1977 Australian referendum (Referendums)

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1977 Australian Territorial Suffrage referendum

21 May 1977 (1977-05-21)

It is proposed to alter the Constitution so as to allow electors in the territories, as well as electors in the states, to vote at referendums on laws proposed to alter the Constitution.

Do you approve of the proposed law?
Votes %
Yes 5,805,669 77.72%
No 1,664,156 22.28%
Valid votes 7,469,825 98.21%
Invalid or blank votes 136,057 1.79%
Total votes 7,605,882 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 8,242,383 92.28%

The 1977 Referendums question was a successful amendment to the Australian constitution that allowed Australians living in territories to vote on future referendums. This question was put to voters alongside four others during 1977. With the success of the vote, the Constitution Alteration (Referendums) Bill 1977 passed. In future referenda, the votes of electors in the territories would be counted towards the national total, but would not be counted toward any state total.


It is proposed to alter the Constitution so as to allow electors in the territories, as well as electors in the states, to vote at referendums on proposed laws to alter the Constitution.

Do you approve the proposed law?


Result [1]
State Electoral roll Ballots issued For Against Informal
Vote % Vote %
New South Wales 3,007,511 2,774,388 2,292,822 83.92 439,247 16.08 42,319
Victoria 2,252,831 2,083,136 1,647,187 80.78 391,855 19.22 44,094
Queensland 1,241,426 1,138,842 670,820 59.58 455,051 40.42 12,971
South Australia 799,243 745,990 606,743 83.29 121,770 16.71 17,477
Western Australia 682,291 617,463 437,751 72.62 165,049 27.38 14,663
Tasmania 259,081 246,063 150,346 62.25 91,184 37.75 4,533
Total for Commonwealth 8,242,383 7,605,882 5,805,669 77.72 1,664,156 22.28 136,057
Results Obtained majority in all six States and an overall majority of 4,141,513 votes. Carried


At the time of Federation the very few people who lived in the Northern Territory voted as residents of South Australia. Territorians could therefore vote in constitutional referendums. When the Territory was surrendered to the Commonwealth in 1911, however, its citizens lost the vote in such referendums, due to the absence of reference to Territory voters in s. 128. Residents of the Australian Capital Territory were similarly restricted. In 1967 demonstrations against this restriction occurred in Alice Springs, as Territorians expressed their resentment at not being able to vote in the Aboriginals referendum.

In the 1974 referendum the Whitlam Government attempted to amend s. 128 in a double-pronged proposal. Territorial voting rights in referendums were sought, but the Government also proposed that constitutional amendments could be carried with just half of the states — instead of a majority of states — voting in favour. Only New South Wales supported the proposal, but it is likely that, had the Territories section been a separate question, it would have been ratified.

In 1977 the question of Territory votes was relatively uncontroversial, being carried in every state, gaining a national "yes" vote of 77.7 per cent, though Queensland (40.4 per cent) and Tasmania (37.8 per cent) had quite large "no" votes. It has been claimed that the high vote of approval was a reminder of Australia's honourable record of electoral reform — that the amendment had "Australian political tradition behind it".[2] Despite John Paul of the University of New South Wales dismissing the change as the granting of a "hollow privilege",[3] The Canberra Times stated that people in both Territories should be grateful, "for the universal acknowledgment that their natural right to vote in future referendums will now be given the force of law".[4]


  1. ^ Handbook of the 44th Parliament (2014) "Part 5 - Referendums and Plebiscites - Referendum results". Parliamentary Library of Australia.
  2. ^ J Holmes & C Sharman (1977). The Australian Federal System. Allen and Unwin. p. 96. cited in S Bennett (2003). "Research Paper no. 11 2002-03 The Politics of Constitutional Amendment".
  3. ^ JB Paul (1983). "Constitutional Amendment Australia's Experience". In R Lucy (ed.). The Pieces of Politics. Macmillan. p. 273. cited in S Bennett (2003). "Research Paper no. 11 2002-03 The Politics of Constitutional Amendment".
  4. ^ "The people speak". The Canberra Times. 23 May 1977. p. 2 – via National Library of Australia.


Amendments to the Constitution of Australia
5th amendment (1910) Senate Vacancies Amendment
Referendum amendment
Retirement of Judges amendment

Most recent amendments

External links[edit]