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Campaigning for a YES vote

Public figures, such as Faith Bandler, religious leaders, and children featured in the campaign for a YES vote on the Aboriginal question.
Bishop Garnsey, Faith and Lilon Bandler campaigning for a YES vote, 1967
Public figures, such as Faith Bandler, religious leaders, and children featured in the campaign for a YES vote on the Aboriginal question.
Source: Audiovisual Archive, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra

The usual practice when a question is put at referendum is for the arguments for and against the change to be set out for voters. In this case, however, the changes were supported by all major parties so no opposing case was presented.

Page 1 of 2 This is the official government argument for a YES vote for the <em>Constitutional Alteration (Aboriginals) Bill 1967</em>.

The government case for YES

Source: A463, 1965/5445, Constitution alteration bills - Procedure in Parliament and referendum, 1967, National Archives of Australia, Canberra

More info on The government case for YES

Churches came out in favour of a YES vote. The Australian Council of Churches, the Methodist Commission on Aboriginal Affairs and the Society of Friends had developed policies in Aboriginal affairs which favoured greater Commonwealth power in formulating and implementing policy for Aboriginal advancement. Some journalists made dire predictions for the society if the NO vote was the stronger.

Gaining the public support of the churches was crucial at a time when many Australians were influenced by the views of the clergy.

Australian bishops say YES, 1967

Gordon Bryant papers, MS 8256, National Library of Australia

More info on Australian bishops say YES, 1967

Political commentator explained that a 'No' vote would be understood overseas as meaning that Australians were opposed to advancing the welfare of Aboriginal people.

'What a "No" vote would mean' by Bruce Grant

The Age, 7 April 1967

More info on 'What a "No" vote would mean' by Bruce Grant

A lively debate was conducted through the letters to the editor pages of daily newspapers, and campaigners wrote directly to the Prime Minister, Harold Holt, urging him to publicly support a YES vote.

Page 1 of 4 Letter to the Prime Minister from the Public Relations Director, Harold Blair Aboriginal Children's Project, urging him to publicly support the vote YES campaign, 10 May 1967.

Letter to the Prime Minister, 10 May 1967

National Archives of Australia

More info on Letter to the Prime Minister, 10 May 1967

Aboriginal spokespeople gained effective media coverage throughout the campaign. The government supported the passage of the referendum but it had no plans for change.

Well known and respected Aboriginal leaders such as Bill Onus helped to create positive support for the referendum.

Bill Onus campaigning for a YES vote at the 1967 Referendum

Courtesy Herald and Weekly Times, May 1967

More info on Bill Onus campaigning for a YES vote at the 1967 referendum

Faith Bandler spoke to Melbourne University students urging them to vote for the Aboriginal referendum.

Faith Bandler, New South Wales director of the 'Vote YES for Aborigines' campaign

Courtesy The Sun (Melbourne), 19 May 1967

More info on Faith Bandler, New South Wales director of the 'Vote YES for Aborigines' campaign

Ruby Hammond working to win the support of Adelaide politician, Andrew Jones, for a YES vote on the Aboriginal question.

Aboriginal campaigner, Ruby Hammond, 1967

Series 11, Folder 11 (Box 175), Gordon Bryant Papers, MS 8256, National Library of Australia, Canberra

More info on Aboriginal campaigner, Ruby Hammond, 1967

The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, (FCAATSI), set up a national 'Vote YES' directorate headed by Gordon Bryant and Joe McGinness. State directors were also appointed to run the campaign in each state. It was FCAATSI, rather than the government, which campaigned strongly for a YES vote.

Aboriginal and Islander delegates and observers from all over the country met in Canberra. Kneeling: Bert Groves, Joe McGinness and Doug Nicholls.
Indigenous delegates and observers at the 1967 FCAATSI conference in Canberra
Aboriginal and Islander delegates and observers from all over the country met in Canberra. Kneeling: Bert Groves, Joe McGinness and Doug Nicholls.
Source: Audio Visual Archive, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra

Their campaign was driven by the view that the vote for change needed to be overwhelming in order to persuade the federal government that it had a responsibility to use the power provided by the amendment. Notice the strategies used to persuade voters in the following four different appeals.

Produced by the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations, a FCAATSI affiliate.

'The rights of the Australian Aborigines AND YOU'

Christophers papers, MS 7992, National Library of Australia

More info on 'The rights of the Australian Aborigines AND YOU'

This Vote YES poster was authorised by Joe McGinness, President of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

Vote YES poster, 1967

Gordon Bryant Papers, 1917-1991, MS 8256/11, Box 175, National Library of Australia

More info on Vote YES poster, 1967

Images of babies and children were frequently used in the referendum campaign.

Pamphlet, 'Right Wrongs Write YES for Aborigines on May 27'

Box 175, Gordon Bryant Papers, 1917-1991, MS8256/11, National Library of Australia

More info on Pamphlet, 'Right Wrongs Write YES for Aborigines on May 27'

Page 1 of 2 Images of children - one white, one black - were commonly used in the pamphlets produced by activist organisations to put the case for a YES vote on the Aboriginal question.

Vote 'YES' for Aborigines

Gordon Bryant Papers, 1917-1991, MS8256/11, Box 175, in folder 'Campaign material - referendum regarding Aboriginal affairs 27.5.67', National Library of Australia

More info on Vote 'YES' for Aborigines

Throughout the 1960s, states had been removing discriminatory laws and, by this time, discriminatory state legislation existed only in Western Australia and Queensland. With very minor exceptions the discriminatory clauses in Commonwealth legislation had been removed as well. Campaigners did not draw attention to this fact. The 'rights' rhetoric continued to be used as a strategy that they believed would be most likely to persuade voters.

Further resources

People

Gordon Bryant
Joe McGinness

Organisations

Methodist Commission on Aboriginal Affairs
Society of Friends
Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders



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