Western Australia is Trying to Break Away... Again

They've been trying since the 1920s.

To this day, Western Australia remains the only state that has attempted to secede from the Commonwealth. 

In the late 1920s, struggling West Australians found their money woes exacerbated by Federal tariffs that benefited businesses in the eastern states and hurt those in the west.

The idea of seceding gained momentum in 1930 when a government led by Sir James Mitchell was elected on a platform of secession.

In 1933, Premier Mitchell put a referendum to the people of Western Australia asking whether the state should withdraw from the Commonwealth.

A copy of the referendum ballot from 1933

[A copy of the referendum ballot from 1933]

The answer was overwhelming – 68 percent of people voted to leave the Commonwealth. Alas, it was not to be.

The state sent a petition to the United Kingdom House Of Commons asking for independence, but it was ruled out of order because the request needed to come from the Commonwealth. Unsurprisingly, the Commonwealth refused to send such a request.

The WA secession delegation in London

[The WA secession delegation in London]

A Modern Attempt At Secession?

More than 80 years later, Western Australia doesn’t seem to have entirely given up on the idea of secession.

“The commonwealth is jealous of Western Australia,”  former WA Premier Colin Barnett told The Australian in 2016.

“They are jealous of our economic success, they are jealous of our success in Asia and of the fact that the Australia-China relationship is essentially China-Western Australia.”

WA’s importance to the Commonwealth has undoubtedly grown throughout the last decade.

In 2004, its economy accounted for 11 per cent of the national economy. It’s now closer to 17 percent, though still behind New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

And now,  in 2017, the West Australian Liberals voted 89-73 in favour of a motion to establish a committee to "examine the option of Western Australia becoming a financially independent state within the Commonwealth”.

The motion, according to WA liberal party state president Norman Moore, is a message to the politicians residing in Canberra.

"It tells them that Western Australians, particularly Liberal party Western Australians, are not happy with the way in which WA is being treated."

The Difficulties Of Going It Alone

Talk of a WA secession is pointless, according to economic writer Greg Jericho, who points out some of the major issues an independent Western Australia would face.

“It would need to produce its own currency, have a reserve bank, and be subject to the swings and roundabouts of foreign exchange markets,” says Jericho.

“Then there is the small matter of defence. Building a navy, air force and army from scratch would be fun to watch.”

The Australian Constitution does allow for an increase in the number of member states, but it makes no provision for existing states to secede from the union.

In fact, the preamble to the constitution makes it clear that the original states are part of an indissoluble union. So all the talk of secession will likely be just that – talk.

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