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1967 Referendum


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The referendum of 27 May 1967 approved two amendments to the Australian constitution relating to Indigenous Australians. Technically it was a vote on the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Act, 1967, which after being approved in the referendum became law on the 10th August of the same year.

The amendment was overwhelmingly endorsed, winning over 90 per cent of voters and carrying all six states.

The referendum removed two sections from the Constitution.

  • The first was a phrasewhich stated that the Federal Government had the power to make laws with respect to the people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. (This is known as the race power.) The referendum removed the phrase other than the Aboriginal race in any State, giving the Commonwealth the power to make laws specifically to benefit Aboriginal people.
  • The second, which said: in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted. The referendum deleted this section from the Constitution.

The significance of the 1967 referendum was to provide the Federal Government with a clear mandate to implement policies to benefit Aborigines. The other aspect of the constitutional change, was the enabling of Aborigines to be counted in population statistics, has led to clearer comparisons of the desperate state of Aboriginal health. However, it was some five years before any real change occurred and only through as a result of strong activism.

On 26 January 1972, Aborigines erected the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of the Federal Parliament building in Canberra to express their frustration at the lack of progress on land rights and racial discrimination issues. This became a major confrontation that raised Aboriginal affairs high on the political agenda in the federal election later that year.

Despite some progress on land rights from the 1970s Indigenous people were at most risk under unfair industrial relations processes where they were not awarded equal pay, poor access to husing and reasonable living conditions, and on-going discrimination in Australian society. It has taken many decades for any real change around land rights, discriminatory practices, financial assistance and preservation of cultural heritage to occur, many issues which are unresolved.

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