Those of us who have studied Australian politics at all learn a fairly important point about referendums under the Commonwealth Constitution, i.e. that they’re pretty hard to win. That’s why if there’s another, simpler way to achieve an objective Federal governments attempt it first. Like getting all the State and Territory governments to agree, which, flawed though it might be, still has a stronger track record of success.
If you’ve studied the history of the Federation at all, you’ll probably also know that at various stages Western Australia has been less enthusiastic about the whole ‘national unity’ endeavour than other states. It started when it was late to join the Commonwealth at all, with a State referendum only tipped over the line in favour by a bunch of t’othersiders residing in Kalgoorlie.
Then secession got ramped up again in the 1930s.
As an aside, I was once told that my grandfather was investigated by ASIO or some such organization as a result of his membership of the Western Australian Secessionary Air Force, but that may have been just a flight of fancy of the storyteller.
Then Sir Charles Court sparked the whole debate again in the 1970s (or was it the 1960s?) funnily enough about the same issue which has seen Norman Moore, a stiff-lipped Minister for Resources in the Western Australian government, arcing up about it this week: Commonwealth meddling in mining.
Every time it’s fallen over before it’s got anywhere because of section 128 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. The States, you see, formed an indissoluble Federation and if any one of them wanted to leave it we’d have to have a referendum of the nation in which a majority of people in four of the six states would have to say, ‘Yep, no problem Western Australians, you take all those resources and keep them for yourselves. We don’t need the money.’
But what if WA didn’t need to call for a referendum at all?
What if there was a simpler way?
Would Norman Moore still want to pursue it?
The Commonwealth is an indissoluble union, it is true, of the Six Original States, including Western Australia.
What if the State of Western Australia no longer existed?
Or what if the majority of Western Australia was reconstituted as a different entity, leaving only a shell around about the size of, say, the Hutt River Province?
The Constitution of Western Australia is an Act of the Western Australian parliament. It grants the power to amend the Constitution to the Western Australian parliament. There is no requirement, under the Western Australian Constitution, for a referendum.
If Western Australians really wanted to get out of the Commonwealth it is open for them to pursue a range of options that are arguably easier than seeking to pass a referendum of the States. Like repealing the Constitution Act, and/or creating a new Confederacy of smaller states, like Kimberley, Pilbara, Murchison and so forth, or any number of variations on the theme.
Certainly, to engage in any of these radical proposals requires the accession of the Queen, but given that the Constitution was drafted to give life to self-government for the people of Western Australia, it would certainly be arguable that acting in accordance with the wishes of the people as expressed by a majority of both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council was consistent with that principle of self-government.
The point is this: Mr Moore and anyone else who wants to make these spurious arguments about secession should put up or shut up. You have the capacity to make the case in a far more serious way than you do, so get on with it already. Simply shrugging and saying the rest of the Commonwealth wouldn’t go for it is the coward’s way out.
Introduce a Bill either to repeal or to amend the Constitution and for related purposes and see how far you get with the people of Western Australia on the matter.