What does it take to create a new Australian state?

Posted 12 May 2016

Over the last century, the Australian states have taken on a rigid, almost ossified character. While those in government legal jobs did create the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory respectively, state boundaries have stayed relatively the same since Federation in 1901.

In a recent interview with the ABC's Radio National, Minister for Northern Australia Matt Canavan said that he supported a referendum for the creation of a seventh state by splitting Queensland into two. However, he added that while the proposed division of north and south has merit, any final decision would be down to the people.

"I think if the founding fathers were still here, 115 years on from Federation, they'd be a bit surprised that we haven't created new states. There are provisions in the constitution to do that - we haven't used those provisions though we've tried before," he said.

Mr Canavan is not the only person to have raised the issue of state creation. Back in 2014, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce argued that the New England region, in northern New South Wales, should become a state, the ABC reported. 

What is interesting is how the federal and state governments would go about creating a new state. While there have been a number of claims that the constitutional avenue for statehood is highly complex, is this really the case?

Contrary to what many Australians think, the process for the creation of new states from existing ones is relativity straightforward - in constitutional terms. When Federation was achieved, those in legal jobs recognised the possibilities of growth in Australia and ensured that statehood could be achieved as the federal system evolved. 

The recent focus on new states could be down to the production of the White Paper on the Reform of the Federation. The aim of the document is to outline the roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth, state and local governments. 

The Australian Constitution outlines a number of conditions for statehood. For instance, the parliament of the state in question must approve the creation of a new state from its territory. 

Other than these, there is very little standing in the way of Australian lawmakers from creating new states. That said, while there may be very few legal constraints, the local populations of the state must first acquiescence to the move and this could be a much greater obstacle than even the Australian Constitution.