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UNSW Press UNSW Press

People Power

How Australian referendums are lost and won

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From the failed attempt to ban communism in 1951 to the unsuccessful Voice referendum in 2023, Australians have been cautious about constitutional change, voting ‘Yes’ to only eight out of 45 referendum proposals.

In People Power, the only full history of constitutional change in Australia, constitutional experts George Williams and David Hume closely examine our referendum record and explain why success is difficult to achieve. They interview leading proponents for constitutional change and analyse each referendum campaign, the public response and the forces that shaped the outcome.

This comprehensively updated edition of People Power includes analysis on the 2023 Voice referendum along with discussion of the rise of interest in state and territory referendums, and the 2017 national plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

And the answer to holding a successful referendum in Australia? Truly engaging the people in the political process.

‘Essential reading.’ – Marcia Langton, Meanjin

‘The first of its kind.’ – Indigenous Law Bulletin

‘...advances scholarly and popular understanding of Australia’s federal constitutional system.’ – Labour History

‘A handy reference for teachers and students of Australian history and politics.’ – The Age

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