Over the weekend, Australians voted against a proposal which would have amended the Australian Constitution to recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The vote, known as a referendum, is the only way the Australian Constitution can be changed and requires a ‘double majority’ – a national majority of voters and at least four of the country’s six states – to pass. There have been 45 referendums since the Australian Constitution took effect in 1901; only eight have been successful, and none without bipartisan support.
By contrast, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times since its ratification in 1789. Changes to the US Constitution do not involve a compulsory vote. Instead, constitutional changes require an onerous proposal and ratification process whereby an amendment proposal is requested by either a two-thirds vote of both legislative chambers, or two-thirds of states; and then is ratified by three-quarters of the US State legislatures or three-quarters of state ratifying conventions in each state. While the US Constitution has been changed more than the Australian Constitution, it has also faced approximately 11,848 proposals for amendment.
This article was first published in the weekly 46th newsletter. Subscribe to the 46th here.