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Free for educational use
Video clip synopsis – Available in various models fuelled by ideological steam, the government contraption has survived numerous violent revisions.
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - cities, common good, constitution, democracy, parliament, politics, rights and responsibilities, welfare state, see all tags


The Government Machine

For copyright reasons this clip is not available as a download.

About the Video Clip


The Government Machine is an episode of the series Human Contraptions (10 × 5 mins) produced in 2002.

Academy Award winning animator Bruce Petty takes a satirical look at the “contraptions” that shape our lives. Education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine, law, government and even the brain are transformed by Petty into evolving machines. Beginning with a simple concept, he takes us on an anarchic journey through history as each apparatus builds to its complex contemporary form. In the wry, ironic style that is his hallmark, Petty reveals these to be contraptions of a very human kind – imperfect, sometimes unpredictable and always subject to change. A witty, provocative and entertaining series, narrated by Andrew Denton.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


By studying this five minute Film Australia animation, students have the opportunity to examine aspects of the National Statement of Learning for Civics and Citizenship.

Government and Law
Students explore principles, features and practices that characterise democracy in Australia. They have the opportunity to:

  • Explore significant features and principles of democracy in Australia including the common good, separation of powers, government accountability and parliamentary elections
  • Consider the role of government in developing policy and formulating legislation.
  • Understand the role of political parties in Australia
  • Evaluate the power, responsibilities and influence exercised by political leaders and elected representatives

Please refer to the Curriculum and Assessment Authority in your State or Territory for Study Guides and learning standards.

Background Information


Academy Award winning animator and political cartoonist Bruce Petty says that ”caricature is a device by which we hope to make complex ideas (at least) accessible, (occasionally) witty and (sometimes) informative”.

His professional life has always been about finding those gaps and niches and trying to fill them in. He explains the challenge in creating the Human Contraptions series in this way: “I wanted Human Contraptions to be a cheerful reminder that as our cars, videos and toasters get smarter and cheaper, the institutions we really need are getting more expensive and unreliable, and are starting to rattle. I hope viewers recognise some of our more bizarre organisational devices and enjoy the general irreverence.

The main aim was to take an impressionistic, shorthand, comic look at over-worked, serious subjects. The series is based on general suspicions people have about the institutions we live in. These bodies are old or biased, often politically disfigured and under-funded – they are familiar targets. Representing them as machines at least suggests they are man-made, they wear out and can be fixed even as they do determine how we live.

The series offered a chance to check the workings of these “contraptions”. Institutions such as the arts carry our “trust” – we are expected to believe in them. We are persuaded that they are self-correcting and that the corrections are properly and democratically monitored.”

Many people are now beginning to suspect that this is not so.

The satirical, witty narration suggests double-meanings while sound effects and music are also important ironic components.

The Government Machine
At its basic level, the government machine is operated by people getting together and shouting, and collecting funds to support getting together and shouting. Fuelled by ideological steam, it has survived numerous violent revisions, usually in the name of the common good. From the brown-paper-bag-full-of-money mechanism to the one-man one-vote unit, Bruce Petty surveys the various models of the great government contraption, many of which have been prone to breakdown.

Classroom Activities

  1. Name the three levels of government we have in Australia. Draw up a page with three columns using the three levels of government as headings. In the columns include three responsibilities given to each level of government and the current leader in your area.
  2. The animator Bruce Petty, in tracing the evolution of decision-making from individuals to groups, appears to be saying that four elements are needed for government – shouting, funds, party machines, and theories. Use the video clip and other resources to explain how each of these elements contributes to political parties and governments in Australia.
  3. In groups, use the video clip, the Internet and other resources to investigate one Australian political party – its goals and beliefs, requirements for membership, current activities, party organisation.
  4. What do you think Bruce Petty means when he says that the main function today of governments is to provide a ‘safety net’. How is this different from what he discusses as the earlier function of governments as being focused on the ‘common good’? Using this example and other parts of the video clip, what does this tell you about his attitude to current government/s? Do you agree with his assessment?
  5. Write a letter to your local state or federal Member of Parliament, inviting them to speak to your class about how they see their role as a community representative.

Further Resources


Go to The Age for a profile of Bruce Petty

Go to to find out more about Bruce Petty

Go to The Age for a colour slide show of various Australia cartoonists presented by The Age.

Cagle, D, The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2007, Macmillan Computer Pub, 2006.

Petty, B, The Absurd Machine: A Cartoon History of the World, Penguin, Ringwood, Harmondsworth, New York, Toronto and Auckland, 1997.