Plebiscites

When an issue put to the vote does not affect the Constitution it is called a plebiscite. A plebiscite is not defined in the Australian Constitution, the Electoral Act or the Referendum Act.

Governments can hold plebiscites to test whether people either support or oppose a proposed action on an issue. The government is not bound by the 'result' of a plebiscite as it is by the result of a Constitutional referendum. Federal, state and territory governments have held plebiscites on various issues.

Under s. 7A of the Electoral Act, the AEC can conduct a plebiscite as a fee-for-service election, with the AEC entering into 'an agreement, on behalf of the Commonwealth, for the supply of goods or services to a person or body'. The rules for a plebiscite or fee-for-service election are normally contained in the terms of the agreement between the AEC and the person funding the election.

Military service plebiscites were held in 1916 and 1917 but, as they were not proposals to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution did not apply. Voters in all federal territories were permitted to vote. Both the military service plebiscites sought a mandate for conscription and were defeated.

Dates and results of the two Military Service plebiscites

Name

Issue of writ

Polling day

Result

Military Service

18 September 1916

28 October 1916

Not Carried

Military Service

10 November 1917

20 December 1917

Not Carried

See also

Updated: 3 April 2020
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