Five things you should know about the 1967 Referendum

29 May 2017

As we celebrate 50 years since the 1967 Referendum let's reflect upon some of the key facts from this important milestone in Australia's journey towards reconciliation.

The 1967 Referendum was the most successful in our history winning 93 percent of votes cast.

This empowered the national government to make laws in respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that could assist in addressing inequalities.

1. Indigenous Australians were formally acknowledged as part of our nation’s population

Until the 1967 referendum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not included in the census and therefore weren’t considered members of the Australian population.

2. Changes were made to Section 51 of the Constitution

The 1967 referendum changed Section 51 of the Constitution to allow the parliament to “make laws for peace, order and good government” for all Australians, where previously Aboriginal people had been specifically excluded.

3. The Freedom Ride of 1965 led by Charles Perkins is credited for influencing the outcome

In 1965, Charles Perkins, the first Aboriginal man to graduate from an Australian university (the University of Sydney), led a Freedom Ride through towns in western NSW to raise awareness of the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing. The Sydney students gained significant public attention, and are credited with influencing the outcome of the referendum.

4. It was the most successful Australian referendum

The 1967 referendum was the most successful in Australia’s history. There have been 44 referenda since 1901 and only eight of those have returned a ‘yes’ vote.

5. It did not give Indigenous Australians the right to vote

Although it is a common misconception, the 1967 referendum did not give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the right to vote. This right had already been legislated for Commonwealth elections in 1962.

People in Australia have to register their dogs and cattle, but we don’t know how many Aborigines there are.
Australian civil rights activist and a leader in the campaign for the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal Australians, Faith Bandler AC (1965).