Referendum Use in NSW: Daylight Saving Case Study

Learning Outcomes

  • Explain how laws are made, including common and statute law
  • Investigate why laws change, how they change and the effect of the changes
  • Explain the role of law in society
  • Analyse key factors affecting decisions
  • Evaluate options for solving problems and issues

Syllabus Links

What is a Referendum?

A National referendum is conducted by the Australian Parliament and is most commonly used to approve proposed changes to the Australian Constitution. Since Federation (1901) there have been 45 federal referenda for this purpose. Only 8 have been approved by the Australian people. The Australian Electoral Commission lists the referenda here.

A State referendum may be held to gauge voter opinion on an issue, to approve certain changes to the New South Wales Constitution that require an extra level of approval, or to resolve a deadlock between the two Houses of Parliament in relation to the passing of a bill. Referenda are directly voted on by the people and are usually worded so that it can be answered by a Yes or No answer.

There have been 16 referenda in NSW since 1900, each is listed below: 

Year Question Result
1903 As to what shall be the number of Members in the Legislative Assembly: 125 or 100 or 90?

90 Members of the Legislative Assembly

1916 The question is the hour at which licensed premises should close: 6pm or 7pm or 8pm or 9pm or 10pm or 11pm? 6pm closing time
1928 Are you in favour of Prohibition with Compensation? Not approved
1933 Do you approve of the Bill entitled “A Bill to reform the constitution and alter the Powers of the Legislative Council; to reduce and limit the number of Members of the Legislative Council; to reconstitute the Legislative Council in accordance with the reformed constitution; to amend the Constitution Act, 1902, and certain other Acts; and for purposes connected therewith.” Approved
1947 The question is the closing hour for premises and clubs licensed under the Liquor Act, 1912: 6 pm or 9 pm or 11 pm? 6pm closing time
1954 The question is the closing hour for premises and clubs licensed under the Liquor Act, 1912: 6 pm or 10 pm? 10pm closing time
1961 Do you approve of the Bill entitled “A Bill for an Act to Abolish the Legislative Council to provide that another Legislative Council shall not be created, constituted or established nor shall any Chamber, Assembly or House, other than the Legislative Assembly, designed to form part of the Legislative Parliament of New South Wales, be created, constituted or established until a bill for the purpose has been approved by the electors in a referendum to amend the Constitution Act, 1902 and certain other Acts; and for purposes connected therewith.” Not approved
1967 Are you in favour of the establishment of a new state in north-east New South Wales as described in Schedule 1 to the New State Referendum Act 1966? (The referendum was restricted to the electoral districts in question.) Not approved
1969 Do you favour the law being amended to permit hotels to trade generally on Sundays between the hours of 12 noon and 6.30 pm? Not approved
1976 Are you in favour of daylight saving? Approved
1978 Do you approve of the Bill entitled “A Bill for an Act to provide for the election of members of the Legislative Council directly by the people”? Approved
1981 Do you approve a Bill for an Act to extend the maximum period between general elections for the Legislative Assembly from 3 years to 4 years Approved
1981 Do you approve a Bill for an Act to require Members of Parliament to disclose certain pecuniary interests and other matters Approved
1991 Do you approve of the Bill entitled “A Bill for an Act (a) to reduce the number of politicians in the Legislative Council and to reduce their maximum term of office; and (b) to apply to the Legislative Council the same method of filling casual vacancies as applies to the Senate?” Approved
1995 Do you approve of a Bill entitled: “A Bill to require the Parliament of New South Wales to serve full four year terms and to prevent politicians call early general elections or changing these new constitutional rules without a further referendum?” Approved
1995 Do you approve of the Bill entitled “A Bill for an Act to Prevent Parliament from changing laws about the independence of judges and magistrates without referendum?” Approved

Case Study: Daylight Saving in New South Wales

From the earliest recorded time, measuring time has been about tracking the movement of the sun, moon, planets and stars. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin mooted the idea of daylight saving when he was living in Paris. He published a satirical essay and suggested that Parisians could change their sleep schedules to save money on candles and lamp oil.

The modern concept of daylight saving was devised in 1895 by George Hudson, a New Zealand entomologist, who decided that a two hour time shift in summer would give him more time to go bug hunting. Seven years later William Willett, a British builder, proposed that shifting time was a way to prevent the nation from wasting daylight. His idea was championed by Winston Churchill and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle however it did not meet with much interest in the British Parliament. It wasn’t until the First World War was well underway and Germany had been using daylight saving to save energy, that Britain and many other countries including Australia followed suit.

What is daylight saving in NSW?

Daylight saving is the process where the local time is changed one hour forward or backward. The change happens twice a year and as a general rule, every first Sunday in October the time moves forward one hour. The reverse happens every first Sunday in April when the clocks are turned back an hour. Daylight saving is observed by over 40% of the world.

Australia has 3 time zones:

Zone Coverage
Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory
Australian Central Standard Time (ACST) South Australia, the town of Broken Hill in western New South Wales and the Northern Territory
Australian Western Standard Time (AWST) Western Australia

However in summer New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT follow Daylight Saving Time (DST) and Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia do not.

This means that there are 5 time zones in Australia in summer which happens because the responsibility for the setting of time zones has remained with state and territory authorities.

History of daylight saving

Before 1890 each local town or city in Australia could set its own time, which was called local mean time. The standardisation of time began in 1895 when the six colonies adopted Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the basis for standard time.

In 1909 the first daylight saving bill was introduced into NSW Parliament but failed because the Labor Congress saw it as an opportunity to extend working hours. Again in 1911 a Daylight Saving Bill was introduced and failed although the Labor Congress had changed its position. Again in November 1916 the NSW Parliament introduced a Daylight Saving Bill which was dropped due to objections from country areas.

Did You Know?

It was estimated in September 1916 that daylight saving would reduce Australia’s lighting expenses by £140,000 per year which is approximately $14,561,000 today.


Hear from the NSW Attorney General, the Minister in charge of this annual time change, on how this process became permanent in NSW.

The war years

Tasmania was the first Australian state to introduce daylight saving as a trial on October 2, 1916. On 1 January, 2017 the war cabinet followed the example of Germany and Great Britain and many European countries and introduced daylight saving across Australia in an effort to conserve fuel and light. The Daylight Saving Act of 1916 was repealed in October 2017 owing to rural and regional constituents’ dissatisfaction with it.

Between the wars little interest was shown in daylight saving in Australia. Various sporting associations, local councils, some clergy and the Housewives Association of NSW gave various reasons for supporting it, however no changes were made during this time.

In 1941 the War Cabinet announced the reintroduction of daylight saving on January 1, 1942 through Statutory Rule no. 392 of 1942. A Gallup poll in March 1942 indicated that support for daylight saving had risen from 50% in October 1941 to 69% in 1942. Those against had declined from 34% to 23%. Nationwide acceptance wavered to 54% in 1943 and by 1944 daylight saving had been repealed.

Did You Know?

By 1960 Gallup polls showed that support for daylight saving had increased to 66% for and about 28% against. The main groups lobbying the NSW Parliament for daylight saving were retail and employer groups.

Daylight saving trials

In 1967, Tasmania began a daylight saving trial and in 1968 NSW Premier Robert Askin contacted other state Premiers to determine their interest. He believed that the states would have to change to daylight saving time together, however there was little interest from other Premiers. In 1968 the Daylight Saving Association was formed in NSW and the main lobbyists against daylight saving at this time were film distributors, the cinema industry and the rural sector.

A conference of state ministers and the Commonwealth in 1970, called to try and get agreement between the states on daylight saving, reached a compromise of 30 minutes of daylight saving for the 1971-1972 summer. Another conference in July 1971 between state governments and the Commonwealth resolved that NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory would trial daylight saving from 31 October 1971 to 27 February 1972. The Standard Time Act of 1971 was passed in the NSW Parliament. The expiry date of the trial was 30th September 1972. The opposition supported the Bill for the trial period. In 1972 owing to the popularity of daylight saving in NSW the Standard Time ( Amendment) Bill was introduced and passed by the NSW Parliament. The Bill made daylight saving permanent and increased the period to be included in daylight saving from the last Sunday in February to the first Sunday in March. Community support for daylight saving was strong and polls and communications to the Parliament reinforced this, however there was still strong opposition from the rural sector.

In August 1972 the proportion of people in NSW in favour of daylight saving was 78% however by March 1973 this had dropped to 67%. Politicians and urban newspapers in favour of the scheme found themselves in the line of attack from the rural sector. In 1973 the Country Party which was in coalition with the Liberal Party and held 49 of the 96 seats in the Legislative Assembly, promised a referendum however, owing to the excessive cost, shelved the idea. In 1974 the Country Party got its coalition colleagues to agree to a referendum. Once again the cost was overwhelming and the proposal was put aside.

Let the people decide

By the mid-seventies the pressure to abolish daylight saving had increased dramatically and in 1975 the United Farmers’ and Wool-Growers Association organised a petition of over 40,000 signatures and presented this to the Parliament. They claimed that a 1972 survey had found that over 99.7% of its members were opposed to daylight saving. A Morgan Gallup poll in 1975 found that 75% of city people approved of daylight saving and 20% did not, while 55% of rural dwellers approved and 41% did not. At this time approximately 100 anti-daylight saving organisations had formed with claims of over 100,000 members.

In October 1975 Premier Askin announced a referendum on daylight saving to be held at the same time as the state election on 1 May 1976.

The ballot paper stated At present there is a period commonly called ‘daylight saving’ by which time is advanced by one hour for the period commencing on the last Sunday in October in each year and ending on the first Sunday in March in the following year. Electors were asked to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question “are you in favour of daylight saving?”

Referendum results

Over 68% of voters supported daylight saving and 31% did not. 1,882,770 electors were in favour; 868,900 were against and 35,507 votes were informal.

The 1971 Standard Time Act was repealed in 1987 with the Standard Time Act 1987 which more clearly defined standard time and daylight saving time in NSW, except certain areas. These areas include Broken Hill and Lord Howe Island.  

In 2006 after many years of meetings and discussions between New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, start and end times for daylight saving was synchronised. The agreed times are the first Sunday in October to the first Sunday in April each year and this is contained in the Standard Time Amendment (Daylight Saving) Act of 2007. 

Class discussion questions

  • Discuss the reasons that people have given in the past for not wanting daylight saving.
  • Are these reasons relevant today?
  • Why do you think that rural groups and cinema owners were so opposed to daylight saving?
  • In small groups brainstorm the issues that might warrant a referendum today. Choose one of those issues and write a referendum question for it. Put each group question on a ballot paper for the class to vote on.

Daylight Saving Timeline



Referenda Quiz


Daylight Saving Quiz

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