The ACT Constitutional Convention comes to the museum
Last Wednesday 14 September, the museum hosted 53 students from local schools participating in the ACT Constitutional Convention. This is an annual event aimed at upper secondary schools in the ACT and is held over two days at the National Archives of Australia, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, and the ACT Legislative Assembly.
The convention is coordinated in partnership with the Australian Electoral Commission, Elections ACT, and The Australian National University College of Law with an aim to promote student engagement with the Constitution and the Australian system of government. Every year a number of participants are selected to represent the ACT at the National Constitutional Convention the following year.
By visiting the museum, students have an opportunity to view historical artefacts and to participate in role plays in the chambers where bills were discussed and passed. Before the Convention each teacher and student receives an information pack containing papers relating to a specific theme, the Constitution and the referendum process. This year’s theme was ‘Should the Commonwealth Government have broad powers to legislate for the environment?’
The theme provided the museum’s Schools Learning team with an opportunity to show off Decision 3sixty, an immersive, interactive theatre-based program for schools which is designed to explore issues including conscription and the environment.
Learning staff used the program as a launching pad to engage students in a discussion around the passing of the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act in 1983. This stopped the construction of a dam on the Franklin River in Tasmania. The subsequent case in the High Court confirmed that the Federal Government can overrule the States to protect world heritage places, thanks to the treaty powers contained in the Australian Constitution.
Students then participated in a lively journey through both the House of Representatives and the Senate to re-enact the passage of the bill. Using Hansard records of speeches originally delivered in the Chambers, the students debated issues of State versus Federal legislation, and economic and environmental concerns for Tasmania. Many proved to be enthusiastic, passionate orators and a real sense of occasion was created in the historical Chambers.
The students certainly seemed to enjoy themselves and they gave us great feedback about how much perspective they gained regarding this year’s theme. The learning team also had a great time and are already looking forward to next year’s convention.