Contributed by Glen Davis
Referendums in Australia very rarely succeed. We have an upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament, enshrining a voice for First Nations people in the Australian Constitution. At this stage it’s looking increasingly unlikely it will succeed.
Recent polling shows the early support for Yes has dissipated while the No vote grows. Is the result now a fait accompli?
Photo by David Gray/AFP/Getty
Let’s go back to 1951, it was a very different world then, a very different political reality. On 22 September1951 Australians voted on an approval to alter the Australian Constitution to allow the Federal Government to make punitive laws against those deemed Communists, and the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).
The Federal Government led by Sir Robert ‘Pig Iron Bob Menzies had won the previous election as the world plunged deeper into the Cold War. In 1950 Menzies Liberal-Country Party (LCP) government introduced into parliament the Communist Party dissolution bill. It was designed to dissolve the communist Party of Australia (CPA), seize its assets without compensation, and if the Governor General deemed someone a communist, they would have their employment prospects, also civil rights severely restricted.
This legislation went through the Australian Parliament being enacted into law on 20 October 1950. This very much declared the CPA, and its members, as being outside both the legitimacy of Australian law, and civil society.
The CPA, and fair-minded Australians moved quickly to tackle this onslaught. A High Court challenge followed, and on 9/ March 1951, the High Court, with a 6-1 majority, ruled the legislation invalid.
Menzies then sought a referendum to allow a change to the Australian Constitution allowing the Australian parliament to ban the CPA.
When the referendum was announced over 80 percent of Australian voters supported Menzies’ actions. Three months before the deciding vote polls showed 73.3 percent of voters supported the banning of the CPA.
A growing grassroots campaign sought to draw the attention of the Australian public to these massive attacks on the civil rights of the Australian people. Remember, these were the sort of rights Australians fought alongside the Soviet Union, and other democracies, to protect from the horrors of fascism.
Many voters came to see that giving the Federal Government these sweeping powers had consequences. Getting closer to the actual day the proposed changes still had majority support. Opinion Polls predicted a comprehensive victory for Menzies’ proposal.
A majority of voters said no. Only 3 states voted yes.
Is the Voice referendum going to reach a similar conclusion with the Yes campaign receiving a late surge?