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Off to see the King

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 A referendum was held in conjunction with the WA general elections in 1933.

 Two thirds of the electors voted in favour of secession. Voting was compulsory and only six out of 50 electoral districts recorded a ‘No’ majority – five in the Eastern Goldfields and Kimberley. These were the same regions that had voted most strongly for federation in 1900.

 By contrast, in the wheatbelt, the vote for secession was as high as three-to-one in some places, and of the 21 constituencies to record a two-to-one ‘Yes’ majority, 17 were in agricultural areas.

 In the metropolitan area, only three seats, two of them Labor strongholds, followed that trend. Interestingly, neither North Perth held by Sunday Times proprietor, McCallum Smith, nor Norbert Keenan’s seat of Nedlands recorded especially impressive ‘Yes’ majorities. Keenan was the most ardent secessionist in the ministry.

 It seems that electors voted for or against secession by region rather than in many instances by political affiliation. In general, too, those areas most strongly in favour were those most severely affected by the Depression.

 Following the successful result, the State Parliament enacted the Secession Act, 1934, making provision for the presentation of petitions to His Majesty the King, and to both Houses of the Imperial Parliament.

 The new State Government put together a delegation of men, including Agent General, Sir Hal Colebatch, James MacCallum Smith, the proprietor of the Sunday Times, and the leader of the Dominion League, Keith Watson.

 The delegation was charged with presenting petitions and conducting all negotiations with the British Government on behalf of the ‘people of Western Australia’, to ‘effectuate the restoration’ of the State to ‘its former status as a separate and distinct self-governing colony in the British Empire under its present Constitution’.

 The delegation arrived in London in 1934, hopeful its appeal to the British Government would be heard favourably. The Agent-General and former conservative State Premier, Sir Hal Colebatch, used his offices in the city as a base to promote the secession cause. He held dinners and functions at which he spoke strongly for cutting the strings of Federation.

 The delegation wanted to persuade the British Parliament to overturn the Act of Parliament that had formed the Commonwealth of Australia and given the nation its Constitution. Pro-Federationists argued the preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act made it clear:

 …‘Have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and under the Constitution hereby established.’

 Sir Hal said that the words ‘under the Constitution’ were of equal significance to ‘indissoluble’ and that the delegation would argue that the Constitution had been violated to WA’s detriment. ‘The federation,’ he said ‘ is a partnership between six States in which certain guarantees were given and certain safeguards were provided. We can show that these guarantees have been violated – that these safeguards have been swept aside – and so we ask for the annulment of the partnership.

 ‘After all, what does the word indissoluble mean? Remember that it occurs only in the preamble and not in the Act itself. Is any arrangement made in this world indissoluble? Can the rulers of any country ‘dressed in a little brief authority’, bind the people of that country not merely to the third and fourth generation, but for all time?

 And he posed the question to the British: ‘Is there either justice or common sense in continuing an agreement that is working badly? Is a party to that agreement – after giving it a trial for 35 years and having proved it to be hampering to its industries, destructive to its prosperity and a grave bar to its development – prohibited from seeking relief?