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1948 Australian rents and prices referendum

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Constitution Alteration (Rents and Prices) Bill 1947,[1] was an unsuccessful proposal to alter the Australian Constitution to give the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to rents and prices. It was put to voters for approval in an Australian referendum held on 19 August 1948.


Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled 'Constitution Alteration (Rents and Prices) 1947'?

The proposal was to insert into section 51 that the Parliament have power to make laws with respect to:

(xivA.) Rents and prices (including charges) ;[1]


Control over prices was one of the 14 post-war powers that had been rejected in the 1944 referendum.[2] The proposal was put forward and supported by the Chifley Labor government and was opposed by the Liberal/Country coalition.


The Prime Minister Ben Chifley summed up his arguments for the proposal in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 May 1948 as:

First, because rising prices threaten the value of wages or salaries, and of savings, and undermine the stability of the economy.

Secondly, because price control by six controlling authorities in the States will not work - the choice is Commonwealth control or no control.

Thirdly, because the Government can be relied on to administer price control sanely, to decentralise as much as possible, and to remove controls as supplies become adequate.

Fourthly, because a stable Australia will be a maximum help to Britain and to a world struggling back to economic health.[3]


The Leader of the Opposition, Robert Menzies summed up his arguments against the proposal as:

First is that the Federal Government's campaign of fear, with its predictions of chaos and of soaring rents and prices if the referendum is defeated, has been thoroughly and rightly discounted from one end of Australia to another.

Secondly, the State Governments, including, of course, the Governments in those States which still have Labour Administrations, have all acknowledged that the powers of the States are ample, and have declared their willingness to undertake control, if necessary, when the Commonwealth retires from the price and rent fixing field.

The third point, now generally recognised, is that this is in no sense a referendum on the desirability or otherwise of controls. ... This is a referendum simply to determine whether the controls involved should eventually revert to the Slates or whether they should be given to Canberra for ever. ... everyone in the Commonwealth is doubtless aware now that whatever the result of Saturday's vote, the present Federal controls will continue for some considerable period.[4]


Result [2]
State Electoral roll Ballots issued For Against Informal
Vote % Vote %
New South Wales 1,880,779 1,762,091 723,183 41.66 1,012,639 58.34 26,269
Victoria 1,351,853 1,270,037 559,361 44.63 693,937 55.37 16,739
Queensland 669,555 617,678 187,955 30.80 422,236 69.20 7,487
South Australia 422,809 402,778 167,171 42.15 229,438 57.85 6,169
Western Australia 301,223 278,282 105,605 38.59 168,088 61.41 4,589
Tasmania 157,668 145,135 50,437 35.45 91,845 64.55 2,853
Armed forces [a]   11,905 6,557   5,213   135
Total for Commonwealth 4,783,887 4,476,001 1,793,712 40.66 2,618,183 59.34 64,106
Results Obtained majority in no state and an overall minority of 824,471 votes. Not carried
  1. ^ Armed forces totals are also included in their respective states.


This was the second of 11 referendums (as of October 2021) that failed to achieve a majority in any state. Power to control prices was sought for a third time in the 1973 referendum.[2]


  1. ^ a b Constitution Alteration (Rents and Prices) Bill 1944 (Cth).
  2. ^ a b c Handbook of the 44th Parliament (2014) "Part 5 - Referendums and Plebiscites - Referendum results". Parliamentary Library of Australia.
  3. ^ Chifley, Ben (28 May 1948). "The case for "Yes"". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 2. Retrieved 19 October 2021 – via Trove.
  4. ^ Menzies, Robert (28 May 1948). "The case for "No"". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 2. Retrieved 19 October 2021 – via Trove.
This page was last edited on 25 December 2021, at 20:02
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