Museum of Australian Democracy to open in Canberra

If you\'ve ever wondered what it\'s like to make life and death decisions around a parliamentary cabinet table, you are about to get your chance.

If you\'ve ever wondered what it\'s like to make life and death decisions around a parliamentary cabinet table, you are about to get your chance.

On Saturday, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Canberra\'s Old Parliament House will open its doors to the public for the first time.

The museum, three years in the making, features five exhibitions dedicated to telling the story of democracy from its earliest origins through to its modern-day incarnate both locally and abroad.

Visitors will have the opportunity to view American founding father George Washington\'s writing set and desk lamp, never before seen outside the US, to a first edition of Thomas Paine\'s Rights of Man published in support of the French Revolution.

But its arguably the Cabinet-in-Confidence feature that will have people talking most. Located in the original cabinet room, around a table built specifically to seat former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam\'s ministry, the public are invited to take a seat and immerse themselves in some of the dilemmas that have faced commonwealth government over the years.

Drop-down screens show archived footage of the influx of Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s - an issue that galvanised the Fraser administration and is still relevant.

Then a facilitator encourages group debate on the issue. Historian and Cabinet-in-Confidence project manager Michael Richards says he was keen to create a hands-on, thought-provoking experience for visitors.

"It\'s an immersive thing. It\'s put yourself in the hot-seat," Mr Richards said.

"We\'ve set particular situations where cabinet had to make a crucial decision, usually in this room, and we\'ve given people the opportunity to do something that museum\'s usually don\'t do - and that is to tell us what they think." Helping people understand what cabinet actually is, let alone its significance to the democratic process, was also front of Mr Richards\' mind when developing the concept.

"This room is just a big room with a big table in it if you\'re just walking around (old) parliament house," he said. "We wanted to actually help demonstrate this is at the heart, this is the most secret place, this is the place where what happens here doesn\'t leave here."

The $3 million museum contains more than 1,000 images and abound 50 pieces of objet d\'art.

Johanna Parker, curator of the Australian Democracy - More Than 2,000 Years In The Making exhibition, said there was no better place for the collection than Old Parliament House.

"It is the perfect place.

When you think about it, a lot of the political milestones actually happened in this building," she said.

"A classic example is the 1967 referendum (on Aboriginal enfranchisement).

That was debated over in the cabinet room ... and the information gathered to actually help them make those decisions was found in this particular library."

While all the usual attractions of Old Parliament House are still on show to the public, including the prime minister\'s office, Ms Parker said the museum looks to enhance the experience for visitors.

"We hope that not only will you enjoy yourself in the space but you\'ll actually feel that much more empowered to make a difference and understand your democracy," she said.

Celebrations to open the Museum of Australian Democracy will begin at 9.30am (AEST) on Saturday, before Bob Hawke - the last prime minister to serve in the old house before its closure in 1988 - presides over the official honours at 11am.

Source AAP

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