The 1967 referendum, held on May 27 of that year, was a nationwide vote in Australia to amend the Constitution of Australia in relation to Indigenous Australians. The amendment that was proposed and ultimately passed with overwhelming support (more than 90% in favor) made two significant changes to the Constitution.
First, it removed two discriminatory sections, sections 51(xxvi) and 127, which had been used to justify discriminatory policies towards Indigenous Australians. Section 51(xxvi) gave the federal government the power to make laws with respect to “the people of any race, other than the aboriginal people in any State, for whom it is necessary to make special laws,” while section 127 stated that “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”
The removal of these sections effectively ended the legal justification for the government to discriminate against Indigenous Australians and marked a significant shift in the way Indigenous Australians were treated under the law.
Secondly, the 1967 referendum added a new section, 51A, which stated that the Commonwealth government has the power to make laws with respect to “the people of any race” and specifically gave the government the power to make laws for the benefit of Indigenous Australians. This new section provided a constitutional basis for the government to enact policies and programs aimed at improving the lives of Indigenous Australians and addressing the issues of poverty, health, and education that disproportionately affected Indigenous communities.
The 1967 referendum had a major impact on Indigenous Australians, as it marked a significant shift in the way they were treated under the law and provided a constitutional basis for the government to enact policies and programs aimed at improving their lives. The removal of the discriminatory sections 51(xxvi) and 127, and the addition of section 51A, provided the legal framework for the government to take action to address the issues of poverty, health, and education that disproportionately affected Indigenous communities and helped to pave the way for the recognition and protection of Indigenous rights in Australia.
However, it should be noted that while it was a significant step forward, the 1967 referendum did not immediately solve all the issues that Indigenous Australians faced and the government and society’s actions have been criticized for not going far enough, not being implemented effectively, and not being followed through with enough consistency and determination