“…A plebiscite is primarily used to resolve contentious social issues where there are divisions within political parties, and a vote of parliament alone would probably not be sufficient to quell social disagreement on the issue.
Conscription, during World War I, was a classic case of the type of issue that splits parties and communities and requires the authoritative views of the… people in order for it to be resolved. Hence we held plebiscites on it at the national level in 1916 and 1917.
It has been claimed in recent times that plebiscites are extremely rare beasts and that one has not been held for more than 100 years. This is simply wrong.
Apart from the 1977 plebiscite on the national anthem, we have held many plebiscites at the state level, with one or more plebiscites being held in every decade since the 1890s.
The reason they are more commonly held at the state level is the states tend to be responsible for most socially contentious issues.
Plebiscites have been held on issues including religious instruction in state schools and government grants to religious schools, the prohibition of alcohol, the licensing of pubs and their closing hours, the secession of Western Australia, gambling (including state lotteries and casinos), late night and Sunday shopping hours, daylight saving, the building of a dam in Tasmania and statehood for the Northern Territory.
There have been at least 37 plebiscites at the state or territory level since 1896, which while making them relatively uncommon, does not make them as rare as portrayed in the recent debate…” Plebiscite a casualty in the debate over marriage laws