Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum

21 May 2019 | General Interest

The Australian Government held a referendum on May 27, 1967 which became a momentous turning point in Australian history.

More than 90 per cent of Australian voters chose ‘Yes’ to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census and give the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The purpose of the 1967 Referendum was to make two changes to the Australian Constitution.

These changes enabled the Commonwealth Government to: (i) Make laws for all of the Australian people by amending s51 of the Constitution (previously people of the ‘Aboriginal race in any state' were excluded) and; (ii) Take account of Aboriginal people in determining the population of Australia by repealing s127 of the constitution (formerly, Indigenous peoples had been haphazardly included in the census but not counted for the purposes of Commonwealth funding grants to the states or territories).
From 1967, Aboriginal people were counted in the census and included in base figures for Commonwealth funding granted to the states and territories on a per capita basis. 

Contrary to popular thinking the 1967 Referendum did NOT – give Aboriginal peoples the right to vote – give Aboriginal peoples citizenship rights – give Aboriginal peoples the right to be counted in the census.

What it did do was propel the issues and positions that faced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and escalated issues facing communites into the sight of Australia's government and people. A monumental moment as the countries first people strived for equality.

Did you know that from 1947 Torres Strait Islander People were counted in the official Commonwealth census but were first classified as Polynesians, then as Pacific Islanders? Prior to 1947, Torres Strait Islander people were regarded as 'aboriginal natives' and were excluded from population figures if they were of more than 50 per cent Torres Strait Islander heritage.