2023 Referendum: what’s it about?

All Australian citizens aged 18 and older will be asked to vote in a referendum on October 14 this year.

It’s been a while since Australia held a referendum, with the most recent held in 1999. So you might be wondering what a referendum is and what it means for you.

This year’s referendum is all about whether to establish a permanent Parliamentary body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Establishing an Indigenous Voice means changing the Australian Constitution – the set of rules by which Australia is run.

To change these rules, there needs to be a national vote called a referendum.

The referendum question will be:

“A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.

Do you approve this proposed alteration?”

The Australian Electoral Commission will deliver a pamphlet to all Australian households outlining cases for and against the implementation of The Voice. The pamphlet will be delivered at least two weeks before referendum day and is also currently available on the AEC website.

The AEC yes/no case pamphlet can be found on the AEC yes/no case pamphlet webpage.

It is important that you seek information from a variety of reputable sources to help you make your decision.

Do I have to vote?

All Australian citizens aged 18 and over must vote in the referendum. To vote you must be on the electoral roll. Note that International students are not eligible to vote in Australian elections or referendums.

If you have previously enrolled to vote, you do not need to re-enrol for a referendum. However, if you have changed your name or address, you’ll need to update your details.

 To find out how to enrol to vote, or to change your details visit the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website.    

When do I vote?

Federal Government has recently announced the referendum date will be Saturday, 14 October 2023.

Where can I vote?

You can vote in person at a polling station on the day of the referendum, or if you are eligible, you can complete an early vote or a postal vote. Visit the AEC website for details.

How do I vote? Is it the same as during an election? 

Voting in a referendum is different to voting in an election. During an election you are voting for candidates to form a government. When you vote in a referendum you are asked a question, proposing a change to the Australian Constitution. If you approve of the change you write ‘yes’ in the box provided. If you do not approve, you vote ‘no’.

At the polling place you can ask a polling official, a friend or family member for help. Don’t worry if you make a mistake – you can ask for another ballot paper and start again.

What’s next?

There must a double majority ‘yes’ vote for the proposed change to be approved.

A double majority means that a national majority (more than half of voters) from all states and territories must vote ‘yes’ AND a majority (more than half) of voters in at least four of the six states must also vote ‘yes’.

The votes of people living in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory or any of Australia’s external territories count towards the national majority only.

If a double majority is achieved, the results of the referendum must be carried out by Parliament and the constitution changed. If a double majority is not achieved, the Constitution will not be altered.

To find out more about how referendums work, visit the AEC website.

La Trobe resources to help keep you informed

To help you learn more about the referendum, the constitution, Treaty and more, The La Trobe Law School students and staff have created these handy videos:

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