What The XXXX? The Push To Split QLD Into Separate States
"We're big enough and strong enough and wealthy enough to represent ourselves".
It has the support of multiple federal politicians and several small (but growing, and hardcore) groups of ordinary citizens. There are maps drawn up, ideas for new cities to be built, and even contingency plans to ensure the survival of the State of Origin rugby league series.
Let us take you inside the push for Queensland to be split into two, three or even more separate states.
"For the future of Australia, this is important because of the agricultural potential up here. The next 50 years of Australia is up here," said Raj Patel, from the North Queensland State Alliance.
"Northern Australia is the future, there’s no two ways about it."
The Alliance is just one of a handful of separate groups agitating for Queensland, Australia's second-largest and third most populated state, to be carved up. The push is coming largely from the state's north, with groups based in Townsville, Cairns and further afield pointing out that the state's capital, Brisbane, is closer -- both geographically and culturally -- to Sydney than many northern areas.
But the idea isn't new, and indeed, many of the modern leaders of the movement are students of history.
Queensland formally split from New South Wales and was named as its own standalone state in 1859, but even before that, an idea for a North Queensland state had been posited, in an 1852 book by John Dunmore Lang. Ideas for Queensland separatism continued through the 1860s, and have regularly re-surfaced since then.
Rockhampton, Townsville or Cairns have been flagged as possible capital cities; while ideas for state borders have included the Tropic of Capricorn, or further north at the 22nd parallel, or radically redrawing borders to form a new 'northern Australia' state taking in the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia.
Government MPs including George Christensen and Matt Canavan, as well as renegade independent Bob Katter, have thrown their weight behind the idea. Katter's party, which has several MPs in the QLD state parliament, has been talking about the idea for some time. The federal constitution allows for states to be split, with an entire chapter devoted to the concept, needing only "the consent of the Parliament thereof" -- in this case, the QLD state parliament.
"Everything can evolve. People get stuck in the thought of 'how can we do this', but if you want the change, things can evolve and adapt," Bill Bates, of the group Boot Brisbane, told ten daily.
His organisation began in 2017, sparked by a redistribution of state electoral boundaries which Bates said created a raw deal for northern Queensland.
"The central and north representation diminished. The way it looks in future, with the population growing the way it is, you'll have a change again and we can expect the same situation. It guarantees we will continue to have our representation in parliament diminished," he said.
Unlike others in the separatist movement, Bates isn't concerned with the physical distance to Brisbane from his northern home -- but he says the cultural differences are stark between the city and the regions.
"The tyranny of distance isn't what it used to be, the government knows what's going on in the regions, but it's the difference in expectations of voters. Their priorities might be cutting a few minutes off travel time to work in the city. People in regional Queensland, we're thinking about our guarantee of water security, of development," Bates said.
"Doesn't matter what party is in government, they have to do what the majority of seats want. They might do things that are regressive to regional Queensland."
Bates and his group have been holding public information meetings, as well as mounting social media campaigns, pushing for a referendum on whether Queenslanders want their state to be split. Unlike others, he doesn't have a concrete idea of how a new state should look -- he wants to leave that to the people to choose.
"Our mission is to simply secure that referendum and let the people decide," he said.
"The practical border is at 26 degrees, but I don't think we’ll be taking in the Northern Territory, that's established in its own right."
Bates even suggested a new North QLD state could be split again, "maybe in a generation", to end up with three separate Queensland states -- central, north and south.
Patel, of the North Queensland State Alliance, has other ideas.
"The simple idea is it should be the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s important, the climates vary from above and below the tropic. That's the logical line, somewhere near Rockhampton," he told ten daily.
"We have feedback from people west and south that say they don't want to be with Brisbane."
Patel's group too has been running information sessions, talking to central northern Queensland residents, and drumming up support. Like Bates, he is upset at the lack of representation and recognition his region gets in parliament.
"The money goes to Brisbane and nothing goes up here into the north. The other huge issue up here is the lack of representation in the [federal] Senate, the most powerful body in Australia," he said.
"We’ve got two senators and at the next election we might end up with just one."
One of them is Nationals senator Canavan, the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, who is based in Rockhampton.
"I've often said we're big enough and strong enough and wealthy enough to represent ourselves," Canavan said in 2017.
"I reckon we'd get more things going if we didn't have the handbrakes put on us by Brisbane and Canberra."
In 2016, he said "on a personal level I think it would make some sense" to start a new state in north QLD.
Patel also said his group wouldn't put forward a concrete proposal on how a new state should look, leaving the finer details up to public consultation, but did raise the idea of building a brand new city to be North Queensland's new state capital.
"There’s been a thing between Townsville and Cairns, and we’ve got people from both working together with no conflict. But why not talk about creating a new city up here instead?" he said.
"There hasn't been a lot of development here for a while, and there's lots of land to build a fantastic city. The cities on the coast are saturated. Why not a new capital? But that's up to the people to decide."
And as for the annual rugby league State of Origin series between Queensland and NSW? How would that be affected by two or more separate states in Queensland? Well, they've got an answer for that too.
"Maybe you could make it a three-way contest, where the winner plays the winner of the year before, you play off between North QLD and QLD," Bates suggested.
"It’s been asked a couple of times, a lot of people have thrown it up," he added with a laugh.
Main Picture: George Christensen.