1967 showed change was possible

During National Reconciliation Week 2024, we recognise the 1967 referendum, when Australians voted to change the Constitution to remove explicit exclusions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Before this, laws relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were the sole prerogative of the states. This meant that distinct from being deprived of the same rights as other Australians under the Constitution, Indigenous Australians were subject to different regimes depending on which state they were residing in. 

The referendum sought to amend the following sections of the Constitution:

51. The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth 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.

127. 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.1


Relevantly, the question asked was: 

Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population’?2

The 1967 referendum was one of the most successful in Australian history with an overwhelming 90.77 per cent of the Australian population voting “yes”. A majority “yes” vote was also achieved in every single state and territory.

It represented the culmination of a decade long campaign calling for greater Commonwealth involvement in Indigenous Affairs.3 There was unanimous support among parliamentarians and thus the Government did not prepare a ‘No’ campaign before the referendum.

Contrary to popular understanding, this referendum did not grant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people citizenship, nor the right to vote. However, it marked a general shift in the way Indigenous issues were approached by Australian Governments. It was a formal starting point for First Nations agency and public recognition of the egregious inequalities suffered by Indigenous Australians prior to 1967.4

Today, it continues to serve as a reminder that, although the path to reconciliation is not straightforward, change is indeed possible. 



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