Changing the Australian Constitution
The Australian Constitution sets out the basic rules for the government of Australia, including how the state and federal governments share their powers. It provides the underlying framework, in terms of national government, for the ‘way things are done’ in Australia on a day to day basis.
The Constitution itself establishes the rule of law, the right to vote and protects religious freedoms.
Because of this, and although it is more than one hundred years old, the Constitution continues to have a significant role in Australian society today. Because the authors of the Constitution understood it must remain a living document in a changing world, they ensured it included a mechanism – a referendum – that allows the Australian people to change the Constitution to reflect contemporary Australian values and priorities. The Constitution belongs to all Australians and can only be changed with the approval of the Australian people.
Section 128 of the Constitution outlines the very specific processes that must be followed when a change to the Constitution is proposed. The proposed change must start as a Constitution Alteration bill (a proposed law) that is presented to the federal Parliament. If the bill is passed by the Parliament, the proposal is then presented to the Australian people in a ‘referendum’.
In a referendum, every Australian who is enrolled to vote (that is, Australian citizens aged 18 years and over) is asked to vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the proposal to change the Constitution. It is a fundamental freedom enjoyed by Australians to participate in making the decision whether a proposal should be approved. Voting is compulsory and is similar to voting in the federal election. Polling places are established in all federal divisions, and polling day is always a Saturday.
A proposed change will only be approved if a ‘double majority’ is achieved; that is, if:
a majority of people across the whole nation approve the change (including people in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory); and
a majority of people in at least four of Australia’s six States approve the change.
The proposal is rejected, and the Constitution will not be changed, if both majorities are not achieved.
The Australian Government announced that Australians will be asked to approve a proposed change to section 96 of the Constitution in a referendum.
Information about the proposed change is available in the Section 96 of the Australian Constitution fact sheet or at www.referendum2013.gov.au