Referenda

A referendum allows eligible electors to express an opinion on adopting or changing public policy issues or their constitution. In Australia, referenda are initiated by the Commonwealth, State or Territory parliaments.

Like general elections, voting in referenda is compulsory for all enrolled electors.

Australia's first ever referendum was held in South Australia in 1896 and dealt with matters relating to secular and religious education. Following the success of the South Australian referendum the process was then adopted countrywide at both State and Federal level.

The process for enacting a State referendum is as follows:

  1. A Bill containing the proposed changes is laid before, and discussed by, both houses of Parliament.
  2. After the Bill passes through Parliament, the electorate votes on the issue at a referendum.
  3. If a majority of voters at the referendum approve of the Bill, it may be sent to the Governor for official consent and may become law.

State referenda have included issues debated by Parliament such as daylight saving, trading hours for shops, and the closing time for pubs. The table below shows some of the referenda held in South Australia, including their results.

DateProposalVotes in favourVotes not
in favour
Passed

29/04/1899

'Are you in favour of the Amended Commonwealth Bill?'

'Are you in favour of extending the franchise for the Legislative Council to all householders as provided by the Bill passed by the House of Assembly in 1898?'

65,990

 

49,208

17,053

 

33,928

YES

 

YES

26/04/1911

'Are you in favour of increasing the payment of Members of Parliament to Three Hundred pounds per annum?'

42,934

89,042

NO

20/11/1965

‘Are you in favour of the promotion and conduct of Lotteries by the Government of the State?’ 344,886 142,196 YES

19/09/1970

‘Are you in favour of shops in the Metropolitan Planning Area and the Municipality of Gawler being permitted to remain open for trading until 9 pm on Fridays?’ 177,296 190,826 NO

06/11/1982

‘Are you in favour of Daylight Saving?’ 568,635 225,310 YES
09/02/1991 ‘Do you approve the Constitution (Electoral Redistribution) Amendment Bill, 1990?’ 649,906 197,244 YES

More information can be found in the publication South Australian referenda (PDF 818.35 KB).