1999 Referendum Report and Statistics - Background

Updated: 20 January 2011

Changing the Australian Constitution

How to Vote

The Australian Constitution is a framework which defines the Australian system of national government and establishes the legal basis for Federal Parliament to make laws. The Constitution itself guarantees that the only way this framework can be changed is by a referendum - that is by asking all eligible electors whether or not they approve of the proposed law to change the Constitution.

Before a referendum can be held, a Bill must become a proposed law by being passed by both Houses of Federal Parliament or passed twice in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. The proposed law is then submitted to the direct vote of the Australian electors at a referendum no sooner than two and no later than six months after the Bill is passed by Parliament.

To become law, a proposed change to the Constitution must be approved by a 'double majority' of electors voting for the proposed change. That is:

  • a national majority of electors voting from all States and Territories; and
  • a majority of electors voting in a majority of the States (that is at least four of the six States)
  • the votes of people living in any of Australia's internal or external territories only count towards the national majority

Historical referendum results

The results of previous referendums show that the requirement for a 'double majority' has proven difficult to achieve.

Since Federation on 1 January 1901, there have been 42 proposals for constitutional change put to Australian electors but only eight proposals have received the 'double majority' required to be passed. A further five proposals, while receiving an overall majority of votes, did not gain a majority in a majority of the States.

A historical listing of Australian referendums held since 1906 is on the following page. Detailed results of these historical referendums at the national, State and Territory and divisional levels as well as by vote type are provided on the attached CD-ROM.

Referendum Dates and Results 1906–1988
  Issue of Writ Polling Day Result
Senate Elections 8 November 1906 12 December 1906 Carried
Finance 28 February 1910 13 April 1910 Not Carried
State Debts 28 February 1910 13 April 1910 Carried
Legislative Powers 15 March 1911 26 April 1911 Not Carried
Monopolies 15 March 1911 26 April 1911 Not Carried
Trade and Commerce 24 April 1913 31 May 1913 Not Carried
Corporations 24 April 1913 31 May 1913 Not Carried
Industrial Matters 24 April 1913 31 May 1913 Not Carried
Railway Disputes 24 April 1913 31 May 1913 Not Carried
Trusts 24 April 1913 31 May 1913 Not Carried
Nationalisation of Monopolies 24 April 1913 31 May 1913 Not Carried
Legislative Powers 3 November 1919 13 December 1919 Not Carried
Nationalisation of Monopolies 3 November 1919 13 December 1919 Not Carried
Industry and Commerce 26 July 1926 4 September 1926 Not Carried
Essential Services 26 July 1926 4 September 1926 Not Carried
State Debts 9 October 1928 17 November 1928 Carried
Aviation 4 February 1937 6 March 1937 Not Carried
Marketing 4 February 1937 6 March 1937 Not Carried
Post-war Reconstruction and Democratic Rights 4 July 1944 19 August 1944 Not Carried
Social Services 21 August 1946 28 September 1946 Carried
Organised Marketing of Primary Products 21 August 1946 28 September 1946 Not Carried
Industrial Employment 21 August 1946 28 September 1946 Not Carried
Rent and Prices 12 April 1948 29 May 1948 Not Carried
Powers to Deal with Communists and Communism 10 August 1951 22 September 1951 Not Carried
Parliament 28 April 1967 27 May 1967 Not Carried
Aboriginals 28 April 1967 27 May 1967 Carried
Prices 12 November 1973 8 December 1973 Not Carried
Incomes 12 November 1973 8 December 1973 Not Carried
Simultaneous Elections 20 April 1974 18 May 1974 Not Carried
Mode of Altering the Constitution 20 April 1974 18 May 1974 Not Carried
Democratic Elections 20 April 1974 18 May 1974 Not Carried
Local Government Bodies 20 April 1974 18 May 1974 Not Carried
Simultaneous Elections 27 April 1977 21 May 1977 Not Carried
Senate Casual Vacancies 27 April 1977 21 May 1977 Carried
Referendums – Territories 27 April 1977 21 May 1977 Carried
Retirement of Judges 27 April 1977 21 May 1977 Carried
Terms of Senators 26 October 1984 1 December 1984 Not Carried
Interchange of Powers 26 October 1984 1 December 1984 Not Carried
Parliamentary Terms 25 July 1988 3 September 1988 Not Carried
Fair Elections 25 July 1988 3 September 1988 Not Carried
Local Government 25 July 1988 3 September 1988 Not Carried
Rights and Freedoms 25 July 1988 3 September 1988 Not Carried
Republic 1 October 1999 6 November 1999 Not Carried
Preamble 1 October 1999 6 November 1999 Not Carried
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