This website will be progressively updated as the final outcome of the election of 2 July is known, and as the 45th Parliament meets.

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2016 federal election

12 May 2016

A double dissolution election will be held on 2 July. When a double dissolution occurs, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are dismissed (dissolved) in order for a federal election to be held. This is the only time all 76 senators stand for election.

Unlike the members of the House and the four territory senators who are elected for three years, state senators have a six-year term. Normally the Senate is elected on a rotating basis with half these state senators elected every three years. When an election for the House of Representatives is called, a half-Senate election is usually held at the same time.

Timetable for an election

Once the three-year term of the House of Representatives ends or if the House is dissolved earlier, the Governor-General issues writs. These are legal documents instructing the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to hold elections for the 150 members of the House of Representatives and the four territory senators. State governors issue writs for the election of the state senators.

Writs must be issued within ten days of Parliament being dissolved. The writs are like a timetable for the election. They list dates for the following:

  • close of rolls – people who are eligible (allowed) to vote and who are not enrolled with the AEC have one week to put their names on the electoral roll, or update their enrolment details
  • close of nominations – candidates are given between 10 and 27 days after the issue of writs to register with the AEC. A list of candidates is made public the next day
  • election – this is the day when most people cast their vote. It is always held on a Saturday and must be at least 33 days after the issue of the writs
  • return of writs – this is the official confirmation of the poll and occurs after all the votes have been counted. The writs for the House of Representatives and territory senators are signed by the Australian Electoral Commissioner and returned to the Governor-General. Writs for the state senators are signed by the electoral officer for each state and returned to the state Governor. The signed writs list the successful candidates.

Parliament must sit within 30 days of the return of the writs.

2016 election timetable

Announcement of election

Sunday 8 May 2016

Issue of writs

Monday 16 May 2016

Close of rolls

8pm Monday 23 May 2016

Close of candidate nominations

12 midday Thursday 9 June 2016

Declaration of candidate nominations

12 midday Friday 10 June 2016

Close of postal vote applications

6pm Wednesday 29 June 2016

Election day

Saturday 2 July 2016

Return of writs (latest date)

Monday 8 August 2016

The results for most of the seats in the House of Representatives are normally known on election night. This means it is usually clear which party (or coalition of parties) has the support of the majority of members in the House and is likely to form government. The Senate votes take longer to count and the final results for this chamber may not be known for several weeks.

More information

AEC

Indigenous Australians and the Constitution

20 December 2013

Recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution builds on steps taken since federation to make the Parliament and nation more inclusive.

At the opening of the 44th Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, both reaffirmed their commitment to recognising Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution.

A first step was taken towards this in the previous Parliament with the passage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012. The bill formally recognised Indigenous Australians as the first peoples of Australia and acknowledged 'their unique history, culture and connection to their traditional lands and waters'. It also set out the Parliament's intention to hold a referendum (a vote of the people) on the proposal to recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. The bill was unanimously supported and passed by the Parliament and received Royal Assent on 27 March 2013.

Presenting the bill to the House of Representatives, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, said 'The Australian Constitution is the foundation document for our laws and our government, but it is silent on the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples—the first Australians…today this parliament is taking an important step towards changing that situation. Towards a successful referendum that unites and strengthens our nation'.

Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, subsequently told the House, 'We must never feel guilt for the things already done in this nation's history, but we can and must feel responsibility for the things that remain undone. No gesture speaks more deeply to the healing of our nation's fabric than amending our nation's founding charter'. Then Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, said, 'We need to atone for the omissions and for the hardness of heart of our forebears to enable us all to embrace the future as a united people'.

Indigenous Australians did not have a say in drafting or approving the Constitution. At the end of the 19th century, there was a widespread belief that Indigenous Australians were a dying race who needed to be 'protected' or looked after. Around this time the various colonial and later state parliaments passed Aboriginal Protection Acts which allowed them to put Indigenous Australians on reserves and make them wards of the state. Their movements were restricted and they were even told where to work and who they could marry and mix with. If Indigenous Australians had little or no say in their own lives, it is no surprise that they were not given a say in the Constitution.

In fact, Indigenous Australians were only referred to twice in the Constitution and in both cases it was to exclude them from federal governance. Firstly, section 51 of the Constitution, which outlines the law-making powers of the federal Parliament, stated that the Parliament could make laws with respect to 'people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any state'. This provision is referred to as the race power. It was included in the first draft of the Constitution in part because New Zealand was considering joining the federation and did not want a Parliament based in Australia making laws for the Maori people. As well, there was a desire to maintain the British heritage of the new nation and the race power allowed the Parliament to restrict and control immigration.

However, it also gave the states, rather than the federal government, responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. This meant, as Indigenous activist Faith Bandler points out, 'Aboriginal people lived under six different laws. Each state had its own law'. Indigenous Australians who moved between states were often not aware of the different rules. They could be arrested for doing something in one state that was legal in another. Bandler says '…there was a great need to abolish those state laws and to bring everyone under...the federal law'.

Secondly, section 127 (xxvi) of the Constitution directed that 'in reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted'. This effectively meant that Indigenous Australians were not regarded as citizens of the new nation. Faith Bandler recalls telling Prime Minister the Hon Harold Holt, 'If your government is asked how many sheep you have in this country, how many horses, they will be told. Ask them how many Indigenous people there are and they wouldn't have a clue'. Under both section 127 and section 51, Indigenous Australians were treated differently or separate to other Australians.

In the late 1950s, Faith Bandler and other activists, including human rights campaigner Jessie Street, set up the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). The group campaigned for the removal of section 127 (xxvi) from the Constitution and to have the reference to 'aboriginal race' removed from section 51. In 1963, FCAATSI presented a series of petitions to federal Parliament calling on it to hold a referendum to make these changes. Over one million people signed the petitions, each of which was tabled by a different member of parliament each day that Parliament sat – a strategy designed to keep the issue on the agenda.

However, the Parliament did not act until two years later when the 'Freedom Ride' focused national attention on the issue. Inspired by similar action taken by the American Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Ride was organised by a group of students from Sydney University and led by Charles Perkins, an Arrernte man who became the first Indigenous Australian to graduate from university. The group hired a bus and travelled through towns in western and coastal New South Wales to expose the circumstances of Indigenous Australians in these areas, in particular the discrimination they experienced. Most lived in sub-standard housing and received lower wages, had less access to education and suffered poorer health and lower life expectancy than other Australians. In some places they were banned from public facilities such as the local swimming pool and had segregated seating in cinemas. The Freedom Ride received wide coverage in the media. Many Australians were shocked by these reports and began to feel that the federal government should take responsibility for Indigenous issues.

In March 1967, the Parliament unanimously passed the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) Bill 1967. This amended section 51 of the Constitution to remove reference to the 'aboriginal race' and repealed section 127. However, the Constitution can only be changed if the Australian people also agree, and on 27 May they voted on the proposal in a referendum. Nearly 91 per cent of the population approved the changes – the highest 'yes' vote ever recorded in a referendum.

In a sense, these changes meant that for the first time Indigenous Australians were acknowledged as full citizens of the nation. They would now be counted in the national census and the federal Parliament was given the power to make laws for them. Historian Russell McGregor observes, 'the significance of the referendum lay in its symbolic affirmation of Aboriginal people's acceptance into the national community'.

The success of the 1967 referendum was largely due to the increased community awareness of the issues facing Indigenous Australians and bi-partisan support for the 'Yes' case. Unusually, the government did not prepare a 'No' case for the referendum. The 'Yes' case appealed to white Australians' sense of fairness. It stated 'Section 127 is completely out of harmony with our national attitudes and modern thinking. It has no place in our Constitution in this age' and 'Our personal sense of justice, our common sense, and our international reputation in a world in which racial issues are being highlighted every day, require that we get rid of this out-moded provision'.

While the 1967 referendum removed two discriminatory provisions from the Constitution, it also removed the only direct references to Indigenous Australians. In December 2010, the Gillard government appointed the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to investigate how best to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in our founding document. The Panel included Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts and members of parliament. Following extensive community consultations, it recommended that the recognition be included in a preamble to a new section of the Constitution. The Panel said it should acknowledge the prior occupation of Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, their relationship with their traditional lands and waters and their continuing cultures, languages and history.

In passing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Bill 2012, the Parliament acknowledged that community support is essential if the proposed referendum is to be successful. Presenting the bill to the House of Representatives, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, said 'We do not underestimate the challenge of achieving nation-wide consensus. Change will not happen without support from across the political spectrum and the support of the majority of Australians'.

In 2012, the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was set up to identify ways to engage the community and build support for changing the Constitution to acknowledge Indigenous Australians as the first peoples of the nation. Following the work of the committee in the 43rd Parliament, another was established in December 2013 to consider the recommendations made by the expert panel and make its own recommendations on the wording of the acknowledgment and where it should appear in the Constitution, as well as the timing of the referendum.