R10762 Case for 'Yes' in the 1967 Indigenous referendum



These two pages set out the official case for voting 'yes' in the 1967 referendum on changing the wording in two sections, 51 and 127, of the Australian Constitution in relation to Indigenous Australians. The pages, part of a statement sent out to all eligible voters, summarise arguments in favour of altering the constitution to allow the Australian parliament to legislate in relation to Indigenous people and of repealing the section excluding them from being counted in censuses. The final part indicates that all the major political parties and political leaders were in support.

Acknowledgements: From the collection of the National Archives of Australia. Written by Prime Ministers Department.

Educational value
The arguments identified here in favour of voting 'yes' centre around two main ideas - the importance 'in the modern age' of removing discrimination against Indigenous Australians from the Constitution, and the value of the Australian parliament as well as state parliaments being able to make laws in relation to Indigenous people. The existing constitutional provisions were seen as out of character with Australian thinking in the 1960s and internationally damaging.
The way the 'yes' case was framed, the support given to voting 'yes' by the major political leaders and parties and the absence of a corresponding document setting out the 'Case for No' were among the most important reasons for the ultimate success of the constitutional amendments. At the 27 May 1967 referendum, all states and over 90 per cent of voters voted 'yes', which was the highest 'yes' vote ever recorded in a federal referendum.
The changes proposed in the referendum were the result of decades of Indigenous requests, petitions and protests for equal rights. For example, Australian government involvement in Aboriginal issues had been requested in the 'Ten Points' document adopted at the National Day of Mourning Conference 30 years earlier in 1938. The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders had waged a 10-year campaign for the referendum itself to be held.
There were just two mentions of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution, but the 'Case for Yes' tried to explain only one of them - the census provision - by saying it was too hard to count Indigenous people in 1900. Some historians dispute this, believing that because population is used to determine the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives, the provision was meant to stop states with high Indigenous populations gaining more seats.
The 'Case for Yes' is silent about what the Australian parliament would do with its power to legislate for Indigenous Australians except to say it will act in their 'best interests'. In reality it did very little for five years. The election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 eventually led to federal legislation, new census statistics in 1971 having given a clearer picture of the desperate state of Indigenous health, housing, education and employment.
In explaining the limited extent of the proposed changes, the pamphlet may have also aimed to dispel misunderstandings that were prevalent at the time (and have continued since 1967), that the changes were about granting citizenship and the right to vote to Indigenous Australians. In fact, voting rights had already been granted to Indigenous adults in all states, and Australian citizenship in most states, and the results of the referendum had no effect on those states that were the exceptions.
Year level
8; 9; 10; 11; 12
Aboriginal peoples
Political campaigns
Learning area
Studies of society and environment
History/Historical knowledge and understandings
Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change
© Curriculum Corporation and National Archives of Australia, 2009, except where indicated under Acknowledgements