The 2023 referendum

The topic

Australian ConstitutionThe draft question that will be put to voters is whether to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

The AEC’s role is to run the referendum in line with legislation, not to discuss the arguments for or against the proposed change. A draft of the question to be put to voters is available in the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 Bill that was introduced into federal parliament in late March.

There are three laws about the conduct of a referendum:

  1. The Australian Constitution itself
  2. The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984
  3. The Constitution Alteration (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice) 2023 Bill. This is the Bill that sets out the proposed changes to the Constitution that then allows a referendum to be held on that question.

The Referendum Act

The Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 outlines the processes to run a referendum. Much of this is like federal election events, outlined in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

In March, Parliament amended the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act to align referendum procedures with electoral procedures.

While a date hasn’t been announced, the Federal Government has stated its intention to hold the referendum sometime between September and December 2023.

Exact timing is a matter for Government. The date will be formalised by the issuing of a writ by the Governor-General (the formal instruction to the AEC to conduct a poll).

A referendum must be held no earlier than two months and no later than six months after a Constitution alteration bill has passed Parliament.