Growing up in New England I was acutely aware of the 1967 referendum for a new state in Northern NSW. The referendum was loss by the tactical move to include Newcastle.
The opposition to the proposition knew Newcastle would never swallow being run from Armidale. But the question northern NSW was posing was why should they be run from Sydney?
In the Pilliga Forrest a timber resource which supports around 60 workers is being closed because of an edict from Sydney. The effect is a clear disenfranchisement of the constituency in the country from the legislature in Sydney on an issue that would be, at best, a peripheral interest to the commuters in Sydney but a fascination of those who have extra time on their hands in the inner suburbs.
On the Breeza Plain farmers who had their rights over coal under their property taken in 1983 without payment from a state parliament based in Sydney now have the imminent threat of the same land being mined regardless of their property right to water or farming operation.
Federal Senators who were supposed to be the counter balance to regional disenfranchisement now overwhelmingly reside in the same capital cities reinforcing the problem.
In Western Australia 12 out of 12 live in Perth which is pretty good because in the US, New York only has two and our Senate was based on the US system. Adelaide has 11 out of 12 Senators; Melbourne has 10 out of the 12, Sydney, 9 out of 12. Queensland which prides itself on being decentralised has 8 out of 12 in Brisbane.
We have become not so much states as city states with a secondary hinterland.
Prior to 1788, Australia had about 200 Aboriginal tribal areas based on geographic and demographic tribal language traits. In many cases these were usually the size of an average European country.
In 1788 the colony of NSW covered two-thirds of the land mass and included New Zealand. The colonial boundaries changed multiple times till 1901.
Since 1901 there has been one sustained change, the creation of the Australian Capital Territory in 1938. Melbourne and Sydney were shrewd enough to understand if either became the capital the other would be left behind as other towns in their states had been left behind by them.
In the US, after the initiation of closer settlement with the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620, had created 33 States by 1860 when there was a population of about 25 million.
240 years is roughly the same time span as where Australia is now from the First Fleet landing in 1788. The comparison of 33 states in America to six states and two territories here in Australia is stark. In Canada there are ten provinces and three territories.
We need true competitive forces such as a state that does not believe in payroll tax. Additionally private land ownership should actually mean you own something without continual additional caveats for the community good, such as vegetation laws, being placed over you.
Brisbane to Cairns is a journey of 1705 kilometres through one state. Drive from Brisbane to Melbourne using the Newell Highway and you have a 16790km journey through three states and past one territory. More than half a million people live in North Queensland – a region that has long wanted its own state.
Queensland at 1,727,000 square kilometres is two-and-a-half times bigger than Texas; Western Australia at 2,525,500km2 is 3.6 times bigger than Texas.
The royalties of Central Queensland build roads in Brisbane yet disparaging statements about hearing the banjos north of the Pine River are still an unfortunately used pejorative.
The White Paper on the Future of Federation is a chance for Australia to move on from the bog we got stuck in in 1901 before cars and telephones little alone computers and wireless broadband.
I do not believe that in their maddest dreams; however the founders of our federation would have believed that our progression to new states had stopped for eternity in 1901.
The lines our states are drawn with would be completely different were we to draw them now. The powers within them would vary as well so we did not have multiple rules where there should only be one, railway gauges for instance. Fish don't respect state boundaries but a fishing zone may have two bag limits depending where you go to port.
The alternative to new states is to remove the states and have regional governments. But the states tell us how unfair that would be, so seeing that states promote fairness; let us have more of them.
The benefactors of the current system, the city as a state, can funnel the resources continually into their area thereby attracting more people. The capital city will naturally be desirous of keeping the status quo.
But this is not the best model for the growth of a nation as the creation of Melbourne as the national capital was deemed not to be the best long term solution as the national capital.
The opportunity to drive for these changes comes once in a lifetime or less. Now after 47 years there is the chance for New England to caucus with other regions that have a similar desire for greater self-determination. I believe we should take it.
Barnaby Joyce MP
Federal Member for New England
Deputy Leader of The Nationals
Minister for Agriculture