OPINION: by Don FordNews Weekly
The case for new states in Australia
, September 11, 2004
There has never been a time in Australia's history when there was a greater need to decentralise our population, economy and government.
From the beginning of the atomic age at the end of World War II, and especially now in the age of terrorism at the beginning of the 21st century, concerned Australians realise the pressing need simultaneously to ease the pressure of population on the already overcrowded and polluted coastal cities, and to encourage people to settle in rural towns and regions, to build up these sparsely populated and economically stagnant localities into thriving, prosperous communities.Densely populated cities
From 1945, and through the period of the Cold War, we have lived under the threat of nuclear attack. Our densely populated coastal cities were prime targets for nuclear weapons.
Had the Cold War become "hot", Sydney and Melbourne - not to mention the smaller cities and especially the national capital - could have been obliterated, with their populations, from the face of Australia.
Since September 11, 2001, the need has become even more urgent. We have already seen how vulnerable big cities are to attacks by suicidal fanatics using conventional explosives and fuel-laden aircraft.
One can imagine the fearful carnage and devastation that would occur should such attacks be carried out using nuclear weapons.
It is imperative therefore that all Australian governments, and especially the Commonwealth, take immediate action to launch large-scale and continuing programs to decentralise population, industry and government away from the large coastal cities into regional and rural areas and towns, inland and on the coast.
How can this be done? The Commonwealth - preferably with the co-operation of the states, but without them if they prove unco-operative - should organise referenda in each region of Australia.
Local residents would be asked if they wished their region to become a new state within the Commonwealth of Australia, with the power to elect their own parliament and government, with power to raise their own revenues for exclusive use in the development of their new state.
I am confident that if the question were put to the people of each region the majority would answer "yes".
New South Wales voters might be reminded that the letters "NSW", while supposedly the initials of the name of their state, in reality have come to mean the three principal cities in the state, namely Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong. Why?
Because the focus of all action by the state government and practically all its expenditure is directed to those three cities, to the almost total neglect of the rest of the state.
And so it is with the other mainland states.
Both major political parties, state and federal, have neglected Australia's need to decentralise. Instead they have restricted themselves only to what they consider to be vote-winning issues, e.g., Medicare, hospitals, education, public transport and law reform.
Thus neither party looks beyond the next election to Australia's ultimate destiny. Their attitude seems to be that the future can take care of itself.
However, I am convinced that Australian voters would overwhelmingly support each region becoming a new state.
These new states, with their own elected governments and the power to raise their own taxes (principally from site revenue), would then encourage any people willing an able to work, be they skilled or unskilled, to move from the big, overcrowded, crime-ridden cities, so vulnerable to attack, to the less vulnerable, more spacious regions.Viable
The states would grow in population, build roads and railways, establish new industries, and develop farms and towns, until they reached the stage where they become viable political, economic and cultural entities - that is, free states with free and prosperous people, living in a reinvigorated and prosperous Commonwealth of Australia.
This was how the United States of America developed and become the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth. While it may not be possible for Australia to match the material development as the USA, since our continent is less fertile, we could nevertheless make great progress, and increase our population to a degree which would more surely safeguard our security at home and our influence for peace abroad.
- Don Ford lives in Ashfield, NSW