When Were Aboriginals Allowed to Vote

What Year Were Aboriginals Allowed to Vote

Coming from the history of how the Aboriginals reached Australia, new questions arise, such as when were they allowed to vote? Who governed them during the former times?

Perhaps, unknown to the majority of many people that the voting rights of the Aborigines became controversial from the mid-nineteenth century. It was due to the fact when Britain’s Australian colonies got granted with responsible government.

And debates were continuously going on that time regarding the qualifications on the right to vote. In time, the resolution of the universal voting rights made its way into the mid-twentieth century.

A Timeline to Early Voting Rights

Time immemorial, accustomed traditions passed down by the ingenious forefathers governed the community of the Aboriginals.

Moreover, it was in 1770 that the “British Royal Navy” captain and explorer James Cook took over the eastern half-part of the Australian mainland for Great Britain. Then, eight years after that, in 1778, the first fleet of the British population arrived in Botany Bay, and thus, commences their colonisation in Australia.

Even so, the government of Great Britain refused to acknowledge the customary Aboriginal land ownership.

In 1829, the jurisdiction of the British government extended its colonisation across the entire continent of Australia. Thus, making everyone who is born in the country, which includes the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people, became a British subject by childbirth.

Later in 1843, the induction of Australia’s first parliamentary elections, which is for the “New South Wales Legislative Council,” happened. Yet, the government placed restrictions on the eligibility of voting rights to men, including the Aboriginal men, who have a £200 freehold value or a house owner with an annual rental of £20.

So, the grants of rights to vote for all adult men, who are more than twenty-one years old, began in 1856 in South Australia and followed by Victoria in 1857. Next, South Wales followed in 1858 and Tasmania, a year after, in 1859.

Breakthrough to Early Voting Rights

A dramatic development to early voting rights became eventual. In 1894, South Australia, which included the Northern Territory at that time, created laws that allowed adults to vote. And by adults, we meant, all men regardless of age and women, including the Aboriginal women.

Eventually, women in South Australia aren’t only eligible to vote but as well as to sit in Parliament, and Aboriginal women shared the same right. It was only Western Australia and Queensland that prohibited Aborigines from voting.

Nevertheless, only a few of the Aboriginal citizens knew about their rights, and so, there was just a handful of them who voted.

During the 1890s, Aborigines men and women voted for the first time in South Australian elections at “Point McLeay,” which is a mission station near the Murray River’s mouth.

And in 1901, they also voted for the first-ever “Commonwealth Parliament.

Suspension of Early Voting Rights

Withal, the introduction to the “White Australia” policy and Federation restricted native aborigines to vote during the first half of the twentieth century.

Stipulations in the “Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, Section 4,” stated that any aboriginal natives of the continents of Asia, Africa, Australia, and the islands of the Pacific, except for New Zealand don’t have the right the vote. However, this rule holds false when their names are already on the role before 1901.

Making things worse is the sad reality that electoral officials had the power in their hands to decide on their own if one is an “aboriginal native” or not. This ruling led to arbitrary decisions that depend significantly if an aborigine is living like a white person or not.

After increasing pressure from the aborigines who had finished military service and fought beside the non-Aboriginal soldiers, the “Commonwealth Parliament” granted voting rights in federal elections to the Aboriginals in 1949.

In 1957, the Commonwealth law proclaimed that the majority of the Aboriginal Western Australians to become wards of the state, in need of the protection of the government. By saying so, they are also not eligible to vote.

Aboriginal People are Allowed to Vote Again

Finally, the “Menzies Liberal and Country Party” government bestowed voting rights again to all Aboriginal people in March of 1962. With the new policy, they could already vote in federal elections if they liked it.

In the same year, Western Australia gave the aborigines the State vote. On the other hand, Queensland imposed the same rule about three years after, in 1965.

Overall, all of the Aboriginal people had equal and full rights to vote. Although the policy states the latter, there are legislative constraints that seemingly made aborigines voting rights an offence to encourage.

The possibility for this event is due to the misconception or wrong connotation that the Aboriginal people might be easier to persuade and manipulate than the other Australians, which links an inkling to racial prejudice and incorrect assumptions in their intelligence.

A Big Leap Towards Voting Rights

When they said that change is coming, it did well with the Aboriginal people. In 1971, the first-ever Aboriginal man came to sit in the Australian Parliament.

Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal man who held a seat in the “Federal State” in Queensland per nominated from “The Liberal Party.” He was in the position for more than a decade, to be specific from 1971 to 1983.


In closing, despite the “full voting rights” status given to the Aboriginal people, only a few them are practising their rights due to the inability to vote, such as illiteracy and no permanent address confirmed.

Another reason for some aborigines not able to practice their rights to vote is incarceration. Either Aboriginal or not, incarcerated voters are not eligible to vote, except if they have less than three years sentence.

Furthermore, other Aboriginal people cease their rights to vote because they believed that they are not a citizen of Australia but an Aboriginal nation member. They have strong convictions to their accustomed traditions. That said, they consider their leaders as their government.

Also read

Map Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations

Aboriginals of Australia – A brief Story

Dave P
Dave P
Be a little better today than yesterday.
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