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Making multicultural Australia

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KLA/Subject: Aboriginal Studies | English | History

Stage: Stage 5

Every Individual has Rights


  • 5.2 assesses the impact of international events and relationships on Australia’s history
  • 5.3 explains the changing rights and freedoms of Aboriginal people and other groups in Australia
  • 5.9 demonstrates understanding of the ways texts reflect personal and public worlds
  • 5.10 questions, challenges and evaluates cultural assumptions in texts and their effects on meaning
Aboriginal Studies
  • 5.1 describes the factors that contribute to an Aboriginal person’s identity
  • 5.8 analyses the interaction of wider Australian community with Aboriginal peoples and cultures


The intention of this lesson is to explore the relationship between language and how we understand certain ideas, like human rights, and how it affects the kinds of societies we create. This lesson uses Hot Words from this site to explore the definitions of phrases like ‘human rights, ‘international obligations’ and ‘equal opportunities’. What these words mean can greatly influence the way we think about these issues. This is an introductory lesson that could stand on its own or be at the beginning of a unit.

Material to Download

Worksheet: Cartoon

Document: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Definitions: Defintions from Hotwords for human rights, international obligations, equal opportunities

Document: Origins and Sources of Human Rights Law at Legal Information Access Centre

Document: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission: Social justice and human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Suggested Activities

  1. Write the words ‘human rights’ in the centre of the board and brainstorm the meaning with the class. Select a scribe to write the various meanings that the class offers.
  2. Discuss with the class the various meanings offered and ask students to identify any human rights issues in Australia today and their opinions are of them.
  3. Discuss the definitions given at Hot words for ‘human rights’, ‘international obligations’ and ‘equal opportunities’. As a class compare the definitions with those that the students have brainstormed.
  4. Read, or ask students to read, the first 10 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and compare these with the ones the class have brainstormed.
  5. Divide the class into small groups and ask groups to draft the first 3 articles of an Australian Bill of Rights, imagining they are lawyers or social activists.
  6. Ask each group to present their drafts and as a class discuss the various choices that were made. Ask each group to justify their choices in terms of their understandings.
  7. Ask students to write an essay on the question: ‘Does every individual have rights?’

Preparation Checklist

You will need:

  • whiteboard/butcher’s paper
  • student access to computer terminals for individual use or use by small groups; alternatively you can download definitions of the relevant hotwords
  • copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for each student
  • student access to computer terminals for the extension activity


Ask students to:

  1. Read the text of the "Origins and Sources of Human Rights Law" from the Legal Information Access Centre. Draw up a timeline of the history of human rights based on the information given in this text.
  2. Consider the relationship between human rights and social justice as discussed in the article found on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission website. Discuss the historical implications for Indigenous people of this issue.
  3. Review the cartoon by Tanberg and discuss the characters in the cartoon, the meaning of the words and the implications to the kind of society we create with our understandings.
  4. Participate in a class debate on “Human rights have become the victim of political correctness and are now being used to exert the powers of minorities over ‘mainstream Australia'”

Related Resources

Lesson Notes

"The origins of human rights law can be traced back hundreds of years through developments in the legal history of many Western countries. These developments progressively recognised that human rights are not created or granted, but are grounded in the basic dignity and equality of each person"
(from Legal Information Access Centre).

The issue of ‘human rights’ is one that is fundamental to how people are treated in a society. It was recognised in the English law, that was purportedly brought to Australia in 1788, as far back as 1215 in the document known as the Magna Carta, signed by King John. Today it forms the basis of Australian laws like the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and its various amendments, as well as bodies like the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. This led to the passage of the Native Title Act in 1993, a landmark decision in relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, which led to the "retraction of Australia’s most profoundly racist fiction – the doctrine of terra nullius" (Commissioner Irene Moss in Using the Law, in MMA Library). Consequently, one could argue that in the course of Australia’s history since the British claim of possession in 1770, human rights have had an impact Australian society. Also, Australia was one of the founding countries of the United Nations after the Second World War (see the Hot Word entry under ‘International obligations’).

Issues like multiculturalism, anti-racism, colonialism and the nature of civil society are framed by ideas of social justice, especially in the context of a democracy. As with the characters in Tanberg’s cartoon, what these words mean to each person can greatly influence the way we think about these issues.

Some people or groups in society may feel challenged by the kind of debate that human rights generates, so as always teachers need to exercise caution as to which groups of students and which human rights they draw attention to. In some cultures, gender equity issues or sexual preference issues may be very sensitive.

Date Added:

08 December 2004