Hold a referendum

Explore how the Constitution can be changed through a referendum in this classroom activity. Investigate the role of Australia’s Head of State and decide, as a nation, whether or not to change it.

Students
Years 5 to 12
Duration
1 to 2 Lessons
Related Resource
Create a new federation

Getting started

  1. Explain to the class the meaning of the terms constitutional monarchy and republic.
  2. As a class discuss the powers of the Governor-General, using the Governor-General fact sheet.
  3. As a class, ‘think, pair, share': Should Australia remain a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen as our head of state OR should we become a republic by replacing the Queen with a president?
  4. Explain that if this change were to occur, our Constitution would need to be changed. This is done by a referendum in which the people of Australia make the decision.
  5. Explain to students that a committee has investigated options and has recommended that IF Australia were to become a republic, the best option is:

Parliamentary republicanism—a committee compiles a list of candidates for president, via community consultation, narrowed to one by the Prime Minister. Parliament would vote and a two-third parliamentary majority is required for approval. The President would be the new head of state and all ties to the British monarch cut. The President would have the same powers as the current Governor-General with a 5 year term.

Referendum

  1. Divide the class into three groups to vote, assigning each group a colour—red, blue and yellow.
  2. Using the referendum ballot paper template, create a ballot paper for your referendum. If you have access to coloured paper, you could differentiate the ballot papers of each group by colour.
  3. Hold a secret referendum ballot one group at a time and keep the ballots of each group separate from the other groups.
  4. Count the votes one group at a time with two scrutineers—people checking the count.
  5. Using the voting table, tally the number of yes and no votes for each group.
  6. Determine the yes/no result for each group.
  7. Determine the overall yes/no result.
  8. Complete the table to determine if the referendum was successful.

What happened?

  1. Discuss with the class what happened in your referendum. Has the constitution now been changed? Will the new system be adopted?
  2. Using the Changing the Australian Constitution – double majority graphic, explain that in Australia, a double majority is needed to change the constitution—that is, a majority of voters in a majority of states as well as a majority of all Australians.
  3. Explain that in Australia's history only 8 of 44 proposed changes to the Constitution have been agreed to.
  4. As a class discuss:
    • Why have most referendums have been unsuccessful?
    • Should there be another way to change Australia's Constitution? If so, what should it be?