If you were active in campaigning or making donations for the 2023 referendum from 11 March to 14 October 2023, you may have an obligation to disclose that information. Go to Referendum disclosure.
The only way to change the Australian Constitution is by holding a referendum. This means that the constitution cannot be altered without ‘the approval of the people’.
The AEC is an independent statutory authority and is responsible for the machinery of the referendum only. It has no involvement with the campaigns for or against the proposed changes to the Constitution.
1. A Bill is passed by Parliament
Before a referendum can be held, a bill outlining the proposed changes to the constitution must be passed by both houses of the Federal Parliament, or alternatively passed twice in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
2. A Writ is issued
The Governor-General issues a writ for a referendum which, like an election must be held on a Saturday. It can be held with an ordinary election but can also be held separately.
3. Australians vote
The earliest a referendum can occur is the first Saturday falling two months and 33 days after the bill is passed. The latest is the final Saturday falling before six months has elapsed since the bill was passed.
There can be several proposed changes on a referendum ballot paper for voters to consider. If voters agree with a proposed change, they write ‘yes’ in the square on the ballot paper. If they do not agree with a proposed change, they write ‘no’ in the square.
Voting services for a federal Referendum will be very similar to those provided for a federal election.
Polling day for a referendum will be a Saturday with polling places open from 8am to 6pm. Voters should vote on polling day if they can. For people who cannot make it on polling day there will be early voting centres and postal voting available.
Further information about voting services for any future referendum will be made available when legislation is passed and a referendum period is known.
To make sure your vote is able to be counted in a referendum, you need to clearly write either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ opposite the question - as per the instructions on the ballot paper.
We will always admit a ballot paper to the count where the voter’s intention is clear but any marks or words other than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (e.g. the use of a tick or check mark) could leave the formality of your vote open to interpretation or challenge. Ultimately, if challenged, the relevant AEC Divisional Returning Officer will decide if your ballot is deemed formal or informal in accordance with the Referendum Act.
Section 128 of the Constitution provides that any proposed amendment to the Constitution must be passed by an absolute majority of each House of the Parliament, or under certain conditions, a law may be passed by a majority of either House twice within three months.
At the referendum the proposed alteration must be approved by a 'double majority'. That is:
The votes of people living in the ACT, the NT and any of Australia’s external territories count towards the national majority only.
Since Federation there have been 45 proposals for constitutional change put to Australian electors. Only 8 of these have been carried.