New England New State Movement

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The New England New State Movement was an Australian political movement in the twentieth century. Originally called the Northern Separation Movement, the aim of the movement was to seek the secession of the New England region and surrounding areas from the State of New South Wales (NSW) and the establishment of a new State of New England. While initially popular and the subject of two Royal Commissions, the movement was ultimately unsuccessful, following defeat at a referendum in 1967.

Secession is the withdrawal of a group from a larger entity, especially a political entity, but also from any organization, union or military alliance. Threats of secession can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals. It is, therefore, a process, which commences once a group proclaims the act of secession. It could involve a violent or peaceful process but these do not change the nature of the outcome, which is the creation of a new state or entity independent from the group or territory it seceded from.

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In September 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 8 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.

A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is invited to vote on a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new law. In some countries, it is synonymous with a plebiscite or a vote on a ballot question.


Geographical description

Because New England has never had a formal identity, its claimed boundaries have varied with time. In broad terms, it covers the humid coastal strip including the Hunter Region [ citation needed ] to the Queensland border, the New England Tablelands and the immediately adjoining Western Slopes and Plains.

Hunter Region Region in New South Wales, Australia

The Hunter Region, also commonly known as the Hunter Valley, is a region of New South Wales, Australia, extending from approximately 120 km (75 mi) to 310 km (193 mi) north of Sydney. It contains the Hunter River and its tributaries with highland areas to the north and south. Situated at the northern end of the Sydney Basin bioregion, the Hunter Valley is one of the largest river valleys on the NSW coast, and is most commonly known for its wineries and coal industry.

Queensland North-east state of Australia

Queensland is the second-largest and third-most populous state in the Commonwealth of Australia. Situated in the north-east of the country, it is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean. To its north is the Torres Strait, with Papua New Guinea located less than 200 km across it from the mainland. The state is the world's sixth-largest sub-national entity, with an area of 1,852,642 square kilometres (715,309 sq mi).

In economic and geographic terms, New England forms a natural unit that has survived to the present day.

In political terms, the boundaries have varied. The initial separation discussions excluded the Hunter, in part because of tensions between the industrial and mining heartland of the lower Hunter and the rest of the area. This created a problem because an urban/industrial centre like Newcastle and the Hunter were seen as an essential part of New England, or any new state, in economic and geographic terms. The boundaries recommended by the 1935 report of the Nicholas Royal Commission into areas of NSW suitable for self-government included Newcastle and the Hunter. These boundaries were adopted by the New England New State Movement and used as the basis for the 1967 self-government referendum.

Newcastle, New South Wales City in New South Wales, Australia

The Newcastle metropolitan area is the second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales and the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas. It is the hub of the Greater Newcastle area which includes most parts of the local government areas of City of Newcastle, City of Lake Macquarie, City of Cessnock, City of Maitland and Port Stephens Council.


New England was initially called Northern NSW, the North, the Northern Districts or the Northern Provinces. The name New England was originally the name of the Tableland area forming New England's core. The Tablelands are known as the Northern Tablelands, the New New England Tablelands or sometimes just the New England to distinguish them from the broader New England area.

The name New England was adopted for the whole area by the Northern Separation Movement at its 1931 Maitland convention. From there its usage spread, contracting again as the new state movement went into decline after 1967.

Maitland, New South Wales City in New South Wales, Australia

Maitland is a city in the Lower Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia and the seat of Maitland City Council, situated on the Hunter River approximately 166 kilometres (103 mi) by road north of Sydney and 35 km (22 mi) north-west of Newcastle. It is on the New England Highway about 17 km (11 mi) from its start at Hexham.

New state agitation

Earle Page, founder of the New State movement and later Prime Minister of Australia EarlePage.jpg
Earle Page, founder of the New State movement and later Prime Minister of Australia

The first separatist agitation occurred during colonial times at the time of the separation of Queensland from NSW. While this was followed by outbreaks of agitation, these remained sporadic.

Separation of Queensland

The Separation of Queensland was an event in 1859 in which the land that forms the present-day State of Queensland in Australia was excised from the Colony of New South Wales and created as a separate Colony of Queensland.

This changed in the twentieth century. Agitation began again at Grafton towards the end of the First World War led by Earle Page, a local doctor and later a prominent politician, rising to caretaker Prime Minister of Australia. This was picked up a little later by Victor Thompson, editor of the Tamworth Northern Daily Leader who launched a sustained newspaper campaign that involved papers as far south as Cessnock in the lower Hunter. This led to the creation of a formal movement. In 1922 a formal request to the Commonwealth was made by the lower house to establish a new state in northern New South Wales. [1] One outcome was the 1924 Cohen Royal Commission into New States.

Grafton, New South Wales City in New South Wales, Australia

Grafton is a city in the Northern Rivers region of the Australian state of New South Wales. It is located on the Clarence River, approximately 500 kilometres (310 mi) north-northeast of the state capital Sydney. The closest major cities, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, are located across the border in South-East Queensland. According to the 2016 census, the Grafton "significant urban area" had a population of 18,668 people. The city is the largest settlement and administrative centre of the Clarence Valley Council local government area, which has over 50,000 people in all.

Earle Page Australian politician, 11th Prime Minister of Australia

Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page, was an Australian politician who served as the 11th Prime Minister of Australia, holding office for 19 days after the death of Joseph Lyons in 1939. He was the leader of the Country Party from 1921 to 1939, and was the most influential figure in its early years.

Prime Minister of Australia executive head of the Government of Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government of Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior Minister of State, the leader of the Federal Cabinet. The Prime Minister also has the responsibility of administering the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is the chair of the National Security Committee and the Council of Australian Governments. The office of Prime Minister is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia but exists through Westminster political convention. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the Governor-General of Australia and at the Governor-General's pleasure subject to the Constitution of Australia and constitutional conventions.

The Cohen Commission ruled against to the movement and it went into decline, resurging at the start of the Great Depression. This forced another Royal Commission, the Nicholas Commission. While this recommended in favour, the movement was again in decline as economic conditions improved.

Agitation started again at the end of the Second World War and this time was sustained by permanent staff. In 1953, 21 councils defied the state government and held unofficial referendum on the issue of a new state. The people voted overwhelmingly in favour of the referendum. [2] In 1961 the movement launched Operation Seventh State, raising over AU₤100,000. This allowed more staff and greater agitation.

This acceptance of boundaries determined by the Nicholas Commission proved to be the movement's critical strategic error. It assumed that a state was not viable unless it was dominated by a large urban population on the English/London model. Yet, the evidence from similar federations like Canada and the USA revealed numerous successful "farm states", like Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, with comparatively small capital city populations tied to a single, essentially rural community of interest. This metrocentric mindset ensured that two quite distinct communities of interest were being pressured into a doomed arranged marriage. It was also the very antithesis of an "act of free choice" as that choice involved imposing a majority rural will over a geographically distinct urban community. A new state proposal based in most part on boundaries formed by those Local Councils with majorities that actually wanted the change would have acquired a critical momentum.

Premier Robert Askin and the Cabinet believed in 1966 that a secession referendum would win, so they had the upper Hunter Region and Newcastle included within the boundaries of the proposed new state before putting it to a vote. [2]


A referendum of New England electors was held on 29 April 1967. The no vote was led by the Australian Labor Party who campaigned hard. The referendum was narrowly defeated with 54% voting no. [3] The very high no vote in the Labor strongholds of Newcastle and the Lower Hunter offset the majority yes vote elsewhere, although the no margin was not high. The threat of restricted access to the highly regulated Sydney milk and dairy products market also boosted the no vote in rural areas.

Despite this defeat, four New State candidates stood for election at the 1968 state election and gained 0.80% of the total state vote with Garry Nehl, in the seat of Clarence, winning 35% of the primary vote. However this was a brief twilight in the campaign and, exhausted, the movement again went into decline for the next four decades.

21st century revival

The movement underwent a resurgence in 2004, primarily in response to State (Labor) Government shire amalgamations and farmers responses to new vegetation management policies. The Annual General Meetings of NSW Farmers passed resolutions to investigate the feasibility of a non-metropolitan state in both 2004 and 2005. A task force was formed chaired by then NSWF President Mr Malcolm Peters. Some polling was commissioned and a convention was held but little further effort appears to have taken place.

A group of dedicated activists continue to agitate for a new state in the area. Presently this is carried out in an informal sense or through social media such as a dedicated Facebook page.

See also

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  1. Totaro, Paola (28 July 2003). "History's lesson to the bush: if at first you don't secede, try, try again". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  2. 1 2 "Altered states". The Sydney Morning Herald. 25 January 2005.
  3. "29 April 1967". NSW Electoral Commission.  via "To see results from 2013 and prior, please contact us." (subscription may be required or content may be available in libraries)