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Right to vote

Some Indigenous Australians granted the right to vote

Shortly after federation, the Australian Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902. This law specified who was allowed to vote in Australian federal parliamentary elections. While this piece of legislation is celebrated for granting most women the right to vote in federal elections, it also denied most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people their right to vote. Only those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were on the electoral roll prior to 1901 (a very small number) were allowed to vote under this law.

While there were some politicians and advocates who strongly disagreed with excluding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the democratic process, many others actively campaigned against al­lowing Indigenous people to vote.

Public opinion began to shift after World War II. Many people believed that it was unfair that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been allowed to fight and die for their country in the war, but were not al­lowed to vote in elections. In 1949, the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was amended to grant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had served in the military the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1962 that the act was amended to grant all Indigenous Australians the right to vote. However, voting rights and responsibilities remained unequal because voting was not compulsory for Indigenous Australians. Equal voting rights were finally achieved in 1983 when the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended again to make voting compulsory for all Australian citizens.