Why would Western Australia want to leave?
“Western Australia has a long history of discontent,” said Alan Fenna, a politics professor at Curtin University in Perth. “But it’s political and economic discontent. It’s not an identity issue as you’d see somewhere like Quebec.”
At the heart of the rancor is the share Western Australia receives of the goods and services tax collected by the federal government and redistributed to Australian states on the basis of need.
Mr. Fenna said that, since 1933, Western Australia’s increasing wealth, culminating in a mining boom in the early 2000s, meant it was judged to be less needy, and therefore received less federal tax revenue than it had previously.
The Liberal faction pushing for secession feels Western Australia isn’t getting its fair share of the so-called GST, and that it would do better keeping the state’s mineral riches to itself.
“The bottom line is the federation has started to treat WA like a golden goose, and they are all vampires, sucking at our jugular vein,” Rick Palmer, who drafted the motion, told Perth Now.
But Mr. Fenna said Western Australia was not suffering.
“For three-quarters of a century, Western Australia has had more than its fair share from the system of tax redistribution,” he said.
He said Western Australia was billions of dollars ahead since 1933, even accounting for drops in iron ore prices in recent years.
He said the tax distribution between the states was calculated on a rolling average over three-year periods, so any fluctuations would eventually be adjusted for and the state government should have been prepared for them.
Another reason it’s getting hit now? It got too much money in the past — because of a government mistake.
“The body that decides on the distribution between the states, the Commonwealth Grants Commission, made an error in its calculations during the mining boom and gave WA too much money,” he said, adding Western Australia “is in no position to complain whatsoever.”
Could Western Australia fend for itself?
Actually, yes, according to Mr. Fenna; the affluent mining region could easily support itself.
But with a population of just three million people, “It wouldn’t be much of a strategic player in the region, to be honest,” he said.
The other issue is that Western Australians are just too similar to those in the rest of the country.
“There’s no cultural or language difference,” Mr. Fenna said. “Western Australians are exactly like other Australians.”
Furthermore, he said, because of the way the federal tax share is calculated, Western Australia will get a bigger payment in a couple of years, making up for the current funding shortfall.
What happens next?
Political analysts believe the motion to investigate secession will be passed by a majority of the 500 conference attendees this weekend, at which point it would become the official position of the state’s Liberal Party. That doesn’t mean Liberal Party lawmakers are then bound to vote in support of any secession legislation.
A statewide vote in favor could push the secession effort a step closer, but experts aren’t clear on whether the Australian Constitution would allow a state to leave the federation.
Mr. Fenna said the person who might take the biggest hit from all of this is Prime Minister Turnbull, who is expected to attend and address the party conference where the motion for Western Australia to secede will be heard.
“It’ll be very embarrassing and awkward for him,” Mr. Fenna said.
Peter Kennedy, a veteran Western Australian political commentator and journalist, said the secession push could lose its urgency if the federal government threw “a lot of money” at the state.
“Malcolm Turnbull is likely to get a very muted reception unless he has some good news,” Mr. Kennedy said.
What are the chances that WA will eventually secede?
“Zero,” Mr. Fenna said.
What do Australians think about the idea?
Mr. Fenna dismissed the idea that the secession effort was had much support from everyday people.
“It’s the very opposite of Trumpism and Brexit. It’s not a grass-roots rebellion against the elites,” he said. “It’s actually the business leader elites who are pushing this. It’s blame shifting — saying ‘don’t blame us, blame Canberra.’”
Online, some Australians were seeing humor in the situation.
Others were supportive of the idea.
And some were mostly concerned about sharing the #waxit hashtag on social media with surfboard enthusiasts or personal grooming specialists.
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