AEC's role in referendums

Updated: 24 October 2012

The AEC's role is to provide enrolment, voting and information services to the voters of Australia to enable them to have their say at a referendum.

Procedures for voting at a referendum are very similar to those at federal elections, except that voters vote by writing either Yes or No opposite each question on the ballot paper. Voting is compulsory for eligible electors.

At the 1999 referendum the AEC provided a range of services including enrolment and voting services, and a public information campaign to inform voters of the referendum and their requirement to vote.

Enrolment and voting services

Enrolment and voting services provided by the Australian Electoral Commission at the last referendum included:

  • printing ballot papers
  • setting up and staffing polling booths (approx. 8 000 booths and 60 000 polling staff)
  • postal voting
  • pre-poll voting
  • overseas voting (at Australian Embassies and High Commissions)
  • Antarctic voting
  • counting votes
  • releasing results

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.

Public information campaign

The AEC conducted a public information campaign to increase public understanding of, and participation in, the referendum process. The major messages were:

  • how, when and where to enrol and vote
  • assistance and services available to electors
  • how to correctly complete the referendum ballot paper.

The AEC used a number of strategies to communicate to voters including advertising, public relations, publications, a national telephone enquiry service and internet site.

A number of specific activities were also directed at key target groups of voters from non-English speaking backgrounds, voters with a disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters and young voters.

The AEC is also responsible for printing and distributing to every voter the Yes/No case arguments prepared by the Parliamentarians who voted for and against the proposed changes.

The Yes/No case pamphlet for the 1999 referendum contained the arguments for and against the two proposed constitutional changes and a complete copy of the Australian Constitution showing the proposed amendments.

The arguments in favour of the changes, 'the Yes cases', were prepared and authorised by members of the Federal Parliament who voted in Parliament for the proposed Bills. The arguments opposed to the changes, 'the No cases', were prepared and authorised by members of the Federal Parliament who voted against the proposed Bills.

The Yes and No cases were required by law to be given to the Electoral Commissioner within four weeks after the passage of the Bills. For the 1999 referendum, the cases had to be received by 9 September 1999. The arguments were printed by the AEC as provided by the Parliamentarians.

At the 1999 Referendum a federal government sponsored information campaign was also conducted. The government campaign was supported by a Referendum Taskforce from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Taskforce supported a Ministerial Steering Group and the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications in developing and implementing a neutral public education programme and the arrangements for the 'Yes' and 'No' campaign advertising which preceded the referendum.

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