1999 Referendum

Updated: 24 January 2011

The 1999 referendum was announced on 12 August 1999 in a joint statement by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon. Daryl Williams MP and the Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon. Chris Ellison.

They announced that two proposed constitutional changes would be put to the direct vote of Australian electors at a referendum to be held on 6 November 1999. The first change was whether Australian voters approved the proposal to establish Australia as a republic and the second change was whether they approved the proposal to insert a preamble in the Constitution.

Republic Question

The question on the republic put to electors at the 1999 referendum was whether they approved of:

A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.

Preamble question

Electors were also asked to vote on a second question at the 1999 referendum which asked whether they approved of:

A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to insert a preamble.

Issue of the Writs

The writs for the 1999 referendum were issued by the Governor-General on Friday 1 October 1999, officially triggering the referendum process. A separate writ was issued for each question as technically each of the two proposed changes to the Constitution was a separate referendum.

1999 referendum timetable

The timetable for conducting a referendum is determined by the Constitution and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984. The timetable for the 1999 referendum is presented below.

Referendum Officially Announced: Thursday 12 August 1999

  • A joint media release was issued by the Attorney-General and the Special Minister of State officially announcing the passage of legislation facilitating the 1999 referendum.

Writs Issued: Friday 1 October 1999

  • The writs directed the AEC to conduct the 1999 referendum. They were issued by the Governor-General and contained the dates for the close of rolls, polling day and the return of the writs.

Close of Rolls: 8pm, Friday 8 October 1999

  • Electors had until 8pm, seven days after the writs were issued, to enrol or update their details on the Commonwealth electoral roll.

Polling Day: 8am to 6pm, Saturday 6 November 1999

  • The day on which the majority of electors voted. It had to be on a Saturday and at least 33 days but not more than 58 days after the issue of the writs.

Return of the Writs: Tuesday 30 November 1999

  • The writs, with the results of the two referendums, were returned to the Governor-General by the Electoral Commissioner.

Highlights of the 1999 referendum

Some of the highlights of the 1999 referendum were:

  • of the 12 361 694 electors on the Commonwealth electoral roll at the close of rolls for the 1999 referendum, just over 20 per cent had never voted in a federal referendum before. For the remaining electors it had been 11 years since the last referendum.
  • each of the two referendum questions was printed on a separate and different coloured ballot paper. The Federal Parliament passed special legislation in order to put each question on a separate ballot paper.
  • the electoral enrolment form was available on the AEC website. In the close of rolls week, around 24 000 people accessed the enrolment form on the site.
  • the Automated Postal Vote Issuing System was used for the first time. The system used leading edge technology to automate a previously time-consuming manual process. Using the system resulted in significant improvements in the efficiency of issuing postal votes, a better allocation of AEC resources and cost savings.
  • over 447 344 enquiries were handled throughout the seven week operating period of the AEC's national telephone enquiry service.
  • in the five weeks leading up to polling day, the AEC responded to over 1 670 emails on a range of referendum questions from people within Australia and overseas.
  • the AEC's advertising campaign was based around a key message of 'Yes/No' to emphasise the importance of these two words to electors when they marked their referendum ballot papers.
  • the AEC's advertising was translated into 17 ethnic languages in the press, 25 languages on radio, and 11 languages on television. Radio advertising was also translated into 20 indigenous languages.
  • the AEC's television advertisements were closed captioned for the benefit of deaf and hearing impaired electors.
  • the AEC increased the assistance available to electors with a print disability by providing key information on audio cassette, computer disc, and in braille and large print publications. There was high demand for these formats.
  • the production of the Yes/No case pamphlet was the largest single print job ever undertaken in Australia and the largest single mailout. Production of the 12.9 million pamphlets took nine high-speed web presses in three different locations up to ten days of round-the-clock production.
  • as there was no National Tally Room, the virtual tally room, housed on a specially created internet web address, was the primary source of official results for the 1999 referendum. It was the main means of transmitting results to the media and other interested people and on referendum night alone, over 154 000 users downloaded over 1.3 million pageviews.
  • a total of 31 international electoral officials from 13 countries visited the AEC to witness first-hand the planning and conduct of the 1999 referendum.
  • a total of 53 874 votes were issued by the 99 overseas voting posts to Australian electors living, working or holidaying overseas during the 1999 referendum.