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“Too Few States”

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Monday 26 January 1948, The Sydney Morning Herald

Assaults On Centralism


ARMIDALE, Sunday. Advocates of decentralisation as a political and social theory are having a field day at the annual, summer school of the Australian Institute of Political Science.

Speakers have denounced the evils of big cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne, and extolled the virtues of the simple country life.

They have challenged the right of Canberra to “usurp” political powers to itself. They have accused the regimenters, the controllers, and the bureaucrats.

And, as a climax to a two-days debate, they heard Mr. Justice Nicholas renew, with great earnestness, the demand for the creation of new States as the logical remedy against the growing concentration of power in the hands of the Federal Government.

The only voices raised in defence of centralisation came from Labour Party delegates. They demanded even greater powers for Federal authority.


In these debates a large gallery of local residents has taken a lively interest. For, as citizens of the New England tablelands, they nurture a hearty disrespect for what they call remote control from Canberra, and they are justly proud of their own successful experiments in decentralisation, as evidenced particularly in the University of New England.

Bishop Moyes, of Armidale, led the local phalanx in a denunciation of the effects of excessive centralisation on human behaviour, listing as some consequences of over-population in the seaboard cities the breaking-up of home life, over-emphasis of technical rather than cultural education, the habit of watching instead of playing games, and a decline of personal responsibility.

Mr. H. L. Harris, Director of Youth Welfare and author of several works on the economic geography of Australia, said the fertility rate in the six capital cities was only 0.792, compared with 1.052 for the whole of Australia.

If the drift to the big cities could be arrested, race suicide might it least be postponed, he said.

Mr. J. Mant, of Sydney, declared there were fewer slums and less crime in the country, and the people were healthier and more content.

At this point, Mr. Justice Nichols intervened with his thesis for the creation of new States.


“I believe decentralisation is essential if Australia is to be saved from disaster, and the establishment of new States is the only safe form of decentralisation,” he said. “It is the best protection we can find between our two enemies, dictatorship and anarchy.”

Mr. Justice Nicholas, a former Chief Judge in Equity, was counsel assisting the New States Commission in 1924, and Royal Commissioner on the Boundaries Commission, 1933.

Political interest, he said, was killed by distance from the seat of government and by the domination of the rural vote. Moreover, as a result of uniform taxation collected solely by the Commonwealth, and the control of public works imposed by the Loan Council, a State Parliament now had less financial freedom than a shire council.

This left the nation with a lopsided Constitution in which power was divorced from responsibility to an extent unknown in any other system of government.

The advocates of new States were opposed by Dr. J. P. Belshaw, of Armidale, who said that foreign experience was that small States were unprogressive. The brightest future for decentralisation, in his opinion, lay in the creation of regional councils.

Mr. G. F. Godfrey, the chief opponent of decentralisation in the debates, maintained that Australia’s great weakness was that the central authority did not have enough powers.

Mr. W. F. Wilkinson declared there was a school of thought among industrialists that decentralisation of population would reduce labour’s bargaining power.

Written by macalba

September 13, 2010 at 8:01 pm

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