The vote

The referendum took place on the 21 May 1967. For a Constitutional change to take effect, a referendum question must be approved by a majority of voters in a majority of Australian states. Two questions were asked:

Question 1: to remove the requirement that the number of members of the House of Representatives must be roughly double the number of senators (not carried); and

Question 2: to give the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws with respect to Aboriginal people in Australia, and to include Aboriginal people in national censuses (carried).

The results for question two were overwhelming in favour of change with 90.77 percent of voters affirming support. The vote was also carried in all states making it the most unified response to a referendum question.

Significance of the vote

The significance of the 'Yes' campaign meant that the Commonwealth of Australia could now legislate on behalf of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The Federal Government established the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs (now Indigenous Affairs) which would be responsible for all matters pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Charles Perkins was the first Indigenous person to be elected to the position of Department Secretary from 1984-1988.

Following the successful campaign the FCAATSI Campaign Committee outline five important initiatives for success:

  • establish a national policy on Aboriginal Affairs
  • establish a Australian Council of Social Services (1964-1967) 
  • establish a National Secretariat involving State Aboriginal authorities and organisations
  • establish a National Education Foundation to improve the literacy and numeracy of Aboriginal Australians
  • establish a National Aboriginal Arts & Crafts Board 

Source: FCAATSI Campaign Committee memo dated 28 May 1967, following the 'Yes Vote' successful referendum campaign, Stan Davey (General Secretary) outlines five important initiatives to be discussed hence forth. Papers of Barry Christophers, 1951-2003 - MS 7992 Box 27 (Folder 3).  

The right to vote - a common misconception

The 1967 Referendum was not about granting Indigenous Australians the right to vote. Amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act in 1962 meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections.

Indigenous Australians gained the right to vote in State and Territory elections during the early-to-mid 1960's, with Queensland the last State permitting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders the right to vote in 1965. 

Related Resources

Manuscripts

Papers of Dr. Barry Christophers, 1959-2003 
MS 7992 - Boxes 23-27
Papers largely relate to Dr. Barry's involvement with FCAATSI and his interest in indigenous issues, the trust fund campaign and the 1967 Referendum.

Population and census reports

Refer to the Library's research guide on Statistics: population and census reports for details on accessing this material in the Library's collection: http://www.nla.gov.au/research-guides/statistics/statistics-population-a...

Press clipping files

The Library maintains a collection of subject based press clipping files. Press clippings are articles cut out from newspapers and stored in a folder with other articles on the same or similar topic. To request articles, please speak to staff at the desk in the Newspapers and Family History Zone. To request information about the contents of a specific file, please submit an Ask a Librarian enquiry

Aboriginal Advancement League 1964-1973
Established in 1957, also known as the Aborigines Advancement League,  it is primarily concerned with Indigenous welfare issues including and the preservation culture and heritage.The League drew from two already existing organisations, the Australian Aborigines League, established 1934[3] and the Save the Aborigines Committee, which had been established in 1955 as a response to the Warburton Ranges crisis.

Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies 1964-1985
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies was established in June 1964. The Institute was replaced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in March 1990.