“Why I believe in secession”: State Premier urges that breakaway from Federation will cure our ills [26 October 1930]

[Editor: An article by the Premier of Western Australia, Sir James Mitchell, advocating secession. Published in Truth (Perth, WA), 26 October 1930.]

“Why I believe in secession”

State Premier urges that breakaway from Federation will cure our ills

Says that states subserviency must cease

(Written specially for “Truth” by the Premier, Hon. Sir James Mitchell.)


In this article the State Premier, Hon Sir James Mitchell, puts the case for secession as he sees it. The question is one of vital interest to every citizen of this great State because there is a growing body of influential men who believe that the time is ripe for a change.

They see the root of the many ills which now beset Western Australia set wholly in the blunders and anomalies of Federal Government. They are working energetically in the belief that in freeing this State from the bonds of Federation they will also free her from her disabilities.

Whether they are right or wrong, their views are earnest and interesting, and they are important.

“Truth” Opens these columns to serious discussion of national problems and interests each week, because it is necessary for an intelligent public to have all sides of public questions presented to it for the formation of intelligent opinion.

All articles appearing here express the views of the writers, and not necessarily those of “Truth.”


“There are some folk in the community who claim and exercise the right to advocate unification in substitution for the present Federal system, and yet resent the action of others who urge that the interests of Western Australia would best be served by withdrawing from the union.

“It is a peculiar cast of mind indeed that can discern no objection to making such a radical departure from the Federal compact as unification represents, while characterising as unpatriotic and iconclastic a no more drastic change that would unshackle this great State of ours and enable it to pursue the road along which lies assured progress.

“Secession is not and should not be made a party question.

“All that its champions are seeking is to secure what they deem best for the people of the State, the Commonwealth and the Empire — an aim that is surely sufficiently broad-based to raise the question from party pettiness to national significance.

“That is my attitude, and in considering the matter from this standpoint, I try to envisage what would be possible were we free to proceed with the development of our territory, untramelled by a Commonwealth policy that hampers us at every turn.

“Released from the bond, I am convinced that we could make much better progress and be more helpful to the rest of Australia than is possible at present.

Hopeless failure

“Thirty years ago we voted ourselves into Federation because a majority of the people believed it was the right thing to do. From the experience of those three decades, it is indisputable that the Commonwealth has not realised the expectations of its founders. In my opinion it has been a hopeless failure.

Many people will not admit that, but they forget that their actions speak louder than words. Some are asking for freedom from the Federal yoke; some are asking for far-reaching reforms; some are asking for unification; but where is the individual who is satisfied with the present system? Practically everybody is convinced that some change is imperative.

“How harshly Federation has operated against this State is recognised even beyond the State boundaries. That the cost of Federation to us has become insupportable is equally true, though perhaps less widely acknowledged.

“Even were we able still to bear the cost, the State could carry it only to the disadvantage of the whole of Australia. Western Australia comprises one-third of the Australian continent, and how can the Commonwealth advance if our third, as well as the other two-thirds, be not encouraged by Commonwealth policy to the end that the national income of the whole might be increased?

“Progress Federally can never be attained so long as Federal policy takes cognisance of only the richer States nearest to the seat of Government and ignores the needs of a true wealth-producer like Western Australia?

“There can be no misunderstanding of the position of the primary producer. The cost of production has been enormously increased by Federal policy, thus hampering our agricultural, pastoral and mining production — the pinch was felt, not merely latterly when the prices of wheat and wool slumped, but in the years immediately preceding when seasons were good and prices were good.

“It is the shortage of national income that is the cause of Australia’s troubles to-day. Yet the industries upon which Australia’s solvency rests are the ones upon which the ever increasing burden of Federal tariff and taxation imposts falls the heaviest.

“It is well to remember that the very industries by which we live, the only industries that can produce national income.

“All the things we agreed should be done by the Commonwealth could have been done without any serious injury to the State, because the taxation necessary would have been comparatively light. Even had it proved requisite for the State to make some small sacrifice that those things might be the better done in the interests of the whole of the people, no complaint would have been raised by us. But the Commonwealth, ever seeking self-aggrandisement, has embarked upon other avenues of governmental activity never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution and has caused the distant, less-populous and less-wealthy States to suffer severely. There is no equity in the treatment meted out by the central authority, notwithstanding the clear constitutional injunction against discrimination between the States, and so States like ours must continue to suffer.

“The duty of any Government is to govern in the interests of all the people, but how is that possible in a country subject to such tariffs and bonuses as the Commonwealth has sponsored?

“Reform within the Federal Parliament may come, but it will be slow in coming, because a majority of the members of the House of Representatives are elected by the two States for whose especial benefit Commonwealth policy has been shaped.

“Still there are some people in those States who betray the belief that something better could be done with Australia than has been done by the Commonwealth. The point of chief concern to us is that we in Western Australia shall be unable to bear up under the burden sufficiently long to permit of any reform becoming effective.

“Both the word and the spirit of the Commonwealth Constitution have been forgotten or ignored, with the result that we in Western Australia particularly are seriously handicapped in our work of developing the industries by which we live.

“In a new country development can be brought about by the application of funds obtainable from two sources; one, borrowed money; the other, wealth produced from the soil, both economically used. The amount derived from production and available for the work of further developing the country has been seriously diminished by the heavy taxation of the Commonwealth.

“So serious is the Commonwealth burden that, when added to the taxation imposed by the State and by local authorities, it absorbs — or will do this year — 25 per cent. of the gross production. No country can stand that.

“Without the drain of Federation the several States would have made much greater progress in the last 30 years. They would not have been cumbered with the present burden of taxation, and we in this State would not have been condemned to pay extremely high prices for Australian manufactured goods, representing a disadvantage of at least £3,000,000 a year.

“Add to that the taxation collected in this State on goods imported direct, plus the taxation collected in the Eastern States on goods supplied to us by their merchants and manufacturers, and the total of our disabilities reaches the staggering sum of about £8,000,000 a year.

Tax burden

“Thus effectively is the State being bled.

“If we wish to live, we shall have to cut away from the Federal incubus, reduce exorbitant overhead expenses, just as any business man would do, and exercise our freedom to trade with whom we can make the best deal. Eastern States prices are beyond our means.

“Would it be possible so to order Federal affairs that we could return to the original intention of the founders of the Federation? Any method short of secession entails the almost insuperable difficulty of retracing the steps that have led to the adoption of the present inordinately high tariffs and taxation to the hurt of primary industry.

“We have given Federation a fair trial for 30 years, and day by day the position of this State grows worse. From moderate protection the Commonwealth passed to high protection, from high protection to still higher protection, and now it is indulging in prohibition.

The great manufacturing centres of Australia enjoyed prosperity only while their cities and factories were being built.

“Factory production itself has proved incapable of keeping those tariff and bonus-favored spots in even a reasonable condition of prosperity, and this notwithstanding the enormous burdens simultaneously imposed upon primary producers to grant those favors.

“Is it not quite clear that the world can afford to buy goods at the Australian cost or manufacture? So far from being able to export manufactured goods, Eastern Australia cannot maintain its secondary industries with all the safeguarding that tariffs and bonuses provide. And if other countries cannot afford to pay the cost of Commonwealth manufactured goods, Australia cannot afford them either.

(Continued on page 12)

Premier says “Break!”

Believes secession is only cure for ills of the State

(Continued from page 8)

“Yet for the temporary and fleeting advantage of manufacturing for Australian needs, our export commodities that must meet world competition have had their production costs increased until profitable business there, too, has become impossible.

“What other conclusion can be drawn than that Commonwealth policy has miserably failed?

“Under it there can be no return to prosperity for any section of the people. So the point for ardent Federalists to consider is whether the country is to be saved by drastic reform, or sacrificed for an ideal that can never be attained by present methods.

Unification worse

“Those people who oppose secession as the remedy for our ills must consider the alternatives — a radical change of Commonwealth policy that seems beyond all hope of attainment, and unification which would mean a complete surrender of all our rights to the Canberra authorities, leaving this western third of the continent without adequate voice or vote in the government of the country.

“Under unification our last state would be worse than the present, bad and all as that is.

“We have been told that our grievances are remediable within the Federation. The State has done all in its power to get its grievances redressed.

“Five years ago our disabilities were exhaustively collated, enumerated and explained to a Commonwealth Commission on which the State had no representation. One of the Commissioners said that Western Australia should never have federated, but the recommendations of the Commission for relief have never been more than partially carried into effect.

“Since then our disabilities have materially increased, but protest as we may, no commensurate redress is forthcoming.

“Are we then to pursue the present headlong rush to ruin, or manfully strive to secure freedom which alone would enable us to work out our destiny and play our proper part in the scheme of Empire?

“As I have said elsewhere, we can pay too big a price for sentiment. For the sake of Anzac memories, we are told, we should remain in the Commonwealth. But New Zealand occupies an honored place in Anzac without being part of the Commonwealth. Is there any reason why Western Australia should not do likewise? Remain in the Federation and for ever be a mendicant people, accepting the doles that the richer States might deign to toss to us, much as one would toss a bone to a dog!

“Does such subserviency connote the spirit of vigor, self-reliance and resource for which Anzac stands? To be worthy of Anzac traditions, it is incumbent that we demand freedom of action, and set about subduing and populating this vast territory to the end that it might be made a pillar of strength to the rest of Australia and to the Empire.

“The only way to save Australia is to unburden the primary producer and to insist upon the manufacturers standing up to fair competition with the rest of the Empire at any rate.

This is why

“By this I do not suggest the abolition of all protective duties; neither would I advocate the immediate withdrawal of all bonuses and other aids to industry, but it is essential to effect a tremendous reduction of the tariff and of existing bonuses and bounties, besides getting back to the contract that Federation implied.

“Not until Federal politicians revert to their legitimate sphere and base their policy upon these elementary principles of economy can we hope for any permanent improvement. Because Federalists will not face the obvious remedies, but persist in blockading the very sources of true national wealth, I urge secession for Western Australia.”


Truth (Perth, WA), 26 October 1930, pp. 8, 12

Editor’s notes:
The heading on page 12 has been included here, as it was significantly different to the heading used on page 8.

James Mitchell = Sir James Mitchell, a politician who was twice Premier of Western Australia (1919-1924, 1930-1933), and who was also Governor of Western Australia (1948-1951)

[Editor: Corrected “present emthods” to “present methods”. In line with the other paragraphs in the article, quotation marks have been placed at the start of two paragraphs; those beginning with “There are some” and “Since then”.]

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