Extract from interview with Professor Greg Craven, Provost and Dean of Law at the University of Notre Dame, Western Australia. He is a Victorian-born constitutional lawyer who has written on secession in Australia.
We have spent 70 years diligently forgetting the West Australian
Secession Movement. The reason we have is because it threatens our self
image. Our self image is we're all happy Australians working together
gradually getting even closer and closer together. The secession movement
of course is a ghastly reminder that that's not necessarily true. Federations
who have secession movements, if they get over them, typically spend a
lot of time pretending that they're not a problem. The history of Canada
with Quebec is an absolute classic; its a huge case of constitutional
denial. There are many other examples. So in Australia we certainly have
tried to pretend that nothing could really have gone wrong.
On the other hand, when you look at the proceedings in London when the
West Australians petitioned the Imperial Parliament to release them from
the Federation, you do actually have the remarkable prospect of the Commonwealth
Government's closing submission to that Committee. In the high-powered
Committee of the Lords and the Commons saying that, if Western Australia
were allowed to secede then events would happen in the Commonwealth of
Australia that would "shake the empire to its very foundations".
That barrister would have been instructed to say that by the government
of the Commonwealth. I've always interpreted that as meaning that if the
Imperial Parliament had let out Western Australia, Australia would have
gone out of the empire which would have certainly shaken the empire to
its foundations. That's serious stuff.
The other thing that's not often recognised about the secession movement
is that throughout that period of the 1930s, South Australia and Tasmania
were watching closely and were very interested in what happened with Western
Australia. There would have been every possibility that if Western Australia
had gone the Federation would have disintegrated. I think the Commonwealth
Government was late to realise that. I think they thought the whole thing
was a joke up until the referendum. After that I think they realised it
very, very well indeed.
Greg Craven, March 2000
[Battye Library, OH3016]