An issue put to the vote which does not affect the Constitution is called a plebiscite. A plebiscite can also be referred to as a simple national vote.
Governments can hold plebiscites to test whether people either support or oppose a proposed action on an issue. The government is not bound by the 'result' of a plebiscite as it is by the result of a Constitutional referendum.
Military service plebiscites were held in 1916 and 1917 but, as they were not proposals to amend the Constitution, the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution did not apply. Voters in all federal territories were permitted to vote. Both the military service plebiscites sought a mandate for conscription and were defeated.
The Australian Constitution can only be amended with the approval of Australian voters. Therefore, any proposed alteration must be put to the vote at a referendum.
Section 128 of the Constitution provides that any proposed amendment to the Constitution must be passed by an absolute majority in both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament.
In certain circumstances, a proposed amendment can be submitted to a referendum if it is passed on two separate occasions by only one House of the Parliament.