Australian citizens vote in referendums to approve or reject proposed amendments to the Australian Constitution. The constitution can only be amended by this process.
For a referendum to produce constitutional change there must be a 'double majority', that is:
- a national majority of voters from all states and territories and
- a majority of voters in a majority of states* (ie at least four of the six states) must vote in favour of the proposed change.
* The votes of people living in any of Australia's territories only count towards the national majority.
How it all works
Before a referendum can be held a Bill must be passed by both houses of parliament or passed twice in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
A referendum must be held no sooner than two months and no later than six months after the Bill is passed. In the four weeks after the Bill is passed, the 'yes' case is prepared by members and senators who voted for the proposed changes. The 'no' case is prepared by those members and senators who voted against the proposed changes.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) then organises the printing of these cases and sends a copy to every elector.
The Governor-General issues a writ for a referendum which must be held on a Saturday. Sometimes they are held alongside ordinary elections but sometimes they're held separately. As running a referendum is no small feat, there are usually several proposed changes on a referendum ballot paper to best utilise the time participating.
Voters show they agree with a proposed change by writing 'yes' in the appropriate square. If they do not agree with the proposed change they write ‘no’ in the appropriate square.
The "Nays" usually have it.
Since Federation there have been 44 proposals for constitutional change put to Australian electors but only 8 have been approved including the referendum in 1976 that omitted certain words from the constitution relating to Aboriginal people of so that they could be counted as part of the population and laws could then be created to benefit them specifically.
Another significant referendum which was carried in 1977 allowed people who lived in the Australian territories to vote in referendums.
The most recent referendum was held in 1999 where the proposal to establish Australia as a republic was defeated with 55% of the country voting "No".
The information on this page has been reproduced, with permission, from the Australian Electoral Commission's Count Me In booklet.
For more information on referendums visit:
Wikipedia - information on the history of Australian referendums.
Australian Electoral Commission - information on how referendums work.