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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The next issue will provide some very interesting
reflections on the populations, governance, funding and quality of
life rankings of the American Farm States.