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Unit of study_

GOVT3997: Parliament and Democracy

Semester 2, 2021 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

Just how important are parliaments to democracy? This unit takes a critical look at how well Australian parliaments carry out their representative, law-making and accountability functions. Analytical material will be complemented by practical insights from members and staff of the NSW Parliament.

Unit details and rules

Unit code GOVT3997
Academic unit Government and International Relations
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 2000 level in Politics or 12 credit points at 2000 level in International Relations or 12 senior credit points from Government and International Relations
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Rodney Smith,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Short paper
A 1000 word opinion piece designed for publication by the Conversation.
25% Week 04
Due date: 03 Sep 2021 at 23:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2 LO4 LO5
Assignment Draft Inquiry Submission
A draft submission on a NSW parliamentary inquiry topic.
25% Week 08
Due date: 05 Oct 2021 at 11:59
1000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO5
Assignment Critical Analysis Paper
Paper setting out and defending a reform to the NSW Parliament.
50% Week 13
Due date: 12 Nov 2021 at 23:59
2500 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO5

Assessment summary

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 Introduction: defining parliaments; different types of democracy. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Introduction to GOVT3997 and parliamentary democracy. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 02 The NSW Parliament, other Australian Parliaments and ‘Westminster’ traditions. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
The NSW Parliament, other Australian Parliaments and ‘Westminster’ traditions. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 03 The roles of parliamentary committees. (This will be our first visit to the NSW Parliament if Covid restrictions allow.) Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5
The roles of parliamentary committees, including discussion of our first visit to the NSW Parliament. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 04 Parliament and passing laws. (This will be our second visit to the NSW Parliament if Covid restrictions allow.) Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO3 LO4 LO5
Reflections on what we learnt in the NSW Parliament about law-making. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 05 Exploring the varieties of Parliament. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
What use are second chambers? Unicameralism versus bicameralism. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 06 Parties and Parliament. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
The party roles of MPs. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 07 Non-party dimensions of parliamentary representation. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Representing Indigenous peoples and languages in Parliament. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 08 Parliament and the people: engagement between elections. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Petitions and public submissions to committees in the electronic age. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Week 09 Question Time ('Order!') (This will be our third visit to the NSW Parliament if Covid restrictions allow.) Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Question Time and other mechanisms for executive accountability. Includes reflection on what we learnt at the NSW Parliament. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Week 10 Parliamentary ethics: problems and responses. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Dealing with sleaze, conflicts of interest, pork barrelling etc., etc. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
Week 11 The parliamentary career; Parliament as a workplace. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Learning parliamentary life. Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Week 12 The Executive and Parliament: four former Ministers reflect. (This will be our fourth visit to the NSW Parliament if Covid restrictions allow.) Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO4 LO5
Reflections on parliamentary reform: what is possible, what is not, and why? Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 13 Future Parliament: Covid 19 and other challenges. Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
What should Parliament look like to meet the challenges of 21st century life? Tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture recording: Most lectures (in recording-equipped venues) will be recorded and may be made available to students on the LMS. However, you should not rely on lecture recording to substitute your classroom learning experience.
  • Preparation: Students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

No set text.  All readings available electronically through the Library ‘Reading List’ platofrm.

Week 1

Amie Kreppel (2014). Typologies and Classifications. In Martin, S., Saalfeld, T., and Strøm, K. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 82-100.

Week 2

Haig Patapan and John Wanna (2005). The Westminster Legacy: Conclusion. In H. Patapan and J. Wanna (eds.), Westminster Legacies. Sydney: UNSW Press, pp. 242–255.

Tracey Arklay and Neil Laurie (2019). ‘Parliaments of Australia’. In Peter J. Chen, Nicholas Barry, John R. Butcher, David Clune, Ian Cook, Adele Garnier, Yvonne Haigh, Sara C. Motta and Marija Taflaga (eds.), Australian Politics and Policy: Senior Edition. Sydney: University of Sydney Press, pp. 70-86.

David Clune and Rodney Smith (2019). ‘New South Wales’. In Peter J. Chen, Nicholas Barry, John R. Butcher, David Clune, Ian Cook, Adele Garnier, Yvonne Haigh, Sara C. Motta and Marija Taflaga (eds.), Australian Politics and Policy: Senior Edition. Sydney: University of Sydney Press, pp. 212-232.

Week 3

John Halligan, Robin Miller and John Power (2007). Parliament in the Twenty-First Century: Institutional Reform and Emerging Roles.  Chapter 11 in Parliament in the Twenty-First Century: Institutional Reform and Emerging Roles. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, pp. 241-260.

L. Grenfell and S. Moulds (2018). The Role of Committees in Rights Protection in Federal and State Parliaments in Australia. University of New South Wales Law Journal, 41(1): 40–79.

Week 4

Meg Russell, Daniel Gover, Kristina Wollter and Meghan Benton (2017). Actors, Motivations and Outcomes in the Legislative Process: Policy Influence at Westminster. Government and Opposition 52(1): 1-27.

Steven Reynolds (2016). Making Honey in the Bear Pit: Parliament and its Impact on Policymaking. Australasian Parliamentary Review, 31(2), 176-186.

Week 5

Meg Russell (2013). Rethinking Bicameral Strength: A Three-Dimensional Approach. The Journal of Legislative Studies, 19(3), 370–391.

John Young (2014). Should Upper Houses Have Ministers? Australasian Parliamentary Review 29(1): 87–101.

Week 6

Garner, C. L., & Natalia. (2005). Party Structure and Backbench Dissent in the Canadian and British Parliaments. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 463–482.

Nicole Bolleyer and Anika Gauja (2015). The Limits of Regulation: Indirect Party Access to State Resources in Australia and the United Kingdom. Governance 28(3): 321–340.

Jon Fraenkel. (2012). Party-Hopping Laws in the Southern Hemisphere. Political Science 64: 106–120.

Week 7

N. Robinson (2016, February 8). Aboriginal Minister Bess Price Denied Request to Speak Indigenous Language in Parliament. Retrieved 10 July 2019, from ABC News Online website:

Pearson, N. (2016). Mind Our Language. The Monthly: 11–13.

Rob Oakeshott (2014). The Independent Member for Lyne: A Memoir. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, pp. 119–122; 319-321.

Dani Larkin and Kate Galloway (2021). Constitutionally Entrenched Voice to Parliament: Representation and Good Governance. Alternative Law Journal: 1-6.

Mamari Stephens (2010) Tame Kaka Still—Maori Members and the Use of Maori Language in the New Zealand Houses of Representatives. Law Text Culture 14(1): 220-246.

Week 8

Rebecca Burton (2018). The People’s Parliament: Have Petitions Had Their Day? Australasian Parliamentary Review 33(1): 41–71.

Chris Angus (2018). Parliamentarians’ actions within petition systems: Their impact on public perceptions of fairness. Australasian Parliamentary Review 33(2): 80–93.

Emma Banyer (2020). The Franking Credits Controversy: House of Representatives Committees, Public Engagement and the Role of the Parliamentary Service. Australasian Parliamentary Review 35(1): 77–110.

Week 9

McGowan, A. (2008). Accountability or Inability: To What Extent Does House of Representatives Question Time Deliver Executive Accountability Comparative to Other Parliamentary Chambers? Is There Need for Reform? Australasian Parliamentary Review 23(2): 66–85.

D.C. Pearce and Stephen Argument (2017). ‘Parliamentary Review’ Chapter 3 from Delegated Legislation in Australia. Sydney: LexisNexis Butterworths, pp. 57-98.

Kate Mihaljek (2017). Fifty Shades of Grey(Hounds): The Extent of the NSW Legislative Council's Power to Order Papers from Organisations Not in the Control of a Minister. Australasian Parliamentary Review 32(1): 74-91.

Week 10

Paul Bovend’Eert (2020). Public Office and Public Trust: Standards of Conduct in Parliament: A Comparative Analysis of Rules of Conduct in Three Parliaments. Parliamentary Affairs 73(2): 296-322.

Nicole Bolleyer and Valeria Smirnova (2017). Parliamentary Ethics Regulation and Trust in European Democracies. West European Politics 40(6): 1218-1240. DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2017.1290404

Susanna Connolly (2020). The Regulation of Pork Barrelling in Australia. Australasian Parliamentary Review 35(1): 24–53.

Week 11

Karen Steinack (2012). Between Apathy and Enthusiasm: An International Comparison of MPs' Attitudes Towards Parliamentary Training. Parliamentary Affairs 65(1): 541-558.

Cheryl N. Collier and Tracey Raney (2018). Understanding Sexism and Sexual Harassment in Politics: A Comparison of Westminster Parliaments in Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society 25(3):

Week 12

Greg Power (2007). The Politics of Parliamentary Reform: Lessons from the House of Commons (2001–2005). Parliamentary Affairs 60(3): 492-509.

Kevin Rozzoli (2006). ‘A Better Parliament’. Extract from Gavel to Gavel: An Insider’s View of Parliament. Sydney: UNSW Press, pp. 281–297.

Week 13

Jonathan O’Dea (2019-20). Socially Distant but Democratically Together: Towards a Virtual Parliament in NSW. Australasian Parliamentary Review 34(2): 28–53.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Explain core concepts in debates surrounding parliamentary democracy.
  • LO2. Demonstrate the capacity to learn using online tools.
  • LO3. Demonstrate a capacity to research and write independently, persuasively and critically.
  • LO4. Demonstrate a capacity to discuss controversial political issues constructively with others.
  • LO5. Demonstrate the values and behaviours of active democratic citizenship.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

Some minor changes have been made since GOVT3997 was last offered in response to student feedback.

Site visit guidelines

This unit will involve four visits to NSW Parliament for observations and classes led by the Unit of Study Coordinator and staff of the NSW Parliament. The visits will only take place if allowed under NSW Covid 19 restrictions and are covered by the NSW Parliament's WH&S policies and procedures.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.