Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reforming the New England New State Movement

Postscript: I am going to leave this post as the front post for a few days so that it doesn't get submerged. Attracting comments on blog posts is always a chancy business. But it does provide an opportunity for people to join the discussion already started in comments by Nathan, Greg and Peter.
When I first started this blog I thought, naively, that if I just started telling the New England story then the movement for self-government would start to reform. After all, the case seemed self-evident to me.

It didn't take long for me to realise that this was not going to happen. As I said in an email to a friend in Armidale, we have lost so much of our history and all its supporting arguments that people don't know what we are talking about. Even now, if you search "New England New State Movement" on Picture Australia, the main national on-line photographic record, you will find just one photo and that without a context.

I also realised that with the decline of the movement, the North had lost the capacity to see itself as a whole.

Localism has always been a problem in New England. Towns and regions fight each other and become victims of a system that plays one against the other. They gain a sporting field here, a public toilet there, but lose the capacity to identify and address broader systemic problems. The objective of the marginal seats game is to find the minimum cost way of capturing specific votes in specific area.

Given all this, four years ago I set myself two objectives.

The first was to capture and represent New England history, to refresh a past that I thought was important and that had been lost. The second was to provide a broader public policy perspective, to analyse issues from a broader Northern or New England perspective. In doing both, I also hoped to sell an area that I loved.

The impact of my writing has been small. However, and very slowly, there has been some gain in traction. Recently, events in New England and especially in the Hunter Valley have started to force the pace.

In a comment on New States and Ontario, an anonymous commentator wrote: 
Jim, the mood in Newcastle and the Hunter is one of anger and resentment. Whereas the Hunter was the stumbling block for New England in 1967, it could now be the springboard. It is the jewel in the New England crown that would guarantee the instant success of the new state.

I for one am looking for a new state movement to be reborn and would join it an support it with enthusiasm. We are overdue for it. Perhaps we could start with an unofficial referendum throughout the north with the next council elections. A strong YES vote would give us the platform to push for a new secession referendum.
Now a single comment does not mark a change. However, this is in fact one of a number of comments here and elsewhere that show that attitudes are shifting, that people are beginning to say that enough is enough.

Reforming the new state campaign will not be easy. The twentieth century New State Movement was so powerful so quickly because it combined a New England print press that really started the cause through combined action with new local and regional political leadership who, unbound from the past, believed in and were able to capture the new enthusiasm.

These things do not exist today, although elements are there.

To grow today, any New State Movement has to be viral, to work from bottom up. The internet provides a platform here, one that did not exist before and that has the capacity to substitute for the role previously played by the newspaper press. However, and as happened in the 1920s, this has then to be turned into organisational form at an on-ground level.

In an email received this morning, a correspondent wrote:

Whether it is a Hunter new state or a combined Hunter New England new state, the time has come for this issue to be revisited and I would like to see the new state movement reformed with the objective of getting a new referendum back on the agenda as soon as possible.
I hope that we can take this further. Northern NSW deserves to be in control of it's own destiny at last.
We gotta get out of this state!
My advice to all those feeling this way is threefold:
  1. Talk to your friends and neighbours to see if you can form a branch. The movement itself doesn't presently  exist in a formal sense, but that doesn't stop you forming a branch. These can later combine to form a movement.
  2. Use all your local media to promote the idea. Comments on newspaper stories, letters to the editor etc.
  3. Participate in the on-line fora that are just starting to re-emerge such as the Facebook page or indeed this blog.
For my part, I will act as a clearing house and continue to provide both background history and policy analysis.


Nathan said...

Hey Mate, Well done, this issue really needs to be reinvigerated. The Hunter has been pushed far enough and it is now time to fight back against Macquarie Street. Any help you need, just shout out.

Greg said...

Good on you Jim for providing this forum. Macquarie Street does not have the interests of the regions at heart. The Hunter in particular is at breaking point. Hopefully we can link with our brothers and sisters further north and finally make a break. Imagine our own northern state of 1.5m people, in control of our own treasury and no longer begging for scraps from the table of Macquarie Street. The sooner the better.

Peter Firminger said...

I am totally behind you on this Jim. The Labor Sydney Government has pushed the Hunter to the point where this may be viable. Maybe it's time for a public meeting - maybe in Newcastle. I'm sure we could get plenty of media coverage and at least start the public debate.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi all. I am leaving this post up as the front post to see if we attract more comments.

A few suggestions.

I think that we need to have a medium term objective. I suggested in an email to Greg that we aim for a convention in Maitland at some still unspecified date to reform the Movement. I said Maitland for historical reasons. It was at the Maitland convention that the name New England was adopted.

As a more immediate step, I think that the idea of a public meeting in Newcastle to test support is a good one. This could be followed by public meetings elsewhere.

However, there are some earlier steps before we attempt to organise any public meeting. Among other things, we need an organising committee.

As a first initial step, it would seem sensible to set up an email exchange among the four of us to chat about issues. What do you think? We could then add others who might be interested.

In the meantime, I will send a message around the new and still small facebook group.

Greg said...

Jim, I am totally with you on this. We have already corresponded - feel free to pass my email contact to Peter, Nathan and anyone else of like mind.

It would not take much for this to take hold - just speak about it among friends, pass on emails and encourage others to do the same and it could quickly go viral reaching many thousands of people. Also blog in the online media to spread the seed. That is the power of this medium.

Once again Jim - thank you for taking the effort to set up this blog spot. I truly believe that this time a popular movement could take hold and succeed.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Greg. Please do talk among your friends.

Anonymous said...

Hi folks there was a movement to create new colony from South- east of South Australia and Western Victoria under the name Princeland in 1862. There is a good article about it in Adelaide The Advervtiser from Saturday 29/1/11
in the insert SA weekend on page 22 under heading Splitville. People of that region are also angry of the state capital and revisiting their past history.

Anonymous said...

I, (Bill Forsyth) am all for it. and think the time is once again ripening for this. Good work.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Bill and thanks. My apologies for the slow response and the non-appearance. Your comment got caught in the spam trap!

Anonymous said...

I am confident that feeling in the Hunter Valley has changed to that of the 60's and that such a referendum would be successful. Back then public servant feared they would be disadvantaged by having to leave the then attractive State Superannuation Fund which has long since closed. There was also a concerted campaign by Sydney-dominated political parties to influence Hunter voters to vote No.

It is now more widely realised in the Hunter Valley that the riches produced in this area are siphoned off to Sydney and that only a minute part of the wealth generated here returns to enhance local infrastructure.

Please keep this movement alive.

Jim Belshaw said...

Anon, did you know that we have a New England New State Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/groups/106438812712957/ We will keep trying.