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The still reluctant state: Western Australia and the conceptual foundations of Australian federalism

Zimmermann, A. (2012) The still reluctant state: Western Australia and the conceptual foundations of Australian federalism. In: Appleby, G., Aroney, N. and john, T., (eds.) The Future of Australian Federalism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 66-74.

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Western Australians have long contemplated the possibility of seceding from the Australian federation. The idea has often been discussed in the state's newspapers and at public meetings, and at one point the idea had so much support that the Western Australian government proposed a secession referendum, which was carried successfully in 1933. Although the secessionist movement of the 1930s was, for reasons that will be explained, ultimately unsuccessful, secessionist feelings continue down to this day. state grievances over ever-increasing centralisation of power in Canberra are long-standing and, if anything, have intensified in recent times. This chapter will discuss current attitudes to federation within Western Australia in the context of that state's initial reluctance and long history of secessionist ferment, and against that background explore the question of secession as a way of shedding light on the conceptual foundations of the Australian federal system. Federation and initial reluctance The origins of the secession debate in Western Australia can be traced to the era leading up to federation, and its initial reluctance to become a member state. In the 1890s, the colony was invited to attend constitutional conventions for the purpose of joining the other colonies of Australia to make up a federation. Throughout those years Western Australian political leaders, such as the redoubtable Premier John Forrest, often expressed serious reservations about joining the new Commonwealth. There were a number of reasons for such hesitancy. First, Western Australia had only become a self-governing colony in 1890 and there was a reluctance to give up an autonomy so very recently attained. Secondly, the colony was geographically isolated and did not share a sense of unity with its eastern counterparts. Indeed, New Zealand is situated geographically closer to the eastern states than Western Australia and was also given an opportunity to join the Commonwealth as an original state, but declined the offer. Thirdly and more importantly, Western Australians were extremely concerned that their economy would be crippled for the benefit of continental neighbours with whom they had little affinity.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Law
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: © Cambridge University Press 2012.
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