On this day …….. 27th May 1967
Aboriginal people became Australian citizens in 1947, when a separate Australian citizenship was created for the first time. Prior to this, all Australians were “British subjects”. Aboriginal people gained the vote in Commonwealth territories in 1965, and earlier in different states, according to various state laws. The referendum of 27 May 1967 approved two amendments to the Australian constitution relating to Indigenous Australians, removing two sections from the Constitution. The first was a phrase in Section 51 (xxvi) which 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.” 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 was Section 127, which stated: “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. This was not a reference to the census, as Aboriginal people living in settled areas were counted in Commonwealth censuses before 1967. Rather, the section related to calculating the population of the states and territories for the purpose of allocating seats in Parliament and per capita Commonwealth grants. This prevented Queensland and Western Australia using their large Aboriginal populations to gain extra seats or extra funds. The referendum was endorsed by over 90% of voters and carried in all six states. Ultimately, the real legislative and political impact of the 1967 referendum was to enable the federal government to take action in the area of Aboriginal Affairs, introducing policies to encourage self-determination and financial security for Aborigines.