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Video clip synopsis – Starting as a simple apparatus to test sin and guilt, the law has become one of our most convoluted contraptions.
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - appeal, class action, common good, constitution, human rights, Law, restorative justice, rights and responsibilities, separation of powers, verdict, see all tags


The Law Machine

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About the Video Clip


The Law 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
  • Recognise that the Australian Constitution establishes the powers and responsibilities of the national parliament and the federal legal system including the High Court
  • Consider the role of government in developing policy and formulating legislation.

Students explore concepts of justice and law and the ways in which legal institutions and processes uphold peoples’ rights in a democracy. They have the opportunity to:

  • Recognise that there are different types of law
  • Explore the principles of justice including independence of the judiciary, equality before the law, presumption of innocence, the right of appeal and restorative justice

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

Background Information


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 Law Machine
It may have started as a simple apparatus to test sin and guilt, but over time, the legal system has become one of our most convoluted contraptions, with a noticeable lean towards the financially gifted and a baffling array of attachments. Loopholes, out-of-court settlements, reasonable doubt, company law … as long as you’ve got a wig it’s possible to bypass justice altogether. Bruce Petty shows us the inner workings of this machine, where lawyers speak a different language and money speaks louder still.

Classroom Activities

  1. Rules and Laws
    Draw up a four column page with headings of Home, School, Australia, Discussion. Write in each of the first three columns two examples of a rule or law. In the Discussion column include who made up the rule/law, how this was done, who is affected by it, who enforces it, who and how are disputes about the rule/law decided and finally your opinion about whether the system in each of the three areas is working. On completion of this activity now include the words rules or laws as part of your heading for each of the Home, School and Australia columns.
  2. Thinking about how decisions are made in your home and school what reasons does Bruce Petty in The Law Machine give for the law evolving into such a complex and complicated contraption?
  3. Using the Internet and other resources investigate the meanings of:
    1. Constitution
    2. Judiciary
    3. Legislation
    4. Common good
      Bruce Petty argues that overriding all of these is the concept of the ‘loophole’. What does this mean? How does it work? Why does it exist? Does it, and should it, in your opinion underpin the whole legal system? So, do we need lawyers?
  4. Invite a lawyer to your class and prepare for your discussion with some issues raised in The Law Machine.
  5. Having viewed The Law Machine what is your view on the animator’s opinion about the law and lawyers. Use evidence and examples from the video clip to support your view.

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.