On this day, 27 May 1967 the Australian people voted with an overwhelming 94% ‘yes’ vote to provide power to the Commonwealth Parliament to amend the Constitution to enable them to make special laws pertaining to Aboriginal people. The Referendum allowed for the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the national census and provision of equal civil rights.

Photo source: AIATSIS

The pressure for change came in the 1960’s by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal activists drawing attention through a ‘yes’ petition campaign seeking to amend the Constitution to provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with civil rights.  Before 1967, under the Constitution, Aboriginal people did not have equal rights to other Australians.  State government law and policy controlled the lives of Aboriginal people.  With the change to the Constitution, and recognition as citizens, Aboriginal people received freedoms like all other citizens including the right to marry whoever they chose, to move or travel freely, own property by choice, be the legal guardian of their own children, and receive equal wages to other Australians. 

Even though Aboriginal people had the right to vote before 1901, once the Constitution was enacted the right was removed. Aboriginal people were given the right to vote in Federal elections in 1962 and all State elections by 1965.

The Referendum did not end discrimination or inequality. But it was a shift away from the discriminatory assimilationist polices, towards an approach of self-determination and reconciliation. This day is symbolic in that it serves to raise awareness regarding Aboriginal rights and welfare.

Photo source: AAP/National Library of Australia