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Constitutional Referendums

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Examples of unsuccessful referendums

1988 Rights and Freedoms

In September 1988, a rights and freedoms proposal was one of four put to the people of Australia.  It sought to:

  • extend the right to trial by jury,

  • extend freedom of religion and

  • ensure fair terms for persons whose property is acquired by any Government.

This and the other three proposals were rejected.

1999 Republican Referendum

On November 6 1999, two questions were put: 

  • To alter the Constitution to replace the Queen and Governor-General with a President elected by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.

  • To alter the Constitution to insert a preamble.

Both were unsuccessful. However, the question of a Republic continues to be debated and, as the Queen observed during a recent Royal visit, the future of the monarchy in Australia was, and is for

 “the Australian people…alone to decide by democratic and constitutional means”.

Examples of successful referendums

1946 Social Services Referendum

The 1946 referendum proposed to give the Commonwealth power to legislate on; 

The provision of maternity allowances, widows’ pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorise any form of civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances.

Section 51 (xxiiiA)

All States supported the proposal and it marked the biggest single transfer of powers from the States. Although three propositions were put in this referendum, only the one on social services was passed.

1967 Aboriginal Referendum

In 1967, the following two proposals were put: 

  • The first, referred to as the “nexus question”, was an attempt to alter the balance of numbers in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

  • The second was to determine whether two references in the Commonwealth Constitution that prevented the Commonwealth legislating for Aboriginal people should be removed.

While the voters rejected the first question, the second question saw the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum with all six States passing the referendum.


Acknowledgement of Country

The Government of Western Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.