The referendum that occurred on the 27th of May 1967, had an extremely significant impact on Australian Aboriginals. It represented an end to discrimination and the beginning of equal citizenship. The overpowering ‘Yes’ vote also showed that white Australians wanted social and political modification, and expected the Federal Government to do so. The referendum addressed the change to two sections of the constitution, 51 (xxvi) and 127, to remove certain words discriminating against the peoples of the Aboriginal race and another constitutional change which addressed the House of Representatives (refer to appendix 1). As a result of 90.77% of the votes being a ‘Yes’ vote, a number of changes were brought about in Australia.
A major change that arose as a result of the referendum was the beginning of “positive discrimination”. Even with unwillingness from the Government, WC Wentworth initiated a number of Federal programs aimed at satisfying Aboriginal needs. Before 1967 the Commonwealth Government had the capability to affect Indigenous affairs by using its power under s 96 (refer to appendix 2). However, the 1967 referendum granted the Federal government specific power to create laws concerning Indigenous affairs. The referendum did not give the Commonwealth exclusive responsibility for Indigenous Affairs, but rather it allowed for Commonwealth involvement. The first five years following the referendum, the Commonwealth government did not use its power in many significant ways. The first major use of the Indigenous affairs power happened when the Commonwealth Government established the first Office of Aboriginal Affairs, a counselling group that was given funds to attend to the most urgent needs of the Aboriginals, recommend policies and coordinate programs. The first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, WC Wentworth, was chosen in February 1968 and the Council for Aboriginal Affairs comprised of three non-Indigenous men: its Chairman Dr H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, Australian diplomat, Barrie Dexter, and anthropologist, William Stanner (refer to appendix 3).
Another change that occurred due to the 1967 referendum was that of providing a clarification on the citizenship status of the Indigenous people of Australia. By changing the constitution in section 127 to eliminate the singling out of the Indigenous Australians, it meant Aboriginals were included in estimates of the Australian population. However this did not give Indigenous peoples the right to vote (refer to appendix 4). After the referendum, all Aboriginal people were involved in shaping comparative representations of the people in each state, and therefore in the House of Representatives. Also, all Indigenous people were accounted for in the distribution of Commonwealth funds to state and territory governments, this funding was used for the establishment of a wide range of services. The change to the constitution made it possible to include Aboriginal people in the census and made it possible to make voting in Commonwealth elections compulsory for Indigenous Australians, although this did not happen until 1984. Not only did the referendum change who was able to be included in the census, or who had to vote in Commonwealth elections, it also meant Aboriginals counted as Australian citizens for the first time.
Along with the change of the wording within the constitution, the 1967 referendum effected the national census. Before 1967, there was a question included in the census to determine the number of ‘full blood’ Aboriginals. The phrase ‘full blood’ referred to Aboriginal people with an indigenous blood quantum of over 50%. The number of ‘full blood’ aborigines were then deducted from the national population total. Prior to 1967, society viewed Aboriginality as a disadvantage and many Indigenous people did not report their true origin or altered it from one to census to the next. As a result the quality of