Referendums in Australia
August 5, 2020
A referendum is a national vote to change the Australian Constitution. A referendum is only successful through a double majority of voters supporting the amendment to the Constitution, which is a national majority of voters in the states and territories and a majority of voters in a majority of states (at least four out of six states).
The Australian Constitution is the legal framework by which Australia is governed. The Constitution establishes the composition of the Australian Parliament, describes how Parliament works and what powers it has. It also outlines the sharing of power between the federal and state parliaments and the roles of the executive government and the High Court of Australia.
Since 1901, Australia has held 19 referendums where 44 questions have been put to the Australian people to change the Constitution. Of these 44 questions, only 8 have been agreed to.
Referendums that have been successful include the 1967 Referendum, where 90.77 percent of Australians voted to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in giving the Federal Parliament the power to make special laws relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. This referendum allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to be counted in the Australian Census for the first time.
Other successful referendums included the 1977 Referendum which gave Australians that live in the Territories, the right to vote in referendums. The referendum was also successful in changing the way that casual Senate vacancies were filled and established the age of 70 as being the retirement age for federal judges.
Due to the double majority nature of referendums in Australia, they are difficult to pass. Many people have written about the necessary criteria required to make changes to the constitution including bipartisanship and extensive understanding of the proposal amongst the community.
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