Referendum poster, 1967

Referendum poster, 1967

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This is a black-and-white poster published by the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) to promote the 'yes' vote in the 1967 referendum to change two sections of the Australian Constitution relating to Indigenous Australians.

Educational value

  • The 1967 national referendum, advertised in this poster, proposed the removal of two discriminatory clauses from the Australian Constitution; one prevented the Commonwealth Government from legislating for Indigenous Australians and the other excluded Indigenous Australians from being counted in national censuses. On 27 May 1967 all states and over 90 per cent of voters accepted the changes, which had a long-term flow-on effect throughout the country.
  • The changes proposed in the referendum were the result of decades of Indigenous requests, petitions and protests. For example, Australian Government involvement in Aboriginal issues had been requested in the 'Ten Points' document adopted at the National Day of Mourning Conference in 1938. FCAATSI had waged a 10-year campaign for the referendum itself to be held.
  • Unlike this pamphlet, which urged voters to 'right wrongs', the 'yes' case was generally promoted as granting citizenship to Aboriginal people. This over-simplified the issues as the Constitution did not deal with 'citizenship' and since 1949 Australian citizenship had already been granted to every person born in Australia.
  • The basis for this pamphlet's call to 'right wrongs' was not that rights were conferred by the Constitution. Rights were given or denied by laws of the state and federal parliaments. State laws of the time effectively denied citizenship to Indigenous Australians by putting them under the restrictive and discriminatory rule of 'protection boards'. Passing the referendum would send a signal that the Australian people as a whole wanted these wrongs righted.
  • Under some state laws, Indigenous Australians could not leave reserves when they wanted, travel freely from place to place, control their own money or even marry without permission. These were some of the 'wrongs' to which the pamphlet was referring. It took many years before all states repealed these repressive laws.
  • The referendum changes only allowed for Indigenous Australians to be counted in the census and for new powers to be given to the Australian Government. There was no guarantee that the Federal Government would actually take any initiatives to achieve social justice for Indigenous Australians and it was very slow to enact its new powers. In effect, the changes had little effect on the lives of Indigenous Australians, who continued to face prejudice and discrimination.
  • Today some people still believe that the 1967 referendum gave Indigenous Australians voting rights. However, the Commonwealth Electoral Act had been amended to this end in 1962 and the various state laws had all been changed by 1965 to give Indigenous Australians the right to vote in state elections. In South Australia, Indigenous Australians had had the right to vote before Federation.
  • Although it took five years for any real change to result from the 'yes' vote, federal legislation was eventually enacted covering land rights, discriminatory practices, financial assistance and the preservation of cultural heritage. New census statistics in 1971 gave a clearer picture of the desperate state of Indigenous health, housing, education and employment and led to changes in government policy.