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The Government Machine

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 - common good, constitution, democracy, Law, politics, rights and responsibilities, 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 viewing this video clip, students have the opportunity to examine how political systems operate.
Students examine:

  • principles of democracy in Australia, including the common good
  • role of government in developing policy and formulating legislation
  • democratic processes in Australia including free and fair elections
  • institutions including parliaments and political parties
  • the role of the constitution

For further information please consult Queensland Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Framework’s SOSE Essential Learnings and 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. Construct a flow-chart or story-board with captions to explain the development of the government machine over time, referring to:
    1. Groups, such as the Greeks, the Romans
    2. Ideology or key ideas, for example peace, democracy
    3. Events, for example World Wars
  2. In this animation, historical images are used to give impressions of changing times.
    1. How is the image of government in earlier times presented?
    2. How is different from your view of government?
  3. 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. Referring to the animation and other primary and secondary sources, explain how these elements affect decision-making in government.
  4. What does the narrator identify as the main function of government? What arguments does he use to support his view? Do you agree with this view? Why or why not?
  5. The narrator describes a role of government as acting as a regulator of economic activity.
    1. Identify examples of government institutions that regulate economic activity.
    2. How does regulation provide support to the community?
  6. Investigate the role of a political party in Australia’s political system, particularly:
    1. its history
    2. beliefs
    3. organisation
    4. development of and policy
      How has the political party contributed to the shaping of the Australian democracy?

Further Resources


See A Guide to Government and Law in Australia on the Civics and Citizenship Education Website, which provides an overview of the development the Australian political system.

Go to Australia’s Democracy teaching and learning activity on the Civics and Citizenship Education website, which includes activities focussed on ‘Votes for Women’, ‘The Dismissal of the Whitlam Government’, ‘Movements against Communism’ and ‘The 1967 Referendum’.

See the teacher and student sections of the Parliamentary Education Office Role Play activities, Lesson Plans and Publications and Photographs and Diagrams about Parliament, a Glossary, Fact Sheets and Interactives