Introduction1901/2001End of Isolation?IdentityRaceEchoes of secession
The Commonwealth and WAConstitutionThe Carve UpCommonwealth Power and the States

Extract from interview with Professor Greg Craven, Provost and Dean of Law at the University of Notre Dame, Western Australia, is a Victorian-born constitutional lawyer who has written on secession in Australia.

CRAVEN: I think Western Australia is very different from the rest of Australia. Although I think in federations - and you can see this in Canada to some extent too - countries that really wish to believe they're very united as federations typically overstress their unity. It's a psychological tendency to say we really aren't that different because if we acknowledge that we were different we might be acknowledging that we might break up.

So that in Australia typically it's that old joke that if you ask people what they are they will tend to say Australians before New South Welshmen or Victorians or Western Australian. The interesting thing that I found over 20-odd years of teaching constitutional law is that if you probe beneath that it falls apart very quickly. The simplest example of that is if you ask a Victorian, what are you a Victorian or Australian he will say an Australian. If you then say, "Tell me what symbolises Australia to you?" he will start talking about the MCG and Wilson's Promontory, whereas a New South Welshman will talk about the Sydney Harbour. Their visions of Australia are highly local and in that sense the West Australians perhaps less different than we might ordinarily think.

The real difference, I think, is in the degree of intensity of feeling. I think Western Australians have a strong sense of difference and at the end of the day it's a combination of physical separation. You can talk about pains all you like but Western Australia is a long way away. It's also I think a sense that their interests genuinely are different from the rest of Australia and the interests of Western Australia in terms of resources in culture are very different from Melbourne. In saying that I don't think there is anything strange about Western Australia. I taught for six months as a Professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the province of British Columbia which occupies an almost identical geographical political cultural position in Canada as Western Australia does in Australia and the feeling is very, very similar. But there's no doubt it's stronger here - I suppose in a sense that Western Australia is constitutionally and physically and culturally marginalised, and always will be.

CF Despite the fact that it contributes 27 percent to export?

CRAVEN: Almost because of the fact that it contributes 27 percent for export. One of the funny things about the Western Australian Secession Movement was that when I wrote a book on it and researched it my initial reaction as a Victorian was very much these people are crazy. How could anybody do this - this is like Gilbert and Sullivan Opera. The interesting thing about that I remain quite opposed to the idea of secession but having read the case of secession and the case of the union and assessed the evidence, whatever view you took of secession you had to say Western Australia had a very strong case as to why it was being badly treated. In many ways that case hasn't changed. Some ways it has, some ways it hasn't and certainly a sense of disproportionate contribution is still there at present. There is some evidence that it is correct.

Greg Craven, March 2000
[Battye Library, OH3016]


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