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Cocos (Keeling) Islands status referendum, 1984


Cocos (Keeling) Islands status referendum, 1984

A status referendum was held in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on 6 April 1984. All registered voters participated in the vote,[1] with 88% voting for integration with Australia. The referendum has been described as the "smallest act of self-determination ever conducted".[2]


  • Background 1
  • Campaign 2
  • Conduct 3
  • Results 4
  • Aftermath 5
  • References 6


Discovered in 1609 by William Keeling and uninhabited until 1826,[1] the Cocos Islands were administered by the United Kingdom between 1857 and 1955, when they were transferred from the Colony of Singapore to Australia,[3] and given the status of an external territory. However, the islands remained effectively under the control of the Clunies-Ross family,[4] who had founded a settlement on the islands in 1827 and held power since 1831,[1] with the head of the family becoming known as King of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. In 1886 Queen Victoria had granted the family possession of the islands in perpetuity.[5]

In 1974 a United Nations mission to the islands drew attention to the territory's governance arrangements and raised concerns about the denial of basic freedoms to residents. The UN criticised the Australian government for failing to administer the islands properly. As a result, in 1978 the Australian government purchased all lands on the islands except the Clunies-Ross house for $4.75m. A second UN visit in 1980 reported positively on the reforms.[4]

Although there was no pressure from the UN to hold a referendum on self-determination due to recognition of the small size of the islands, the Australian government opted to proceed with a referendum.


Voters were given the option of integration with Australia, free association with Australia or independence.[4] The Clunies-Ross family campaigned for the independence option, claiming that Cocos Islanders would have to serve in the Australian army if the islands opted for integration.[4]


A mission from the UN observed the referendum, led by Abdul Koroma from Sierra Leone and also including representatives from Fiji, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.[4] Their report stated that the referendum had been "conducted in strict accordance with the pertinent electoral ordinance, resulting in a free and fair vote."[1]


Choice Votes %
Integration with Australia 229 88.42
Free association with Australia 21 8.11
Independence 9 3.47
Invalid/blank votes 2
Total 261 100
Registered voters/turnout 261 100
Source: United Nations


Following the referendum, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was extended to cover the islands, allowing Cocos residents to vote in the December 1984 Australian federal elections. The Social Security Act was also extended to cover residents of the islands.[4] The islands were also removed from the list of United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.


  1. ^ a b c d Issue on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Decolonisation, No 21, December 1984
  2. ^ Phillip Tahmindjis Australia, the Cocos Islands and self-determination, Queensland Institute of Technology Law Journal, p192
  3. ^ Tahmindjis, p179
  4. ^ a b c d e f Kenneth Chan (1987) Cocos (Keeling) Islands: The political evolution of a small island territory in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Islands Development Program
  5. ^ The man who lost a 'coral kingdom', BBC News, 7 June 2007
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