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Changing the Australian Constitution
In Australia, a referendum is a vote used to approve a change to the Australian Constitution. Section 128 of the Constitution sets out certain rules that must be followed in order for a change to be approved.
A proposed change to the Constitution must start as a bill (proposed law) presented to the federal Parliament. If the bill is passed by the Parliament, the proposal must then be presented to Australian voters in a referendum. The referendum must take place no sooner than two months and no later than six months after the bill is passed.
Before the referendum is held, members of parliament prepare arguments for or against the proposed change. These are sent to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which is in charge of running federal elections and referendums. The AEC arranges for the 'Yes' and 'No' cases, along with a statement of the proposed change, to be posted to every Australian on the electoral roll.
On polling day, the voting process is similar to that used for federal elections, in which polling places are established at schools and other public buildings around the country. Each voter's name is marked off the electoral roll and they are given a ballot paper. Voters then write 'Yes' or 'No' in a box opposite the proposed change on their ballot-paper.
A referendum is only passed if it is approved by a majority of voters across the nation and a majority of voters in a majority of states (this is known as a double majority). Territory voters are only counted in the national majority.
If a referendum is successful, the change must be implemented.
In Australia, a plebiscite (also known as an advisory referendum) is used to decide a national question that does not affect the Constitution. It can be used to test whether the government has sufficient support from the people to go ahead with a proposed action. Unlike a referendum, the decision reached in a plebiscite does not have any legal force.
Australia has held two national plebiscites, in 1916 and 1917, relating to the introduction of conscription during the First World War; both were defeated. No specific rules exist about the running of a plebiscite. In the event that another plebiscite was conducted, it may be that the Parliament will decide on the rules of operation