The renewed movement towards citizenship education has had to be achieved through a federal system. Schooling systems were established in colonial times and with Federation in 1901, education was one of the powers left with the States. The federal tier of government has had to bring about change by special funding provisions in the federal Constitution and through intergovernmental-tier meetings, such as the Ministerial Council and the Australian Education Council. Commonwealth initiatives can only be introduced with the cooperation of Ministers of Education (Commonwealth and States). As will be discussed below, federal initiatives associated with large special grants have been prominent in the renewed emphasis on civics and citizenship education but at a cost. The content has a focus on the federal tier of government, and the State and local tiers are generally ignored along with the whole of civil society.
That the ‘Australian Government’ is comprised of three tiers (federal, State and local) has to be made clear in this whole process of citizenship education. Even in much of the literature leading up to the centenary of federation, the federal Constitution was often assessed as though it were the only basis for all government and law in Australia rather than it being merely the transfer of certain existing powers of colonial legislatures to a new federal tier to give effect to a limited number of national concerns. In one wall poster included in the Discovering Democracy resources produced by the Curriculum Corporation (1999) and titled ‘The History of Australian Democracy’ the importance of the Australian Colonies Government Act 1850 is ignored by its omission from a series of time-line events.
The initiative for a national curriculum has come from the federal tier, as outlined in the following section.