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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Indigenous federal voting rights




It is 100 years since the right and responsibility to enrol to vote became enshrined in Australian law and 50 years since all Indigenous Australians became entitled to vote in federal elections. (Some, but not all, adult Indigenous Australians, were able to vote prior to 1962.) Celebrations are in order.
 In March 1962 the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was amended to enable Indigenous people to enrol to vote in federal elections, but it was not compulsory for them to enrol. It was made an offence for anyone to use undue influence or pressure to induce them to enrol. Once they enrolled, however, voting was compulsory.
 The story of Indigenous enfranchisement is a long and complex one. There are two valuable accounts available on the Australian Electoral Commission website here and here.
This year has been  designated the 2012 Year of Enrolment and the AEC will be running a number of activities to remind people of their electoral rights and responsibilities and to check that their enrolments up to date. These will include a mid-year mail-out to all Australian households, along with a public relations and online advertising campaign.
Major celebratory events include a National Indigenous Youth Parliament.  Together with the YMCA, the AEC is sponsoring a week-long gathering of fifty young Indigenous people from all States and Territories.  A centrepiece will be a formal sitting of the Youth Parliament on the weekend of 26–27 May where bills addressing Indigenous issues will be debated. Bills agreed by the Indigenous Youth Parliament will be presented to the Government and Opposition.
In preparation for the parliament, participants have already been mentored through the process of writing a bill, and will spend their week in Canberra learning how government works and how laws are made. They will participate in professionally-led workshops, developing their public speaking abilities and honing their media skills.
Under the banner of its Indigenous Electoral Participation Program (IEPP) the AEC has been renewing its efforts to encourage more Indigenous Australians to enrol and vote. This includes the production of a DVD, Louder than One Voice ,that outlines the history of the Indigenous vote and includes interviews with Indigenous Australians about their strong belief in the values of democratic participation.
Some estimates indicate that less than 50 per cent of eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be enrolled to vote.  On 2006 census figures that means there are probably more than 140 000 Indigenous people who are eligible to vote are not enrolled to do so. Of all Australians, an estimated 1.5 million eligible voters are not enrolled —the equivalent to having an extra 15 electorates or another state the size of Western Australia.
Australian citizens aged 18 years and over can enrol and vote, change their address or check their enrolment details by going to the AEC website.