The 1951 Referendum

Following the High Court’s ruling that the Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950 was unconstitutional, the Menzies-Fadden Government resolved to put the issue to the people via a constitutional referendum to be held on 22 September 1951. The referendum would seek to change the Australian Constitution to allow for the government to ban the Communist Party. To succeed, in accordance with Section 128 of the Australian Constitution, the referendum would need to pass with a double majority and pass with a majority of states voting yes (Museum of Australian Democracy nd).  

The referendum was a highly significant event in Australian history. Following the government’s announcement, concerted campaigns were mounted by the ACP, trade unions, democratic tights organisations and the ALP, which was now led by Dr H.V. (Herbert) Evatt following the sudden death of Curtin. There was some division within the ALP about whether to support the ‘No’ campaign, but Evatt campaigned strongly for the ‘No’ campaign and even those within the Labor Movement who didn’t show much support for the ‘No’ campaign, certainly weren’t campaigning for the other side. 

The following question was put to the Australian people: 

“Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘Constitution Alteration (Powers to deal with Communists and Communism) 1951’?” 

 The proposed constitutional amendment was rejected by the voters, failing under both requirements of Section 128. The ‘Yes’ vote won the support of 49.44% of the national vote and was only approved by three states - Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia. However, the vote was a very close run thing and there would have been a different outcome had only 30,000 people in South Australia or Victoria voted ‘Yes’ rather ‘No’ (Museum of Australian Democracy nd). 



Cottle, D n.d., How Australia failed to destroy communism, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, accessed <>

Davidson, A 1969, The Communist Party of Australia: A Short History, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, California

Macintyre, S 1998, The Reds, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, Sydney

Gollan, R 1975, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement 1920-1955, Australian National University Press, Canberra

Museum of Australian Democracy n.d., The Communist Party Dissolution Act 1950, accessed <>