As a person living in an Australian regional area, I like many are frustrated by that attitude of those governing us from the state capital. It is unlikely that this frustration is unique to my specific regional area with all regions being equally ignored.
Those who drafted our Australian Constitution more than 120 years ago foresaw the possibility that as the nation grew there would be the likelihood that not all the people of the founding ‘colonies’ would be well served in the future by their existing seat of state government. Too this end they provided in the Constitution for the creation of additional new states from the territory of the existing states in Chapter VI, paragraphs 121-4. However, I doubt our founding fathers intended that their provision would provide for individual, small area, low population regions too hive off to create new states which are not economically viable.
At the time of Federation in1901 Queensland’s population was less than 500,000, it is now approaching five million. About 3.5 million live in the South East corner in an area of less than 100,000km2, while about 1.5 million live in regional areas covering more than 1.5million km2.
Under the latest proposed electoral boundaries redistribution four additional seats will be added to the parliament. These four seats increased South East Queensland’s representation to 67 seats while regional Queensland’s representation remains at 26. In percentage terms, regional Queensland’s representation will only ever decrease. This only serves to reinforce the ever growing belief that the parliament no longer provides for the best interest of the people and development of regional Queensland.
It is important here to detail Chapter VI paragraphs 121 through 124 of the Australian Constitution to show that the nation’s founders were mindful of the future necessity to create new states rather than maintain a rigid six state federation:
The Parliament may admit to the Commonwealth or establish new States, and may upon such admission or establishment make or impose such terms and conditions, including the extent of representation in either House of the Parliament, as it thinks fit.
The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.
The Parliament of the Commonwealth may, with the consent of the Parliament of a State, and the approval of the majority of the electors of the State voting upon the question, increase, diminish, or otherwise alter the limits of the State, upon such terms and conditions as may be agreed on, and may, with the like consent, make provision respecting the effect and operation of any increase or diminution or alteration of territory in relation to any State affected.
A new State may be formed by separation of territory from a State, but only with the consent of the Parliament thereof, and a new State may be formed by the union of two or more States or parts of States, but only with the consent of the Parliaments of the States affected.
In the period since Federation, there has been strong support for the creation of new states in the New England, Riverina and Monaro regions of New South Wales. These movements echo pre-Federation calls for the formation of separate colonies in northern New South Wales from the 1840s, and the Riverina and Queensland from the 1850s.
The agitation in New England made the most progress towards achieving a new state. By the 1950’s the New England New State Movement was firmly re-established and employed permanent staff. In 1953, 21 northern NSW councils defied the then Labor state government and held unofficial referendum on the issue of a new state. The people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the referendum.
In 1961 the movement launched Operation Seventh State, raising over AU₤100,000. This allowed more for staff and greater agitation. However, the Labor state government which had been in power since 1941 was unmoved by the demands of the New England people.
New England was a Country Party stronghold and their leader Earle Page, rode the wave of resentment. Prior to the 1965 election the Country Party struck an agreement with the Liberal Party to provide the people of New England with a referendum. After winning the election the Askin, Liberal Government had to deliver the referendum.
Askin was not a supporter of the new state but was convinced the sought referendum would be successful. The Liberals had only won back power after 24years and did not relish the idea of a large block of conservative electorates being hived off to a new state. They seized on the 1933 Nicholas Royal Commission of Inquiry, Respecting Areas in the State of New South Wales Suitable for Self-government as States in the Commonwealth of Australia, for salvation. The New England New State Movement’s acceptance of the Nicholas Commission’s boundary recommendations was critical strategic error.
To meet their election pledge to their Country Party partners the Askin Government passed the New State Referendum Act 1966, with the referendum to be held on 29 April 1967. However, referendum include the City of Newcastle and as far south as Lake Macquarie as well as the Upper Hunter, Gloucester, Cessnock and Maitland, areas that had never been included in the New England banner.
The Labor Party mounted a major campaign in support of the NO Case and the vote in their heartland won the day. The referendum was lost 46 percent to 54 and the New England New State Movement went into decline. The lessons of New England must be heeded.
The history of such attempts reveals that political factors can be a significant barrier to attain the parliamentary consent required by paragraphs 121 and 124 of the Constitution. For example, although a successful referendum is not a constitutional requirement for the formation of a new state, the history of new state movements reveals that parliaments are unlikely to support the creation of a new state in the absence of a clear political mandate provided by a referendum. The history also demonstrates that sufficient popular support for this purpose can be difficult to attain.
All the previous failed efforts to create a new state from the territory of an existing have one thing in common. All were attempts by a small regional area, with a relatively small population. Even if a referendum won popular support, the creation of a new state would not likely to be passed by the existing state’s parliament as it would view it as economically unsustainable. Most would realize the cost of creating and maintaining a state government and the necessary bureaucracy would be an impossible burden for population of only two to three hundred thousand people. Additionally, creation of a new state also pass the federal parliament and it is not likely that it would allow the formation of another ‘welfare’ dependent state like Tasmania which requires massive Commonwealth tax payer funds to operate.
Success in creating a new state would require the participation of multiple adjoining regional areas which share a common desire to separate from the existing state parliamentary system, together have a combined population of at least one million people and substantial economic wealth and resources. In the case of creating a new state from the territory of the state of Queensland, the most compelling cause which would unite many regional areas would be the perception that the existing state government continually fails to address their needs and is primarily focused on areas within 100-200km of the capital, Brisbane.
There has been a long held belief of divide between urban and regional areas throughout Australia but recently, it has become a chasm. Current state governments are never going to close the gap which is fast becoming a festering wound in many regional areas. This divide provides a reasonable case for a large swathe of regional areas to separate from the state of Queensland and to create a new state.
To create a viable new state from the territory of the existing State of Queensland with a population of over a million people, significant wealth and resources would require the majority of regional areas to be united. The key to winning support of the numerous regional areas will be the proposed constitution of the new state.
The draft state constitution should provide for a bicameral parliament, a minimalist state government bureaucracy, public service pay scales that are not disproportionate to those of people employed in the state’s private sector doing commensurate work and providing greater autonomy and funding to each region to administer their health, education and other services. The constitution should also provide for its future division into two separate states based on a suitable line of latitude.
Ideally the new state would created from all the Queensland territory north of latitude 26 degrees South. Thus the current and proposed Queensland electorates of Cook, Traegar, the majority of Gregory, part of Warrego, Barron River, Cairns, Mulgrave, Hill, Hinchinbrook, Townsville, Thuringowa, Mundingburra, McMaster, Whitsunday, Mackay, Mirani, Rockhampton, Kepple, Gladstone, the bulk of Callide, Burnett, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Maryborough. These electorates total approximately 1.5 million square kilometres, contain large deposits of developed and undeveloped natural resources and is the home of more than a 1.5 million people, all of which is more than adequate to sustain a viable State of the Commonwealth of Australia.
For the purpose of upper house representation in the bicameral parliament, the new state should be divided into regions in line with suitable population and geographic boundaries. Ideally the Australian Electoral Commission should be engaged to undertake this task. Possible regions would be: YORK: Torres Strait Island Regional Council; Torres Shire Council ; Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council; Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council; Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council; Weipa Town Authority; Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council; Aurukun Shire Council; Pormpuraaw Aboriginal Shire Council; Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Council; northern half of Carpentaria Shire Council; Cook Shire Council; Hope Vale Aboriginal ShireCouncil and Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council. MULGRAVE: Douglas ShireCouncil; Mareeba Shire Council; Cairns Regional Council; Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council; Cassowary Coast Regional Council; Tablelands Regional Council and northern part Etheridge Shire Council. O’HARA:Mornington Shire Council; Burke Shire Council; Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council; southern part of Carpentaria Shire Council; Croydon Shire Council; Mount Isa City Council; northern part of Cloncurry Shire Council; northern part of McKinlay Shire Council; Richmond Shire Council and small part of Boulia Shire Council. WILLS: The major southern part of Boulia Shire Council; southern part of Cloncurry Shire Council; southern part of McKinlay Shire Council; Winton Shire Council; Longreach Regional Council; Diamantina Shire Council; majority of Bacoo Shire council and northern part of Quilpie Shire Council. GEMFIELDS: The southern part Etheridge Shire Council; Flinders Shire Council; Barcaldine Regional Council; Blackall-Tambo Regional Council; northern part of Murweh Shire Council andnorthern part of Maranoa Shire Council. BURDEKIN: Hinchinbrook Shire Council; Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council; Townsville City Council; Burdekin Shire Council and Charters Towers Regional Council. DALRYMPLE: Whitsunday Regional Council; Mackay Regional Council and Isaac Regional Council. MacKENZIE: Livingstone Shire Council; Rockhampton Regional Council; Central Highlands Regional Council; Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire Council and Gladstone Regional Council. PERRY: Bundaberg Regional Council; Banana Shire Council; Fraser Coast Regional Council; North Burnett Regional Council.
The ability of regions to administer, deliver and maintain community services may be compromised by their sparse population or their ability secure the services of the necessary skilled personnel. It may be necessary that some regions unite to ensure effective outcomes for their communities. For example, it may be prudent that the regions of O’Hara and Wills work together or they may seek to have the state government have the responsibility of the provision of specific services.