North-West State

Explanatory Note:
Kimberley/North West territory

The North-West State proposal dates back to the 1990s, and in its present form (2013) it was initially reformulated by a small discussion group (the Plateau Group) concerned about the Operation Sovereign Borders proposals and the "Children overboard" incident. It was clear at that time that no real alternatives existed to stopping maritime arrivals of asylum seekers other than the threat of automatic indefinite incarceration on Nauru, and this didn't fit well with the Australian character. Abbott's solution was draconian, and went against Australian humanitarian instincts ... but it must be admitted that it did work, and it probably saved many lives through leaky old boats foundering.

The initial idea (later rejected) was that refugees should be confined to this North-West territory and used to develop this declining part of Australia. More recently this approach became a better way for Australia to confront China's expansionism without posturing as a lackey of the USA and joining in their Cold War games; strutting in a bellicose stance with Navy gun-boat diplomacy.

Also these proposals could create a regional alternative to Hong Kong as an international trade centre, and also provide the ASEAN with a permanent discussion and disputes-resolution forum.

The Plateau group later realised that the value of North-Western development along these lines could create much more than this:

Economic viability: We propose that the economic viability of this new region would develop partly through government funding and partly by business. These possibilities were discussed:

  1. some sort of collaborative-university education centre which would:
    • build on Australia's international reputation as an education provider.
    • play an important role in an Australian focus on foreign aid for third-world development programs in Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
    • in addition to university level courses, this centre would be close enough to Asia to also develop TAFE and short vocational courses.
    • provide education and development of the Australian diplomatic corps and trade-bureaucratic training.

  2. A location to expand some existing research facilities as part of our foreign aid to the Southeast Asian region. Australian universities and research organisations (CSIRO, agricultural science, and CSL/pharmacueticals). Australia should create a focussed research institute here for specialised studies into tropical medicine, cyclone-proof building techniques, waste treatment and disposal, and the development of village-level low-cost sustainable energy generation and emergency communications equipment.
  3. provide specialised technical, educational and medical research services to the extensive disabled population in these regions. These are often relatively neglected by the home nations because of basic priorities.
  4. Education of females is a high priority in the region for a range of reasons, extending from food self-sufficiency, to healthy children, to contraception.

Australian Universities: Australia makes $35 billion from providing tertiary education to foreign (mainly Chinese) students, and when one-in-four new students at the major NSW universities arrives with poor English language skills (often below that normally required for entry into a university course) then we obviously have a problem. No matter how much the university authorities profess to be maintaining standards, this semi-literate flood must be degrading the quality of many entry-level courses for Australian students.
    This substantial national income would be better maintained by the development of an joint Australian International University (in association with Universities Australia) in the North-West where the concentration of Asian students would justify special remedial language courses. As part of our foreign aid, it would also support the development of text-books and course material in the languages of the students. This would provide part-time work, which would extend the catchment area of the Asian student population to the middle-class rather than just the wealthy.

At the purely commercial level, we believe that this project could eventually also become:

  • an Australian trading centre along the lines of Singapore and Hong-Kong which could utilise the languages, cultural knowledge, and contacts of the refugees and migrants.
  • potentially an electronics development centre attracting both Australian and Asian electronics/software staff and start-ups.

Refugees: The political problems of the Asian, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa regions doesn't appear to be abating, so Australia will clearly need to consider taking further refugees for many decades to come. However we should be clear that refugees are to be treated as 'asylum seekers' not second-class migrants -- that is, they are given safe refuge and education, only while dangers exist for them in their home country. They should be required to undertake education and training that will help them contribute to the well-being of their nations when situations improve and then return to their homes.

Brain drain: we are concerned that Australia is sometimes attracting the top medical, electronic and general research professionals from developing nations (nations with far greater need than ours) though special visas. This must have a serious detrimental effect on our their development: it is an 'anti-foreign-aid' policy.

It is easy to see the short-term advantage of stealing such talent from neighbouring countries, but the long-term adverse consequence of this policy is substantial:

  • If over-population is the main driver of regional ethnic problems, then we should attack this problem as our primary concern, since population trends are deeply cultural and take a generation to modify.
  • If over-population and economic development (aspiration to consume) are the most pressing concerns influencing global climate change. Then we are helping maintain the economic/educational conditions that contribute most to the global population expansion.
  • If Australia wishes to maintain its sphere of influence in Asia for reasons of both trade and defence -- it needs to develop friends among the refugees and migrants who will take their personal links and friendships back to their home countries.
  • International friendships among citizens, not just diplomats and politicians, should be considered important in avoiding trade-wars and Cold Wars between the powerful nations.

    I contend that the only way we may have to prevent a future flood of refugees is to admit students and scholars and only a few refugees who will see asylum here as only a temporary measure. Also we should also insist that international students are admitted to our educational institutions on a signed undertaking that they will eventually take their knowledge and professional qualifications back to their country of origin.

Financial drain: Australia also attracts a lot of dubious finance through special visas for wealthy Asians, with little attention being paid to investigating how they are so wealthy ... in often impoverished countries. We are fast becoming a larger version of the Cayman Islands. This practice now extends down to the level where many of our visa visitors are buying investment houses which sit vacant in Australian suburbs, simply to establish the rights to migrate when it suits them.

I would contend that encouraging the transfer of capital from impoverished or developing nations to Australia in this way is detrimental to both their, and our, national economies. In Australia this influx of capital rarely flows through to productive assets and when it doesn't then it dilutes the funds of Australian money that does. This generally emerges as speculative wealth, and is a major factor in raising Australian asset prices and in feeding increased local inequality.

I also believed that the then current level of 70-80,000 migrants a year were unsustainable in the long-term, even at that time. Today's level of migration is still more than double the number that Australia can absorb without new regional developments of the kind proposed here.

It is highly likely that climate change and political/economic developments in Asia and Africa will increase pressures for Australia to take refugees, so future generations will have both migration and refugee problems to face and absorb, and I see no reason to change my view today.

If you think that Australia can maintain even the present standard of living with a population of 50 million in a period of regular droughts, with the peak oil point in the past, and with transport costs rising exponentially, then you haven't been paying attention.

Equity: It is notable that the claimed benefits Australia supposedly receives from the ridiculously high migration rate under "Big Australia" policy is never expressed in per capita terms, which is the only honest way to make 'well-being' claims.

The idea that Australia can support the current projected 40-50 million population in mid-century ignores all evidence about resource depletions, expansion limitations, climate evidence and common sense if you have lived any sort of life outside Canberra.

"Big Australia" has disastrous long-term consequences, and the current population growth by immigration panders only to investors, property developers, builders and a few large international industries.

At these rates of growth and inevitably facing scarcity, those who hold desired capital assets will always benefit out of all proportion to the younger workers -- especially those now needing to pay off a massive HECS debt, and pay such a large part of his/her/both incomes for housing.

Current Industries

  • Tourism is important to this area, but it is erratic and not very beneficial to Australian business. Most recent developments have focussed on overseas cruise liners (with controlled environments) along the spectacular fiord-like north-west coast.
  • Fishing and the old pearl industry are famous along the coast, but both are facing their limits. Broome has a small cultured pearl industry.
  • The cattle-pastoral industry still remains viable, but it is unlikely to be expanded. The old Wyndham government meat works have been abandoned.
  • The Ord River development scheme opened in 1963. The town of Kununurra and the Ord River Irrigation Area (with two stages of dam development) were initially intended for sugar cane and later for cotton. Neither proved to match the economic claims. The Ord Dam now irrigates 750 square kilometres of land with a "steppe climate" and a rainfall of 800mm. Reports suggest that this area has potential as a food exporter to Asia given the infrastructure (all-weather airport) - so it would certainly be able to provide all the food necessary for the new state with a substantial population.
  • Mining is not a major economic force, however the region has the Argyle diamond mine and some gold and other mineral extraction areas.


The region suffers from high humidity and heat in Oct-Dec period. Then in summer, monsoons between January and March often force the closure of many roads and national parks due to heavy rain. Days are overcast and hot; heavy downpours are a frequent occurrence. This is also cyclone territory.

Broome has a reasonably good climate for most of the year, however a much more comfortable planned city, developed with this climate variability in mind, would be highly practicable today. In fact technical research into tropical housing and low-cost controlled environments should be included in the development and trade-education plans.

Economic possibilities

Any new state, territory or city needs to have a couple of major viable industries. These are some of the possibilities.

Energy-intensive industries


We are facing the demise of coal and gas power generation which currently support Australia's energy-intensive industries in the main population centres on the Eastern seaboard coast. Electric generation will need to be close to these industries in the future.

Certain industries such as aluminium refining and steel smelting are heavy power consumers, and will likely need to migrate to regions where low-cost, high-intensity current can be provided. The north-west area, because of its lack of intensive development, has the potential for a renewable power generation on a larger scale than almost anywhere else in the world, so this area will likely provide a worthwhile venue future steel, aluminium and other mining refining industries.

Solar:The monsoon cloud cover means that solar is unlikely to be a major source of future energy in the North-west for about four months of the year, so this is not likely to support industrial development.

Wind Large wind-farms could be mounted almost anywhere, either on land or offshore (where the wind is stronger and more regular). Therefore the use of wind generation is certainly highly viable for domestic use (with battery backup), but without pumped hydro, it will be intermittent and therefore not of the level and predictability needed for industry. Tidal Power: However much more interest lies in the use of tidal power which is only a minor renewable factor in other parts of Australia. Queensland has a small development project; Tasmania has a tidal and wave-power trial; and the coastline above Derby in WA is developing a 40 megaWatt tidal power system.The whole of this north-west coast is recognised with having the highest potential for harvesting tidal energy in the world.

  • Tidal energy can provide a very cheap form of non-intrusive sustainable/base-load energy when coupled with small pumped-hydro systems. Tidal power is very highly efficient in terms of the amount of energy that can be reaped from the environment using the least necessary equipment —due to the sheer mass of the water v. air. This is also simple, easy to maintain primary equipment Tidal flows are predictable and regular (every 6.25 hours) and the north-west coast has the highest tides in the world. Predictability provides further economies in the amount of energy harvested from the least essential infrastructure. A number of different approaches are available for generating ocean power (tidal and wave) There are two forms of tidal energy: stream and barrage. Underwater turbines and water-pump equipment can be built into barrages across the wider inlets, or below the streams in the narrower fiords along the coast. These systems can be fully submerged and therefore have no impact on the aesthetics of the region, especially tourism. Rather than underwater electrical generation the water movement can be harvested to turn double-stroke water-pumps, lifting fresh ocean water up through hidden pipes to the high plateau surrounding this coast. This permits: A very low-cost pumped hydro generation system providing steady output power. A secondary use for the holding ponds in fish-farming and pearl culture.
    • Higher and Trade Education: Australia has developed a very viable market in Higher Education, with many of our State/Federal Universities and TAFE colleges making a substantial income from the so-called "export" of education. The export of higher education is now a $30 billion industry in Australia, and given the development of a modern city (based on Plateau principles for temperature and humidity control, and resistance to cyclones, etc.) the potential here is enormous.

      There is no reason why these same institutions couldn’t develop various subsidiaries and colleges and research institutes (probably on a single campus) in this region to service the Asian market. This obviously would be also seen in part as foreign aid.

      Ideally, one of the towns in this new territory would be developed into a "Science and Education City" with the CSIRO and various other medical and technical research institute alongside the educational institutes. This could also become the new centre for the innovative use of on-line systems for higher education.

      One of the worst aspects of Australia’s export of education, is that we often don’t export the graduates back to their nations, where they are needed to help fill desperate gaps in health and other human services. We treat our education facilities as if they were ventures in foreign aid, and train the brightest of the young citizens in Asia — but we then encourage them to migrate at the completion of their courses, because we claim Australia needs the skills we have helped them generate.

      This is a hypocritical form of "brain drain" which is often used to circumvent the restrictions on immigration. One advantage of siting these educational institutes in the north-west is that students, migrants, refugees, and business people can be admitted to this territory on conditional visas which would block them from claiming the right to take up Australian citizenship. The admission conditions should insist that they remain domicile in this region only for the period of their visas, and then return to their home nations. We should not be draining these countries of their brightest and best.

    • Training Australians: Another viable angle here is to develop Asian language and cultural training (plus research centres) for Australian diplomats, the security services, bureaucrats, and business people. We have an opportunity of making use of the language and cultural knowledge of refugee and conditional migrant population and students.
    • Indigenous education: The development of a concentration of institutions for TAFE and University education, should also be an opportunity to develop special education and trade skill development facilities for indigenous Australians.
    • Conventions, web-sites and call centres. The location of the Kimberleys half-way between the main population centres of Australia and those of Asia, makes this an idea location for the development of major convention facilities eventually.
    • Internet.

      The necessary emphasis on electronic education, communications and training systems, also mean that the Kimberleys area could be developed as a centre for web-site development and call centres, able to use Asian visitors on short-term visas. This would allow Australia to bring the internet links to the outside world under Australian control without necessarily adding to business costs, while providing work for genuine refugees.

    • Food and product export to Asia. It is difficult to know the potential for food exports from this region to Asia, or whether it would only be seasonal. But since there is only a short air flight from Kununurra [Ord River irrigation district] to most of the major Asian cities (no further than the flight to the main Australian capitals), the potential for overnight shipping of fresh food-stuff should be extensive once the infrastructure was developed. Cotton and sugar cane are clearly not the way we should be going with the Ord River Irrigation scheme.
    • Renewable Energy

      Clearly the potential for solar and wind generation of electricity in this area is enormous, but the scheme to export this power directly to Southeast Asia using an undersea link (in imitation of the undersea link between Tasmanian hydro and Victoria) must be considered dubious due to the power losses in the length of the connection.

      It makes much more sense to utilise the power in the North-West for aluminium and rare-metals extraction and other forms of refining. Wave and tidal power are also obviously worth developing, especially tidal which has a 6 hour predictable cycle, and so can generate output close to base-load, requiring only small battery of hydro-regeneration storage to flatten out the variations. A tidal power energy scheme on the north-west coast could also get secondary value out of a fish-farming industry which would utilise the high-level [pumped hydro] holding ponds. Pearl culture has similar requirements.

    • As a temporary harbour for Asian refugees. The development of one or more substantial population centres would initially require a number of low-skilled migrant workers and we have these people incarcerated in off-shore prison camps. These schemes would provide an opportunity for Australia to rectify the harsh treatment handed out to the early boat people.

      Their labour would be needed, and they could be transferred from Manus Island and Nauru, and accommodated under a system of restricted visas (if draconian measures are still required). If the sole purpose is to provide a safe-haven from persecution or war threat then the North-west is the ideal location to provide shelter, for both the refugees themselves and for Australia.

      Ideally such a region would also use migrant, refugees and overseas students as a way to establish special trade-links with Asia - since the area is only a short air-hop away from our neighbours. Australia would also benefit from having a pool of language speakers able to provide translation services: workers who know the cultures, and are knowledgeable about the sensitivities and needs of their own countries.