After Brexit, there's now WAxit in Australia

PERTH • A political faction in the state of Western Australia is stirring a debate about seceding from the country's federation of states over a long-running grievance about tax revenues.

After Britain voted to leave the European Union in a move known as Brexit, and some Californians agitated to leave the United States after President Donald Trump's election, has "threatening to leave" become the new political solution to thorny problems?

A faction of the Western Australian Liberals, the right-leaning party led by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is holding a conference this weekend. On the agenda is a motion to set up a committee to investigate "WAxit", the somewhat awkward moniker for the proposal to secede from Australia. The committee is to release a report next year.

"Western Australia has a long history of discontent," said politics professor Alan Fenna from Curtin University in Perth. "But it is political and economic discontent. It is not an identity issue as you would see somewhere like Quebec."

At the heart of the rancour is the share Western Australia receives of the goods and services tax collected by the federal government and redistributed to Australian states on the basis of need.

Professor Fenna said that the state's increasing wealth, culminating in a mining boom in the early 2000s, meant it was judged to be less needy and, therefore, received less federal tax revenue than it had previously. The Liberal faction feels Western Australia is not getting its fair share of the GST, and that it would do better keeping the state's mineral riches to itself.

Mr Rick Palmer, who drafted the motion, told Perth Now: "The bottom line is the federation has started to treat WA like a golden goose, and they are all vampires, sucking at our jugular vein."

 

DISCONTENT

Western Australia has a long history of discontent. But it is political and economic discontent. It is not an identity issue as you would see somewhere like Quebec.

POLITICS PROFESSOR ALAN FENNA, from Curtin University in Perth, on why the state may be seeking secession.

But Prof Fenna said the state was not suffering. "For three- quarters of a century, Western Australia has had more than its fair share from the system of tax redistribution," he said, adding that it has been billions of dollars ahead since 1933, even accounting for drops in iron ore prices.

What are the chances that it will eventually secede? "Zero," Prof Fenna said, dismissing the idea that the move had much support from everyday people.

"It is the very opposite of Trumpism and Brexit. It is not a grassroots rebellion against the elites," he said. "It is actually the business leader elites who are pushing this. It is blame shifting - saying 'Don't blame us, blame Canberra'."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2017, with the headline 'After Brexit, there's now WAxit in Australia'. Print Edition | Subscribe