Victor P Taffa
Over the last few years an organisation called the Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA) led by its very able Executive Director, Mrs. Kerry Jones has been taking Parliament to the schools so as to provide the leaders of tomorrow with the knowledge of the workings of our parliamentary system of Government.
The need for this education evolved out of the 1999 constitutional referenda that overwhelmingly rejected the NO vote on whether or not Australia should become a republic.
The latest in a series of programmes through the schools was at St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield of which students of year 6 participate. Proceedings were commenced by St. Patrick’s Old Boy and former Lord Mayor of Sydney Doug Sutherland AM JP. Mr. Sutherland matriculated in 1949 and served as Lord Mayor from 1980-87. Doug Sutherland is also the school’s CEFA programme mentor.
Mrs. Kerry Jones performed the role of ‘Governor-General’ and outlined the importance of the CEFA programme through the schools. The school Parliament opened following the conduct of a closely fought election in which the Earth Party defeated the Workers Party.
All school students cast a vote and each voted counted in a tight election result. Mrs. Jones opened the ‘Parliament’ and highlighted the historical significance of the dispatch boxes that has dated back to the time of King George VI. Mrs. Jones and Mr. Sutherland told students about Mace that sits in the middle of as a symbol of a neutral umpire. The Sergeant-at-Arms bears the Mace.
Unlike the republican model in the United States Australia is governed by the Westminster system and Ministers are elected and not appointed by a President. The role of Speaker was performed by the Headmaster of the Junior School Jim Walters who called each Minister to the dispatch box.
Among the Ministers that followed the Prime Minister, was the Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer and Ministers for Sport, Education, Health, Technology, Arts, Peace and the Environment.
In the words of the Prime Minister the Government wanted to “Make things easy and make things happen” for the people who elected him. The Prime Minister presented the Ministers and Bills followed by the Deputy Prime Minister & Treasurer who wanted to maintain services.
Other Government priorities were as follows:
- Sports Minister is to improve sports at the school.
- Education Minister moves to increase scholarships at the school.
- Health Minister will improve the school tuckshop menu.
- Technology Minister seeks to have laptops for all students in years 10-12.
- Arts Minister addresses the need to improve resources and arts rooms.
- Peace Minister is to introduce a “bully-free zone.”
- Environment Minister wants solar power in schools.
As with any robust Parliamentary sitting the Opposition rose to speak and challenged the legitimacy of the Government’s claims. The Government counter claimed with arguments designed to outmanoeuvre its opponents. Speaker Jim Walters was able to maintain control of proceedings as the students engaged in some lively banter.
In a challenging and interesting departure from the normal studies of English and Mathematics if the school Parliament is anything to go by the future of our democracy is in good hands as all the students returned to their classrooms having participated in a simulated session of Parliamentary proceedings that will hold all of us in good stead.