Politics

The fight for the 7th state

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When it comes to State of Origin Queenslanders may be united, but in the Sunshine State there has always been discontent about the way Brisbane governs. Independent Australia's history editor Dr. Glenn Davies reflects on the push for a North Queensland state.
nq flag
One suggestion for a North Queensland flag.
 

 

THERE IS A renewed push for North Queensland to break away from South East Queensland and form a separate state. The catalyst for the latest push was the combined populations of Townsville and Cairns surpassing Tasmania's population. On 8 July this year an e-petition was lodged with Queensland Parliament and a discussion paper calls for a referendum on the issue to be held at the 2015 election.

The petition’s creator, Townsville business owner Brad Archer, said the region needed to “pool its muscle” and lobby Brisbane for a referendum.

Population growth, an increase in co-operation between Townsville and Cairns, and the strong economy are behind the current argument for a line to be drawn between Rockhampton and Mackay. This comes as economic and statistical research data shows the northern region is punching above its weight economically. The collective output north of Rockhampton is worth $74.5 billion, or about $82,000 per person — 30% more than the Australian average.

Queensland is governed from a state capital located a great distance from the majority of its population base. Over the years, this has led to a mistrust and open dislike of the South East by Queenslanders living in North Queensland. Indeed, it has been quipped that the recently retired Queensland Government logo represented Queensland’s resources draining to the South East.

In 1970, Professor Geoffrey Bolton wrote a history of North Queensland called A Thousand Miles Away.  The title reflects how many North Queenslanders feel in their own state. Historically they have felt neglected by a distant government. A longstanding gripe of secession supporters is that wealth is being transferred to Brisbane instead of being used for the benefit of the areas in which it is generated. In 2009, Australia’s most famous historian, Geoffrey Blainey reignited the debate for North Queensland statehood, saying it would be "absurd" not to.

In 2010, the Independent Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, whose electorate comprises a large proportion of North Queensland, said:

"We have been economically massacred in the north ... it’s the tyranny of the majority being in South Each Queensland — the winner takes all."

Proponents of a separate state believe the further division of Queensland would lead to enhanced government, that brings economic benefits with it. In a 2010 meeting of the North Queensland Local Government Association intensified. 98 of 100 delegates voted in favour of a motion to secede. As a result of this, Bob Katter called for a referendum on the issue at the 2012 council elections. This was not to eventuate.

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Bob "The Force from the North" Katter has been vocal about his thoughts on secession. (Image courtesy couriermail.com.au)
 

Katter continues to vow to take the fight for a separate North Queensland state to Canberra. In an echo of the title of Professor Bolton’s book, Katter said in July 2013:

"North Queensland has been neglected for too long and the only way to rectify that is to give the region the chance to determine its own path because we will never get ahead when the decisions are made 2000km away."

He did concede however that the south of the state would not give up the north easily.

In 1852, John Dunmore Lang proposed – in his book Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia – the right of the colonies, and the interest of Britain and of the world the division of the future colony of Queensland into three subdivisions. In the wake of the formation of Queensland as a separate colony in 1856 it was widely believed that further subdivisions would take place. Since the establishment of Queensland as a separate colony secession movements arose first in North Queensland followed by Central Queensland. Prior to Federation, secession movements even sent representatives to England to pursue their case.

During the 1890s the Separation Movement was especially strong in the goldfield stronghold of Charters Towers with the establishment of a Separation League. In 1891, the Charters Towers republican editor F.C.B. Vosper won the separation essay prize.

Since Federation numerous efforts have been made to push the Queensland Government to act. Various groups have organised conventions and drafted petitions to further their goals. At times they have even been close to achieving their aims.  In 1910 the Queensland Parliament passed a motion proposing that Queensland be divided into three distinct states. However, the motion was never enacted and despite the efforts of many they have never again come as close to succeeding. A lack of political will in Britain and Brisbane, the existence of anti-secession groups, as well as divisions within new state supporters have all contributed to the retention of a single state.

The most active group has been the North Queensland Self Government League which proposes the division of Queensland along the 22nd parallel. The boundary of the new state would run from just south of Sarina on the coast to the Northern Territory border between Boulia and Mount Isa. The group proposes the capital should be at Sellheim, near Charters Towers, to overcome rivalry between Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.

The issue of independence for the north and the bush continues to bubble away under the surface. A feeling of isolation and the continuing frontier mentality pervades the thinking of the people of North Queensland.

It is feelings such as these that Bob Katter has tapped into to push for North Queensland to finally become a separate state.

However, Katter is one in a long line of historical northern leaders who have unsuccessfully attempted to tap into a political movement that has been simmering for over a century.

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