What does history tell us about referendums?

An upcoming lecture will provide historic context for The Voice referendum and what Australians can learn from it.

Professor Emerita Anne Twomey, a constitutional law expert at the University of Sydney, will lead the topical discussion and explore whether a referendum is still the best method of giving a voice to the people.

The free lecture: What Does History Tell Us about Australians and Referendums? will be held on Tuesday, 5 September and is supported by La Trobe University’s 150th Anniversary of Tertiary Education.

For the first time in 24 years, Australians are set to vote on a change to the Constitution that would introduce an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Few countries trust their people with the sacred responsibility of having the final say on changing the Constitution. But Sir John Quick did. As a politician in the 1890s, he was instrumental in giving a voice to the Australian people on the establishment of federation and in changing the Constitution. This voice was the referendum, which was a novel experiment for its time.

But, was his trust misplaced? That’s the question posed by Professor Emerita Twomey, who served as a member of the Commonwealth Government’s Constitution Expert Group on the Voice referendum.

The lecture will aim to answer these questions:

  • What does the referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice tell us about the effectiveness of the referendum process today?
  • Is the Voice compatible with the Constitution that Quick was involved in drafting during the 1890s?

Professor Emerita Twomey has worked in various roles, including Senior Research Officer for the High Court of Australia, researcher at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Research Service, a Secretary to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee for the Commonwealth Senate, and Policy Manager of the Legal Branch within the Cabinet Office of NSW.

Event details

  • The event will be held at The Capital Theatre, 50 View Street Bendigo, on 5 September between 6pm and 7.15pm.
  • The public lecture will be followed by networking opportunities and light refreshments.
  • Entry is free, but guests must register.

150 Years of Tertiary Education in Bendigo

What Does History Tell Us, part of the Sir John Quick Lecture Series, is the latest event to mark 150 years of tertiary education in Bendigo – a joint project between La Trobe University, Bendigo TAFE and the Bendigo Tertiary Education Anniversary Foundation (BTEAF).

The 150th anniversary celebrations provide multiple opportunities to explore the history, the ongoing impact, and the future of tertiary education in Bendigo.

So far, they have included the public lecture Empowering Minds: Navigating the Educational Landscape of Tomorrow and an Academic Procession.

Forthcoming events include lectures, exhibitions, reunions and forums that will take place across the city until the end of 2023.
Event details are available on the La Trobe Bendigo news page.


Jess Whitty - j.whitty@latrobe.edu.au, 0481 383 817