Previously, Don Ford has argued in the pages of News Weekly that Australia urgently needs to decentralise its population, economy and government, and actively encourage the growth of rural industries, towns and cities. Here he proposes the creation of new states as a major step towards achieving this outcome.
Overcrowding and pollution in Australia’s big coastal cities have reached critical levels and are having a negative impact on the living standards of more and more Australian families.
We could ease this population pressure by encouraging more people to settle in rural towns and regions, and by building up these sparsely populated and economically stagnant localities into thriving, prosperous communities.
Another thing we should bear in mind is the threat of terrorist attacks in the big cities, particularly the central business and industrial precincts, transport systems and defence establishments. In the event of war, our densely populated coastal cities could be prime targets for military attack.
It is imperative therefore that all Australian governments, and especially the Commonwealth, take immediate action to launch large-scale and continuing programs to decentralise population, industry and government away from the large coastal cities into regional and rural areas and towns, inland and on the coast.
The Commonwealth — preferably with the co-operation of the states, but without them if they prove unco-operative — should organise referenda in each region of Australia.
Local residents would be asked if they wished their region to become a new state within the Commonwealth of Australia, with the power to elect their own parliament and government, with power to raise their own revenues for exclusive use in the development of their new state.
Young couples with children should be offered financial incentives to move from the big cities to country towns and cities to establish homes and businesses. Such incentives could be exempt from taxation and local rates for, say, 10 and five years respectively.
People, especially the young, would benefit from the opportunity to move to rural and country areas, establish businesses and homes and rear families in clean, pollution-free environments. A climate of hope and opportunity to improve their material and moral condition would help to stem the flow of young people from country towns to the cities, attracted by the false allure of bright lights and places of entertainment and pleasure.
As already remarked, the people living within each proposed new state should have the power to determine whether they wish their region to become a new state. There is provision in the Commonwealth of Australia’s constitution for the Federal Parliament to create new states, if the people so wish (viz., Chapter VI paras 121 and 124).
It will be noted that the borders of most existing states follow the lines of latitude and longitude and the courses of rivers. This obviated the need for costly surface and later aerial surveys. But, ideally, state borders should run along the highest ridges and crests of mountains and hills, since most populated areas lie in valleys between mountains and hills with a river or stream supplying water and perhaps fish and water fowl to a cohesive local community.
For historical reasons, notable exceptions to this principle in Australia are the Blue Mountains and the Northern and Southern Tablelands in New South Wales. Ideally, new state borders should be located as far away as possible from such populated areas.
A major advantage of establishing new states and decentralising government is that people’s elected representatives and their legislatures will be far more accessible to them.
Voters in rural communities in particular will not have to rely on a representative who is absent for a large part of the year, and who sits in a parliament many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away, and who has to compete with other representatives from other parts of a vast, already existing state.
Hilaire Belloc, in his famous book The Cruise of the ‘Nona’ (1925), warned that over-sized cities spawn growing inequality, political corruption and crime. He wrote: “In a very large community you can always be deceived; nothing about you will be real…”
The closer the government is to the people, the better control the people can exercise over that government, and the more rapidly and cheaply they can obtain those necessary works and services that only government can provide.
The establishment of new states, smaller in area and population than the existing states, can be easily justified by the example of Tasmania, already a long-established self-governing sovereign state within the Australian federal system, yet with a land area and population much smaller than the mainland states.
— Don Ford lives in Ashfield, NSW.