To ensure the voters are aware of the reasons for the proposed Constitution alterations they will vote on at the Referendum, Case Committees are formed from amongst members of both Houses, with a 'Yes' committee and a 'No' committe. When Parliament passes a proposal unanimously, a 'No' committee is not formed, as it was with the 1967 Referendum in regard to question 2 about the Aboriginal peoples. The 'Case for Yes' and a 'Case for No' arguments should be of no more than 2,000 words for each question. The content is agreed upon and authorised by a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate within 4 weeks of the Bill being passed.
These two pages set out the official case for voting 'yes' in the 1967 referendum on changing the wording in sections 51 and 127 of the Australian Constitution in relation to Indigenous people. The pages, part of a statement sent out to all eligible voters at least 14 days prior to the date of the referendum [polling day], summarise arguments in favour of altering the Constitution to allow the Australian parliament to legislate in relation to Indigenous people and of repealing the section excluding them from being counted in the national census. The final part indicates that all the major political parties and political leaders were in support.
- The 'yes' case was given unanimous support by the major political leaders and parties and it was decided that it was not necessary to draft a 'no' case. This support, along with the way in which the ‘yes’ case was framed, led to its ultimate success. At the 27 May 1967 referendum, all states and over 90.77 % of voters voted 'yes', which was the highest 'yes' vote ever recorded in a federal referendum.
- The 'yes' case offers an explanation for Section 127 (that Aboriginal people were not counted in censuses), stating that in 1900 there would have been significant practical barriers to counting Aboriginal people and that those difficulties would no longer be an issue in 1967. Some historians dispute this, believing that because population is used to determine the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives, the provision was meant to stop states with high Aboriginal populations gaining more seats.
- The 'yes' case does not explain why Section 51 (xxxvi), precluding the Australian Parliament from legislation for Aboriginal peoples in the states, was included in the Constitution when it was drafted. It does, however, offer arguments for why it should be removed.
- The 'yes' case argued for the removal from the Constitution of any words that could be interpreted as discriminatory against Aboriginal peoples. It also stressed that states would not lose their existing power to legislate for Aboriginal peoples but, rather, would have the opportunity to cooperate with the Commonwealth Government.
- The 'case for yes' said little about what the Australian Parliament would do with its power to legislate for Aboriginal Australians, except to say it will act in their 'best interests'. The first Commonwealth Government body with responsibility for Aboriginal affairs was the Council of Aboriginal Affairs and Office of Aboriginal Affairs, 1967-72. In 1971-72 the Department of Environment, Aborigines and the Arts assumed responsibility and, eventually, the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 led to the creation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1972-90.
- There were two questions put to the voters at the 1967 Referendum. The first question, known as the ‘Nexus question’ related to Section 24 'Constitution of House of Representatives', which is about the balance of power within the Parliament. Section 24 states that the number of members of the Representatives "shall be, as nearly as practicable, twice the number of the Senators". The 'nexus question' proposed that the Constitution be alternated "to increase the number of Members of the House of Representatives without necessarily increasing the number of Senators".
- If you click on the 'Reference' link in the 'Record' tab, it will take you to the Prime Minister’s Department file in which the complete 1967 Referendum Case document is located. (pages 29-37)
- The 'nexus question' was not passed as it did not receive the 'double majority' required. It received a vote of only 40.25% nationally and only 1 state, New South Wales, voting in favour.