50th anniversary of the Indigenous right to vote

Updated: 19 March 2012

The AEC is marking 2012 as the Year of Enrolment to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Indigenous right to vote in federal elections.

In the Year of Enrolment, the AEC will strengthen its ongoing efforts to promote enrolment to Indigenous Australians to increase their electoral participation.

In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was amended to give Indigenous people the right to enrol and vote in federal elections.

The AEC's Indigenous Electoral Participation Program (IEPP) aims to increase Indigenous electoral knowledge, enrolment and participation and reduce informal voting.

A 50th anniversary calendar, featuring Indigenous community leaders and a short DVD on the history of the Indigenous vote, have been specially developed to promote enrolment and voting. The DVD also features interviews with Indigenous Australians on the importance of the vote and will be broadcast on Indigenous media.

A group of young Indigenous Australians will participate in a Youth Parliament, after a week-long leadership program, and will be encouraged to take the message to their communities about enrolling and voting.

Eligible Australian citizens, 18 years or over, can enrol to vote, change their address or check their enrolment details through this website.

Despite Indigenous Australians achieving equality in the electoral process, today less than 50 per cent are enrolled to vote. Indigenous Australians are also more likely to vote informally than non-Indigenous Australians.

This means Indigenous Australians are missing out on the opportunity to fully participate in the democratic process and hold governments to account.

Quick facts

  • Before Europeans settled Australia in 1788, Indigenous law came from tradition. British settlement replaced Indigenous law with British law.
  • From 1850, Australian colonies made laws about who could vote. Queensland and Western Australian laws specifically prevented Indigenous people from voting. South Australia gave all adults, including Indigenous adults, the right to vote.
  • The Commonwealth specifically excluded 'any aboriginal native' of Australia from voting unless they were on the roll of an Australian colony before 1901. This meant that Indigenous people who turned 21 years (eligible voting age) after 1901 were denied voting rights.
  • In 1949, the Commonwealth Parliament granted the right to vote in federal elections to Indigenous people who had completed military service or who already had the right to vote in their state.
  • In 1962, Indigenous people achieved the right to vote in federal elections. It was not compulsory to enrol but once enrolled it was compulsory to vote.
  • This allowed Indigenous people to vote in the 1967 referendum, which amended the Constitution to give the Commonwealth the power to count Indigenous people in the census and make special laws for their benefit.
  • In 1984, Indigenous Australians finally achieved equal electoral status when Commonwealth law was changed to apply compulsory enrolment to "all Australian citizens".

What does the Indigenous Electoral Participation Program do?

The IEPP was established to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage in electoral participation.

The four objectives of the IEPP are:

  • to increase levels of knowledge of democratic and electoral processes
  • to increase levels of enrolment
  • to increase levels of participation in democratic and electoral processes
  • to decrease levels of informal voting.

Components of the program are:

  • face-to-face education delivered by field staff
  • school, TAFE and community visits
  • prison visits
  • sponsorship for community activity
  • future leaders program
  • ambassador program
  • a program to increase and support Indigenous employment within the organisation.

The program began in April 2010 and is funded as part of the Government's Closing the Gap initiatives.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the resources contained in the PDF version of this fact sheet may contain images of deceased persons.