North-West State

1st draft August 2003: 2nd revision 2013

Kimberley/North West territory

The problem: Western Australia, which is the largest single state in the world, is impossible to effectively develop and manage because most of the state lies hundreds or thousands of kilometres of distance from the rich and populated South West of the State. For instance, Broome, the main regional centre for the Kimberleys area in North-Western Australia on the north-west coast, is 1,680 kilometres from the capital of Perth, and nearly twice that distance from the Federal Capital of Canberra.

Perth itself is the most isolated state capital in the world -- and yet it is the key city bordering the whole Indian-Pacific region, and therefore the main shipping port for Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and most of South-East Asia ... and on to the United Kingdom and Europe. Broome is much closer to the Suez, India/Pakistan, and our trading neighbours in Asia, but despite these geographic imperatives both business and population inevitably gravitate south to Perth.

Both the southern emphasis, and extreme separation distances have come to be accepted by Western Australians as normal. The state has a very high percentage of fly-in/fly-out workers who live in the South-West, but work further north and east. Consequently, the population growth in Broome, which would boost a local life-style and lead to local business and industrial development has been missing. The climate is also something of a problem, especially that of seasonal humidity and the regularity of cyclones. For these reasons, none of the northern coastal ports and towns of Western Australia has ever expanded past the early stage of development -- originally mainly pearl diving -- and there is little to fill employment gaps when local industries collapse.

While geographic isolation is not the major problem it once was, the world is facing an inevitable substantial rise in aviation fuel costs in the mid-century (2040 period), and so flying any substantial distance will become expensive, as will air-freight. Most of the north of WA will tend to become more isolated, not less. While rail and road transport -- and to a lesser degree sea cargo -- can adapted to renewable energy sources (grid and hydrogen generation), aviation will become limited in application by fossil-fuel costs and possibly by regulation.

In effect, Australia and New Zealand will become even more isolated from the global centres in Asia, America and Europe, and the North-West will become even further in economic viability terms from Perth and the Eastern States. Australia will certainly need to develop a transportation staging point in the North-West closer to South and South-East Asia than Perth.

North-West Development: The fact that Australia lacks any substantial settlement in the North-west/Kimberley region in reasonable proximity to Asia (and on the main path to Europe) has a number of potential long-term consequences to Australia's trade, regional leadership and influence, and to defence:

  • This vast empty expanse on the map will always suggest to the over-crowded people of Asia that here is an potential here for settlement and development ... and also for smuggling.
    • Tony Abbott's boat-people reaction and his Operation Sovereign Borders program were consequences of ignoring this view. Australia's reaction was seen by many Asians as 'racist'.
    • The religious and ethnic divides which have resulted in two million people in our Asian neighbours displaced from their traditional homelands and living in slum-camps is unlikely to be resolved within a couple of decades.
    • If we want to support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then Article 14 recognizes the right of everyone to seek asylum from persecution. The UN Convention's Status of Refugees is the centrepiece of international refugee protection today, so John Howard's claim that Australia is the lone determiner of who comes ashore, will lead to serious reputational consequences if we simply ignore claims and make no attempt to help our neighbours solve the causes of their problems.
    • With global population growth and limited resources, this north-west 'emptiness' will potentially breed misunderstandings and resentments especially in Indochina, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
    • Climate change and rising sea-levels in many of these low-lying agricultural areas and towns will only make matters worse.
    The North West region clearly has long-term national defence implications for Australia as a whole. Australia needs a major development project in this region to discourage and/or control refugees.

  • There are also opportunity costs for Australia inherent in our lack of regional development in the North West.
    • The existing industries of cattle, agriculture and mining (now with rare-earth potential) lack a major city resource and local administration hub.
    • The north would benefit from a viable trading centre along the lines of Singapore and Hong Kong -- particularly as Hong Kong appears to be losing its appeal as the centre for general regional trading.
  • Australia has a viable and highly active foreign aid program which would benefit from North-West development.
    • There is also value in developing an education centre to exploit the tertiary degree-course reputation of Australian universities, without the current stresses and entry-level compromises of the southern campuses. This centre would also service the indigenous people of the north, Papua New Guinea and the neighbouring countries. With this focus, Australia could mount special remedial courses and classes as an important component of its foreign aid.
    • The development of TAFE/trade and practical short-course vocational training is important also for Southeast Asia, PNG, etc. (and possibly the Pacific Islands also).
    • There is clearly the potential to develop regional/specific research organisations (tropical disease research; building and construction)
    • The is also the possibility of developing electronic and paper publishing, and courses and course-work/text-book translations into the languages of the regions.

    In fact, all of the possibilities carry foreign aid implications. And one important aspect of this proposal is that it would be seen, at least partially, as being altruistic -- to have the interests of Australia's most important neighbours in mind.

  • It would help reposition Australia from its 'America-lite' reputation, into a leadership position.
    • It would carry the important message that Australia's restriction on population growth (both migration and refugee intake) is not another version of the "White Australia policy".
    • It would demonstrate that Australia is making an effort to overcome the stigma of Abbott/Rudd's 2013 "Pacific solution" -- without necessarily issuing an open invitation to economic refugees. The $9 billion already spent on incarcerating a few thousand people could be put into more productive use.

    This is also important, because we should not be blindly following down the track of "Big Australia". Future generations will prize the low-population of their resources-scarce country as evidence of rational foresight by today's political leaders.

Encapsulated summary:

I am proposing that the members of the Population Inquiry take a bold step towards solving a number of Australia's long-term problems of which immigration policy and refugee intake will constitute a major part in the predictable future. These potential problems can be turned to our advantage.

In essence,

  • I am reviving the old suggestion that a new territory/state be created in the North West by subdividing Western Australia along the 26th parallel.
  • We should develop Broome as the major centre and capital of this new North-West Territory.
  • Special visa conditions could apply to admitting students, migrants, economic refugees and asylum seekers into this state. Migrant or refugee intake must be limited, however. It would be feasible to police these conditions in the north-west, but probably not elsewhere in the other states.
  • The Inquiry must take the long-term view of future global problems and not just try to solve the current requirements of rural and regional areas in southern and eastern Australia who want fruit-pickers and rural workers. We recognise that many existing regional centres want migration increases to support transient workforces, but this is due to the hollowing-out of smaller centres by on-going country-to-city generational drift. We know that a large percentage of those with DAMA visas, unless constantly supervised, will quickly gravitate to our already-overloaded cities, and the rest will follow shortly after.
    In a democratic country like Australia, the migrants and refugees can only be coerced into living away from the existing overpopulated urban centres if they are confined by contract to a distinct region where it is possible to monitor them for many years.

    This proposal is offered as an alternative to the present path of migration and refugee handling which will inevitably create monumental cultural, infrastructure and resource problems. We now know with a high degree of certainty that many problems will only become worse with the inevitability of climate change.

    This new territory can be planned and controlled, and it can develop economically by taking both refugees and migrants, but without the current negative effects that the rapidly increasing population is visiting on most Australian cities. Any development in this region should attract Federal Government financial support because most of the developments are aimed at a general Australian, not just local benefit

    Capital city: The Kimberley and North-west region lacks the substantial town which stands out as one which might spontaneously develop into a city. It is also a truism that a population nucleus will only develop into a viable and substantial town or city if it is a good distance away from other viable cities; it also needs to be an administration centre. Businesses will be encouraged to migrate to this new centre if their managers and investors are confident that the town will grow into a city, and that this city will later become a state capital.

    Broome appears to be the one town in the North West/Kimberleys region which has the potential to develop in this way. It has a workable port, a rudimentary international airport, and the terminal to the undersea cable to Southeast Asia and on to Europe. The inhabitants of an expanded Broome can be supplied by fresh food grown in the Ord River Irrigation area, and it also has the potential for solar and wind electricity generation, and for wave and tidal generation.

    Eventually, as a viable territory, the local roads would improve, and probably over a few years the railway would reach down the coast to Perth and eventually across to the north-south Ghan line in the Northern Territory which would make Broome a viable ship-to-rail transit port.

    New state/territory boundaries: The obvious boundary is the extension of the 26 degree South Parallel division between South Australia and the Northern Territory which would meet the West Australian coast just below Carnarvon. Most West Australians would see value in this change to their state provided it is promoted as permitting more political focus on the South-West region.

    The new territory has a number of small and declining population centres: Carnarvon, Onslow, Dampier, Port Headland along its southern coastal reaches, with Broome and Derby higher along the Indian Ocean coast, and Wyndham-Kunnunurra/Ord in the Kimberley region to the north and east. The Kununurra/Ord River Irrigation area is alongside the NT border, with Broome along the coast, roughly in the centre.

    The Kimberley/North-West region would initially be treated as another sub-state following the established lines of the Northern Territory (but initially with an Assembly perhaps also having some indigenous representation). The professed aim would be to see (many years hence) the two northern-most territories merge to form the state of "Northern Australia", having normal Federal parliamentarian representation (12 senators) and its own State houses (probably at Darwin, because of its priority).