Flagship unit showing students how the wheels of government turn

August 11, 2016

Legislative Assembly Chamber (Provided by the Parliament of Western Australia)

Legislative Assembly Chamber (Provided by the Parliament of Western Australia)

Knowledge is power, and the knowledge gained via a unique collaboration between Murdoch University and the Western Australian Parliament is empowering students in a tough job market.

The Sir Walter Murdoch School’s flagship Parliamentary Democracy unit, the first of its kind in Australia, commenced this week immersing graduate students in the parliamentary environment. This unique experience allows students to peek behind the political curtain and gain a true sense of how power is wielded in theory and practice in Western Australia.

“Bismarck famously said laws are like sausages and it is better not to see them see being made,” said unit coordinator William Bowe, one of Australia’s leading commentators on electoral and party politics.

“Over several weeks in Parliament, our students get to see how the sausage is made – and how valuable an understanding of the legislative and political rules of the game can be.

“To be able to engage effectively with government, both public and corporate entities need to know the fundamental building blocks of the parliamentary process and government. That knowledge – and the high-level contacts they make – can create job opportunities for students.”

All classes take place in the WA Parliamentary complex and feature a range of guest speakers drawn from the Parliament’s core staff, with students open to liaise with politicians and parliamentary officers during assessments.

“Parliamentarians are very candid with the students, giving them an intimate look at what politicians are meant to do in theory and what parliamentary life is like in practice,” added Bowe.

“To get a sense of how well our political system is working as a democracy, it is invaluable to witness it first-hand and get to know the people involved, and that is what this unit provides.”

Professor Benjamin Reilly, Dean of the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs, said the appeal of the unit extended beyond people looking at a future in the political field to those interested in strengthening their employability by understanding the process of politics and government in Australia.

“Having students sit in on parliamentary committees and chambers – and of course liaising directly with our politicians – enables them to see first-hand how policies get turned into law. The unit shapes their opinions of parliament and is an eye-opening experience for a generation of students who are often estranged from formal political institutions,” Professor Reilly said.

Masters of Public Policy and Management graduate, Ellen Smith, said the knowledge gained through the Parliamentary Democracy unit has greatly assisted her in her role as a Regional Fisheries Management Officer at the Department of Fisheries WA.

“The best learning and insight can be gained from first-hand experience. I have been able to apply the knowledge that I have gained through the Parliamentary Studies unit on a daily basis; from writing emails, to thoroughly researching and investigating issues, to drafting policies and guidelines, to speaking with Ministers and senior departmental staff,” she said.

“The skills I have gained through my postgraduate study at the Sir Walter Murdoch School have proved invaluable.”

The unit, a joint undertaking with the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of Western Australia, is open to students from all universities and is particularly aimed at those interested in a career in government, the media and the public service.

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