Many Queenslanders have difficulty in assessing the consequences of remaining under the hegemony of the South East corner, (New North Wales) so it is timely to reflect on the lessons from the last attempt at establishing a new Australian state.
 
Most Queenslanders were not even born when Northern NSW held a referendum in the 1960's on whether to form a new state. There was a widespread view that, as far as the government was concerned, the letters in NSW stood for Newcastle, Sydney and Woollongong with no regard for the needs of anyone outside that area.
 
Curiously, the proposal does not appear to have been based on the voting in each shire, state or federal electorate. The proponents simply drew some lines on the map that enclosed their view of their community of interest. And while the strongest proponents of the new state were based in rural areas, the organising group appear to have been unable to conceive of a state that was not dominated by a large city in the Anglo/European tradition.
 
So to their own, and the regions ultimate folley, they included the industrial city of Newcastle within the proposed boundaries. This city had been heavily industrialised for more than a century and was a stronghold of the labor left with very centrist tendencies.  Apparently the new state proponents had assumed that these left wing city voters would value the kudos of being a 'State Capital' over the obvious implications of being a Labor minority in a Country Party dominated State.
 
Not surprisingly, the referendum failed to pass and the region has had it's interests subordinated to New-Syd-Gong ever since.
 
The surprising thing is that there are numerous successful examples of 'farm states' in the USA that the new state could have been modelled on. They all do their banking, trading and transporting via Chicago but they write their own legislation in North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Nebraska. 
 
None of the voters of these states would ever dream of letting a swing voter in Chicago decide their destiny.  Sure, they have their problems like many agricultural areas do but they also perform very well in the rankings of key quality of life indicators. They have rightly concluded that being a distant minority vote in a mega-state will solve none of their problems and exacerbate most. They make their own decisions, live with the consequences and enjoy their own rewards.
 
And while it is difficult to determine if such states have faced any costs from not being incorporated in a mega-state there is no such difficulty in identifying the cost to Northern NSW of remaining under urban control.
 
For it was only a decade after the referendum that the newly elected Premier, Neville Wran, in 1976 ruled against a woodchip export facility for the region.  This industry was to be based on the selective silvicultural thinning of the considerable public and private native forest resources of the region. This would have yielded more than 6 million tonnes from all sources with an export value of more than $900 million per annum. This removal of bent and poorly formed stems would have improved the growth rate of the remaining stems and would have boosted the regional supply of sawlogs by about 500,000 cubic metres and worth another $300 million p.a.
 
The health, vigor and biodiversity values of these forests would have improved considerably, especially the stocking rate of birds and mamals. With a ready market for wood products, much of the land that is currently dominated by weeds would have been regenerated into more native forest.
 
This $1200 million annual injection into the local economy would, on the standard  economic multiplier of 3.5 times, have flowed through to produce a $4.2 billion boost to the regional economy.  There would have been 20,000 direct jobs and another 50,000 downstream jobs created and another $1.4 billion a year in extra tax would have been collected.
 
The new state administration may have involved what opponents of new states would call "needless duplication" of public service positions. But these would all be head office roles as the regional staff would already be in place. However, even in the unlikely event that some 10,000 new positions were created at an annual average cost of  $60,000 each, this would still only come to $600 million a year. These new head office positions would stem much of the normal leakage in the circular flow of money from regions to cities and, thus, pay their own way.
 
These two elements alone would lead to a total of 80,000 regional jobs and result in a population boost of about 180,000 people.  It is also quite certain that the upper Clarence and other rivers would have got the dams and irrigation systems that have been glaringly lacking for so long. And the cumulative effect of this would have had major implications for interstate migration patterns over the past 30 years. 
 
SE Qld may have had 130,000 fewer newcomers, 50,000 fewer houses and 5,000 hectares less urban sprawl. It would not have been enough to diminish underlying growth but it would have reduced pressure on local infrastructure and helped maintain local amenity. Who knows, one might still even have been able to get a decent surf on the coast.
 
Meanwhile, the Beattie government of New North Wales is acquiring the habit of cancelling future options for the rest of the state while spending a disproportionate part of the capital works budget on growth in the south east.  Under the guise of 'planning for growth' this capital expenditure ensures that most of the new jobs are kept in the south east.
 
It is a total fallacy to argue that this is where the demand is so this is where the money must be spent.  The obvious response to the new arivals who demand new infrastructure is, " gee whizz, we have spent our share of the capital works budget already but I hear they have under utilised services in Toowoomba, Roma, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns and Mt Isa, I hear there are plenty of jobs there too".
 
In fact, the infrastructure in the regions can easily cope with a larger population so their share of the capital budget could be spent more effectively. But that, of course would only happen if the region's share of the federal tax pie was allocated by the independent parliament(s) of the region.
 
And the lesson is clear that provincial cities who perceive their interests to be different to those of the region they serve cannot be allowed to veto the broader interests of the regional majority.  If a decision is to be made about a new state then the votes should be taken at the next level of government. 
 
This would mean that any cluster of local governments could resolve to pursue the new state option and proceed to invite their neighbours until they come accross a council that does not want to join.  If this abstaining council was enclosed by other councils that do wish to secede then the vote should be taken at the federal electorate level to determine the views of the broader community.  But if the abstaining council formed the border between those who want to secede and those who don't then, obviously, the shire boundary would become the state boundary.
 
If a vote of a federal electorate was against secession then only those councils that voted for secession would do so and the remainder could remain as an enclave of the rump state. An participation by the state government in any question of forming a new state would obviously raise questions of conflict of interest. The core community expectation of everyone who finds themselves in such an actual or potential conflict situation is that they take no part in the process. Clearly, the existing state administration would need to withdraw from a situation with potential for abuse of power.
 
This, of course, is highly speculative as there has been little analysis or costing of actual options for regional governance. But the Liberal Party has most definitely ruled out amalgamation of the two parties. This is the only option that has any prospect of delivering a conservative government in Queensland for a decade or two. 
 
And one can be absolutely certain that the highest priority of any labor government over these next few decades will be to ensure that each election has an issue that the Nationals cannot live with but which the Liberals cannot be elected without. Beattie will buy each election with farmer's rights and farmer's future. And one need only recall Anna Bligh's gloating on election night that, "and it only cost us three seats", to realise that persecuting a minority community, at present, costs them nothing.
 
That is the bind that confronts rural Queensland voters. Any attempt by the Nationals to protect the fundamental rights and interests of their community will be manipulated to ensure that the urban voters will not vote liberal. And that is the very clearest indication that the differences between the urban interests of New North Wales and the rural interests of Greater Queensland have undergone a very fundamental divergence that can only be addressed by a new state or two.
 
The experience of the failed state in Northern NSW makes it clear that the long term costs to Greater Queensland are already mounting and are likely to get much higher.
 
We need some detailed analysis of existing budgets to determine what regional budgets, funded from Canberra under COAG, would look like. For only then can we identify savings to be made and additional costs that might be incurred. And it seems pretty clear that Greater Queensland does not have the luxury of taking it's time.
 
The very worst thing to do in such circumstances is to not find out. The next worst is to allow Beattie to continue without attaching any political cost to his policies. I can't think of a bigger cost for such a large ego than to be judged by history as the man who lost Queensland.
 
Every elected politician recognises that you cannot do anything until you are in government. And the option that provides rural representatives with the highest probability of continuous government is secession. As the song goes, we must accentuate the bush's positives, eliminate Beattie's negatives and, above all,
don't mess with Mr in between.
 
The next issue will provide some very interesting reflections on the populations, governance, funding and quality of life rankings of the American Farm States.
 
Ian Mott