Yes or no?

A page from a referendum leaflet, 1967
Page 1 of a leaflet about the 1967 referendum (NAA: A1209, 1967/7251, p.29)

On 27 May 1967 Australians voted in a referendum on two questions. The first question was an attempt to alter the balance of numbers in parliament. The second question proposed amending two sections of the Australian Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people. The first question was rejected but the second question received overwhelming support – over 90.77% voted ‘Yes’.

The sections of the Constitution under scrutiny were 51 and 127. Section 51 stated that the parliament had power to make laws with respect to:

(xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws.

And Section 127 stated:

Speech by Prime Minister Harold Holt on the referendum, 1967
The 'Yes' case – Prime Minister Harold Holt prepared this speech on both questions in the referendum. (NAA: A1209, 1967/7251, p.54)

In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives should not be counted.

It is widely believed that the referendum in 1967 gave Aboriginal people citizenship and the right to vote. However, Aboriginal people had been acknowledged as Australian citizens 20 years earlier, in 1947. And they had gained the right to vote in federal and state elections by 1965.

The success of this referendum was that the federal government was enabled to address issues that affected Aboriginal Australians.

You can find out more about records on the referendum in Fact Sheet 150 – The 1967 referendum.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018