In the 1890s, when the Federation of Australian States was being fervently debated, there were seven negotiating parties at the table - five States on the continent, plus Tasmania and New Zealand.
Just before referendums were held to determine whether the grand venture would go ahead, New Zealand withdrew. Their stated reason was that Australia was experiencing a major economic recession brought on by the bank collapses of 1893, combined with the worst drought of the century. New Zealand had avoided both of those disasters and was motivated to take the short term view that it would be wise to pull out. In hindsight, it was a bad decision.
So, federation proceeded without them. Yet, the provision remains in the constitution for them to change their minds at some time - but it is an option that has never been taken up.
Indeed, the only attempted change in membership of the Federation occurred when Western Australia votednarrowly against seceding from the Commonwealth during the recession of the 1930s. Their move to become a nation in their own right should have been achieved easily except for the fact that the ‘Yes’ campaign was an organisational disaster that was also poorly promoted, thereby enabling the rest of Australia to breathe a sigh of relief.
This short rendition of history is leading me to suggest that constitutional change is in the air again for a number of reasons, creating an opportunity to look once more at the grand intention that partly failed in 1901. Added to this is the fact that there is now a significant issue in the mix caused by the fragile economic and financial viability of the nations of the Pacific being under serious revue.
Being an Aussie, I will comment on Australia’s situation first.
Thoughts of amending our Constitution are no longer based on a Republic alone. That issue is sleeping quietlyat present, but the need for a reduction in our chronic state of over-government from three levels to two is very much alive. State Governments have passed their use-by dates and the empowerment of local or regional governments is on the rise because they operate closer to voters.
This possible change to the government structure of Australia is important, as neither New Zealand, nor any Pacific Islands, will want to become States of Australia. However, if Australia has the courage to remove both State and Local Governments, we could set the ball rolling by creating 50 regional governments. Each capital city would become a regional government, with others based around the largest regional cities. Every region throughout the nation would provide only one Senator to the Federal Parliament, thereby making all Senators face the voters in a genuine contest where, for the first time in Australia’s history, they would not be guaranteed a seat just because their name is on the top on the ticket. Nor would ratbag parties ever again be able to get a Senate seat by a fluke of preferences.
In a rapidly changing world in which nations of growing power are challenging the USA for world supremacy, small nations like New Zealand have a dormant future. Russia, China, Japan, India and Brazil will eventually reacheconomic equality with the United States, meaning that Australia needs New Zealand and vice versa if we are to hold our own in world trade and quality of life. As a combined nation, we will have 26 million people, one-tenth of the population of our neighbour, Indonesia, and will be competing with 1.5 billion in each of China and India.
So, New Zealand could have 10 regional governments in the Union, making a new nation of 60 regions at that point.
The Pacific Islands have no economic or social future at all on the world scene. I say this with a heavy heart, as I have enjoyed many holidays out there, and find the friendly nature of their people to be refreshing, as are their cultural traditions. But, they can’t compete with the power and technology of nations like China and far too many of their people have left their shores to live in New Zealand or Australia or USA because they see no hope of prosperity in their homeland. They can sustain their culture and lifestyle as part of a larger nation and each one of them would become a regional government.
The nations that will be best candidates for union are Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Niue, Kiribati and Nauru, while Norfolk Island and Lord Howe are already half way in union with us. This would increase the nation to a total of 70 regions.