Equanimity

Local sustainability

How plebiscites and referendums work

“In Australia, a referendum is a vote used to approve a change to the Australian Constitution… A plebiscite (also known as an advisory referendum) is used to decide a national question that does not affect the Constitution. … It can be used to test whether the government has enough public [support] [sic] to go ahead with a proposed action. Unlike a referendum, the decision reached in a plebiscite does not have any legal force.”

“Suitcase Brigade of women opposed to changes to six o’clock closing” by State Library of South Australia is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There have only been three national plebiscites in Australia:

  • 1916: military service conscription (defeated)
  • 1917: reinforcement of the Australian Imperial Force overseas (defeated)
  • 1977: choice of Australia’s national song (‘Advance Australia Fair’ preferred.)
Poster from the 1916 Conscription Plebiscite licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Only the Australian parliament can authorise the holding of a plebiscite… an enabling bill proposing the plebiscite and setting out its purpose must be passed… The bill thereby becomes an Act enabling a vote to be conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission. The enabling legislation may or may not specify any actions expected of the government as a result of the plebiscite.”

A Postal Survey (used during the same sex marriage debate) must be initiated by the Treasurer who requests that the ABS conduct it.

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