Introduction1901/2001End of Isolation?IdentityRaceEchoes of secession
The Commonwealth and WAConstitutionThe Carve UpCommonwealth Power and the States

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]

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