The referendum process is the only way that the written words of the Australian Constitution can be changed. This process is set out in section 128, the final section of the Constitution. Changes to the Constitution can affect the division of law-making powers. Therefore, the founders of the Constitution designed this section to give voters a say in constitutional reform and to prevent the Commonwealth from changing the Constitution itself (and possibly increase its own power).
A proposal for a referendum can come from a range of sources, including parliament, a constitutional convention, parliamentary committees and pressure groups.
The Bill must be approved by an absolute majority of both houses of parliament. It goes through the same legislative process as any Bill. Alternatively, the Bill can be approved by one house twice (within three months), from which point the Governor-General can intervene and put the proposal to the people.
Two to six months after the Bill is passed, and after the public is informed about the details of the proposal, the proposal is put to the people in the form of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.
The referendum proposal can only pass if it satisfies two different forms of a majority. The majority of voters in Australia must approve (50% of the population plus one) and the majority of states must approve (the majority of people in 4/6 states).
The Bill will go to the Governor-General for royal assent.
The wording of the Constitution is changed.
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