TThis site presents the proposal for an 8th state in the Australian Federal System. The Northern Territory is currently proposed as the 7th State.
This proposal is intended, in large part, to broaden the discussion about where we are going as a society, as an economy and to consider ways of building stronger communities.
As far as serious implementation goes, please keep in mind that our existing state constitutions arose out of haphazard colonisation by an imperial power. Thus for many reasons our state system may no longer be an appropriate form of democratic governance in this very different globalised age (read Professor George Williams on this). However, realistically creating a new state is no straightforward or simple matter - so any other suggestions or ideas about how we can work better as a community are welcomed.
We are facing serious challenges - no doubt unprecedented in history - both locally and globally on both environmental and also economic fronts. Globally our exported coal is polluting Chinese cities (and cities across the Pacific), Fukushima radioctivity is polluting an entire ocean along with the West Coast of the USA, and fish stocks are collapsing. Locally we have declining manufacturing, high house prices and in Victoria tens of thousands of homeless people.
These issues are starting to hit Australians on a number of fronts - environmentally - with natural disasters, and financially - as evidenced by councils increasingly struggling to fund their activities. For example, in Queensland where the Auditor-General reported that:
"The clear risk is that some councils are approaching a tipping point where their infrastructure assets deteriorate or fail faster than they can afford to replace them, with the potential to jeopardise the growth of their local economies and the health and well-being of their communities,"
The question is: What can everyday Australians do about this? This is one suggestion - to essentially decentralise our big cities and re-shape local politics - others are needed (and better suggestions are welcome). The decentralisation proposed here is very similar to the proposal for stronger regions in a federated England following Brexit as proposed by Paul Mason in The Guardian.
The proposed 8th State of Australia would encompass the existing local government areas of Mornington Peninsula and Frankston creating a state covering the area indicated in yellow below:
Why do we need a new State?
Currently local residents can spend a lot of time working with councils to create local planning laws to protect their communities and their local environment.
The trouble is that these laws can be overturned either by VCAT (i.e by an unelected person - see VCAT exposed) or by the Planning Minister (i.e by an unrepresentative person). Ideally planning and other local laws, once made, could only be overturned by a democratic body - such as the state parliament, not by individuals who can currently override community efforts.
While many local councillors and staff are well intentioned, local councils have inferior democratic processes when compared to state governments. There is no house of review, less open debate and councils have even been reported as making decisions in secret.
Also Council's themselves are too frequently impenetrable bureaucracies, with little openness and accountability to the communities they are supposed to serve. They are also increasingly devoting large sums of ratepayers money to membership clubs rather than publically accessible amenities. Whilst it is good to support local clubs, building extravagent facilities with a mandatory tax - which many are now struggling to pay - seems very unjust. If there is really community support for such facilties then these clubs should have little difficulty raising the funds from the community themselves.
And now it seems at least one Council is using ratepayers money to unnecessarily victimise individuals by pursuing expensive court action instead of just enforcing basic infringement. Such court actions mean that anyone standing up to Councils face financial ruin. Have our Council's become corporate bullies? Which are even more dangerous than regular corporations - as at least with those you can boycott their products - try boycotting paying your local council and you face either jail or loss of your home.
A properly constituted parliament for the Peninsula area would ensure that local residents have high standard democratic processes giving people democratic control over laws and development on the Peninsula with decisions that cannot be overturned by a single individual (such as experienced recently by residents of Phillip Island). In particular it is proposed to allow a citizens' referendum on any planning or development issue if 1000 signatures can be collected (similar to the system in Switzerland).
See here for Philip Island's proposal to secede from its local council.
See also the proposed disaster for Fisherman's Bend, next to previous disaster, Docklands:
Fisherman's Bend: Anatomy of a high-rise Ghetto, The Age, Nov 4, 2014
In relation to Fisherman's Bend a recent report is summarised as follows:
"The former Victorian Coalition government's signature urban renewal project delivered windfall profits to land holders but was unmatched worldwide for its failure to plan for transport and other key services, a scathing confidential report has found."
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/report-slams-matthew-guy-on-rezoning-of-fishermans-bend-20151019-gkcyrv.html#ixzz3qYsDOdsP
(Read also how Planning Minister Guy ignored the Kingston Council planning submission and also ignored the Panel of Experts report that was intended as part of "ensuring that community voices were heard"). That government also refused to release a report they commissioned which looked at economic growth in the state:
The secret report Napthine won't let you see.
Also, the Government watered down recommendations by experts in the 40 year plan for Melbourne. The Age (Nov 25, 2014) reports that "After it became clear many of their recommendations were to be ignored, five of the six members of the government's Ministerial Advisory Committee quit."
It is anticipated that creating the State of Mornington Peninsula would lead to immediate significant economic benefits through creation of local jobs and opportunities.
Money and jobs that are currently sent to Melbourne would be re-located on the Peninsula as the Peninsula state would have its own education department, state and road planning, transport department, courts and police force etc. The flow on effects of this would significantly boost local business and open up very attractive opportunities to the people of Mornington Peninsula State. It is expected that all state systems would be far more responsive to the needs of the people on the Peninsula than the current state services.
This change would also give local communities control over their own TAFE, and possibly university, systems.
In fact, if this process was to be conducted across Victoria this would achieve the decentralisation and revitalisation of rural communities that has been discussed and previously attempted by the Victorian State Government over recent decades (see this ABC report).
The conversion of the entire State of Victoria into a set of smaller regional states could also be done via a state referendum. This could result in up to 18-20 regional governments and in such a scenario, a coalition of Victorian Governments could supervise and manage the re-organisation of former State of Victoria assets, services and responsibilities. Thus regional states could be also created around cities such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and Wangaratta.
The creation of one or more regionalised state governments within Victoria would give communities direct control over the natural environment in which they live. For example, communities would have complete control over the use of GMO crops and Coal Seam Gas Fracking.
Thus communities could decide for themselves whether to navigate an energy descent path earlier or later - i.e before or after potentially destroying their farm land and groundwater supplies by fracking.
The state could also determine its own policy on Smart Meters which are dangerous on a number of counts.
There would also be benefits for Melbourne residents, as re-vitalised regional and rural areas would take pressure off Melbourne in terms of development and transport - potentially saving Melbourne residents billions of dollars in road and other transport developments (eg: expensive tunnels and level crossing overpasses). This money would be better deployed building infrastructure in the regional areas.
Motto and Flag
A proposed motto for the State of Mornington Peninsula is: "The State of Regeneration" - regeneration of our eco-system and farm lands, regeneration of our local economy and regeneration of our community.
The floral emblem would be the Frankston Spider Orchid (Caladenia robinsonii - see it here) - a rare orchid (now somewhat rarer since the Peninsula Link freeway went through).
A proposed flag design is below
(see the "Need for Democratic Reform on The Peninsula").
In relation to Coal Seam Gas, the Australia Institute has just completed a report: “While the gas industry is relentless in its claims about job creation, the simple fact is that it is a relatively small employer,” the report said. “It commissions modelling, has dedicated websites and runs national multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns that are designed to exaggerate its employment numbers, but the objective data does not reflect the industry’s claims.”
A proposed flag design for the new state. It has no union jack or crown emblems like other state flags, as this state is a sovereign state of the people, not of the British Crown.
Why is there a democratic failure?
Under the Australian constitution only two levels of government are recognised: State governments and the Federal Government. There is no mention of local government or local councils. The Victorian state constitution was created in 1855. At that time there were just over 300,000 people living in Victoria and the parliamentary system could adequately deal with all the democratic issues. Since then the population of Victoria has expanded to around 5.6 million people. This has lead to a dilution of democracy. It has also increased the number of issues that need to be dealt with by the state parliament. In 1975 a new Victorian Constitution was created, it introduced local government and allocated them powers. It has been argued that joining the federation in 1901 introduced the logical requirement to hold referendums to change any state constitution, as this is the form of constitutional change recognised by the Commonwealth Constitution. In the 1988 referendum a majority of Victorians (and a majority of Australians) rejected a proposal to formally introduce a third, local level of government (i.e this referendum failed).
Furthermore, the determination in Pape V Commissioner of Taxation  HCA 23 (7 July 2009), at 55 – 60 outlines three principles on which an Australian government must stand under the Westminster system, these being that Parliament must pass law to raise a tax, the funds collected must go into a Consolidated Revenue Fund, and that Bills of Appropriation must be passed by Parliament in order to spend the money (tax) raised.
Thus there are some that argue that local councils are not governments and cannot make laws for Australians.
NOTE: When tested in Court in Rutledge v Victoria the Court found that the State of Victoria could change its own constitution (for a summary of this and other challenges see here). However, this leaves open some questions about the differences in our democracy at State and Federal levels - The federal constitution can only be changed by referendum, however Victoria's can largely be changed simply by Act of parliament (with 2/3rd majority). Also the referendum in which the people refuse to recognise Local Governments federally can be ignored at a state level?
In any case, there is a role for an equivalent of our local councils in the new state, but it is proposed that these be very unlike current councils and more like councils have been historically. For more on this see the page "What is wrong with our Councils?"
Why is this such a problem?
It is certainly difficult to accept that any corporate or governing body could change its own constitution without going to members or voters. Such an easily changed constitution would effectively be worthless (see Dangers we Face).
Linked here are documents on the state constitution and local council legitimacy by Peter Olney and Professor Anne Twomey.
Also, the report "Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government" (2011) describes the introduction of local government into our state constitution (pg 98) [emphasis added]:
"The Australian Constitution does not refer to local government; historically, local government was not
recognised in State constitutions either.
Local government is now recognised in all State constitutions. The Commonwealth Constitutional
Convention established by the Whitlam Government recommended at a number of the sessions it
held between 1973 and 1985 that local government be given recognition in State constitutions
and/or the Australian Constitution. As a consequence, all State constitutions were amended
between 1979 and 1989 to acknowledge local government.
Proposals to recognise local government in the Australian Constitution have twice been put
unsuccessfully to referendum: by the Whitlam Government in 1974 and by the Hawke Government
But as mentioned above, the issue here is HOW the state constitutions were amended - not by referendum - and in fact in contradiction to the will of the people as revealed through referendum, because as mentioned all referendums on local government have failed and there has been only one state referendum.
The State of Victoria was created in response to the demands of Melbourne residents in 1850 to be governed by local people who understood their problems (to make this point they elected Lord Grey, an Englishman, to represent them - indicating they felt he was more representative than someone in Sydney!). In response to this desire of the people to govern themselves the British Crown passed the Australian Colonies Government Act and the district of Port Phillip was allowed to write its own constitution for whatever system of government it chose (see: Portus, G.V 1959, "Australia Since 1606", Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pg 96).
The circumstances of the creation of the State of Victoria provides a precedent for the creation of the State of Mornington Peninsula. People on the Mornington Peninsula would be seeking the right to govern themselves as they see fit, by local people, just as the colony of Port Phillip once demanded this same right - and as the legitimacy of that claim was justly recognised at the time by the British crown, so it is equally just now to allow a people to independently determine their own future, should the majority so choose.
The Federal Constitution allows the changing of state boundaries as follows:
"COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA CONSTITUTION ACT - SECT 123
Alteration of limits of States
The Parliament of the Commonwealth may, with the consent of the Parliament of a State, and the approval of the majority of the electors of the State voting upon the question, increase, diminish, or otherwise alter the limits of the State, upon such terms and conditions as may be agreed on, and may, with the like consent, make provision respecting the effect and operation of any increase or diminution or alteration of territory in relation to any State affected. "
As mentioned, constitutions exist to limit the powers of parliaments. But in a democracy the people are supposedly sovereign, thus there is another possibility for secession (see The Transition Process).
It seems almost certain that within the federal government of Australia are there forces at work to evade restrictions imposed by the constitution, a concern raised recently by former Solicitor General Gavin Griffith who said of recent changes that they were “effecting the practical destruction of independent office of [the] second law officer within the Australian constitutional context”.
And of course there is always the option of actually fixing our aging and broken constitution by creating a new People's Constitution as discussed here.
Banner image courtesy of Jenny Warfe.