephen JONES (Australian Labor Party)
Susan PINUTI (Christian Democratic Party)
The process, based on a Danish model, is as follows:
1. The moderator explains the goals and process to the audience while introducing the panel
2. Each candidate has a maximum of 3-minutes to outline his or her vision for the electorate of Whitlam
3. Each candidate has 1-minute to make a point and ask another candidate a question.
4. There is a 1-minute response time for each question
5. The moderator calls for questions from the audience to candidates
6. Response time is 1-minute
7. The candidates make a 1-minute closing statement
8. The students then mingle with the candidates at a BBQ to ask more questions
9. Students debrief with peers, staff and family in the lead-up to the federal election on July 2nd where some of our 18 year olds are voting for the first time.
Questions from the students included:
BEN: What do you believe is the single most important issue in this election campaign for the people voting in Whitlam? Why?
TAYLOR: If elected HOW would your party protect both our local environment and World Heritage sites like the Great Barrier Reef?
EMILY: What other policy areas does the Non-custodial Parents Party feel strongly about besides the issue suggested in your party’s name?
LANCE: How will your party further the knowledge and education of students to contribute to the promotion of a smart and innovative Australia?
ALLY: This question is for all candidates and I would like a YES or NO answer rather than a 1-minute response. Do you support same-sex marriage?
ADELINA: This question is for all candidates and I would like a YES or NO answer rather than a 1-minute response. Do you support the current government’s tough policies towards refugees seeking asylum in Australia?
LUKE:This question is for all candidates and I would like a YES or NO answer rather than a 1-minute response. Does your party support the full implementation of Gonski funding for education?
TIANA: This question is for all candidates and I would like a YES or NO answer rather than a 1-minute response. Do you support Australia becoming a Republic?
SOORAJ: Climate change is mostly being influenced by human activities, what are your plans to reduce this?
TIM: With the rapid increase of car usage over the past 5 decades and the dramatically increasing negligence of our rail infrastructure, what do you plan to do to help both the public and heritage rail sectors?
PATRICK: How does the National Party differ from it coalition partner, the Liberal Party?
PAIGE: Which of the candidates do you support most in Whitlam? Can you rank them from most to least in agreement?
The YES or NO questions are quite effective in highlighting the practical implications of ideological differences in policy areas that the students can easily grasp. When the candidate says NO or YES to an area they are passionate about it helps with formulating their own political positions.
Students were interviewed by the local newspaper and ABC radio about their experience of the forum. At our candidate BBQ students discussed a range of issues raised in the forum with their friends. There was also good informal discussion with the candidates.
Taylor, our school captain, did a great job MC-ing the event and the SRC did well to organise everything so successfully.