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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

A guide from the ANU Library

Referendums in Australia

Australia was established as a nation (Federation) 1 January 1901 following the passing of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act by the United Kingdom Parliament. The purpose of the Act was ‘to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia’.

The Constitution was created through a series of national conventions and consultations.

More information on the constitution can be found here.

Legislation to establish a referendum

The Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 30 March 2023.

Information on progress of the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) Bill 2023 including links to the bill, proposed amendments, speeches and explanatory memorandum can be found here.

This section will be regularly updated.

History of referenda

Since Federation, there have been 44 proposals for constitutional change. Only 8 have been successful. The most recent successful referendums were in 1977. Details of past referendums can be found here.

Most relevant to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice is the 1967 referendum which sought “to enable the Commonwealth to enact laws for Aboriginal people. To remove the prohibition against counting Aboriginal people in population counts in the Commonwealth or a State”. This referendum was passed pm 28 April 1967 with a majority of voters (90.77%) in a majority of states (all states) supporting the referendum.

Section 128 of the Constitution contains the requirements for the ‘mode of altering the Constitution’. It requires:

  • A law be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament (that is, half or more of all the members of each chamber), or under certain conditions, a law be passed by a majority of either House twice within three months;
  • The proposal be put to the electors qualified to vote in elections for the House of Representatives between two and six months after the passage of the law;
  • A majority of Australians vote to approve the change, as a total and in a majority of the six states.

The voting process is to occur in ‘such manner as the Parliament prescribes’. The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 contains the provisions for the process.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is required to distribute a pamphlet with a written argument for and against the passage of the referendum (section 11 of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984) to be received by each household with an enrolled elector not later than 14 days before polling day.

Detailed information can be found on the following websites:.

Detail of referendum information provided by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

Referendum FAQs from the AEC.

This guide is from the Australian Federal Parliamentary Library. In the Australia federal political context, the word ‘referendum’ is used to describe a vote to change the Australian Constitution.

Page Contact: ANU Library Communication Team