‘SECESSION IS LIBERTY’
That was the war cry from West Australians after the State’s rural boom burst in 1930. The Depression hit the State’s income by one third, despite a record wheat harvest and high wool production. By 1931, the Depression intensified and many people were fearful. They were also angry with what they perceived as the Commonwealth’s floundering in its handling of the crisis.
In August of the same year, While Premier Mitchell was absent in the Eastern States, the Legislative Assembly passed a resolution requesting the government to bring in a referendum on the question of the ‘withdrawal of the State of Western Australia from the Federal Commonwealth established under the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (Imperial).’
In November, a Bill, the Secession Referendum Act, 1931, was introduced and passed in the Assembly. However, it ran into trouble in the Legislative Council when it was attacked by the Labor minority and several prominent government supporters. They opposed secession either because they came from the Goldfields, or they were city importers aware of the State’s commercial interdependence with the rest of Australia.
However, while they didn’t succeed in torpedoing the referendum, they managed to tie several conditions to it – the referendum had to be held within six months so that the issue could be dispatched quickly, and voting should not be compulsory.
Harold Sedden – a Goldfields man – tried to attach a third condition that the Eastern Goldfields and the North West should be given the opportunity at the same time of seceding from WA. His proposal failed by one vote.
The referendum question put to electors was:
Are you in favour of the State of Western Australia withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth established under the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (Imperial)? Yes or No?
The case to secede from the Federation was prepared by a committee appointed by the State Government, comprising J. Scaddan, J.L. Walker, H.K. Watson, J. Lindsay, A.J. Reid and C.G. Dudley. Alongside, The Dominion League of Western Australia, was a powerful and influential voice, arguing that secession would:
• Release the clutching hand, the bondage…and chains of Canberra – ‘that [pounds] 12,000,000 monument of legislative incompetence’.
• Freedom from all Federal tariffs…stopping all costly duplications.
• One Parliament only, fewer Parliamentarians, and less cost to the people of Western Australia.
• The salvation of [the State] during the world-wide depression.
• Prosperity to our primary producers; our ports will flourish and factories will have great opportunities;
• Work for everybody and opportunity for the youth…