Secession

Secession talk reflected anti-federal feeling in Tasmania in the 1920s and 1930s. Although Tasmania had favoured federation, relations with the commonwealth government were fragile and Tasmanians voted against increasing central power. In 1924 anti-federal feeling over deleterious shipping arrangements culminated in businessman and militant MLC Thomas Murdoch moving for secession. Through the Dominion League, Murdoch argued that Tasmania had nothing to lose by leaving the Federation, but newspapers were divided over the economic benefits. The cause received a fillip from the Tasmanian Rights League (1925), which sought 'justice' or secession. 'Justice' meant an efficient ferry service across Bass Strait, exemption from the coastal provisions of the Navigation Act and financial stability for small states. Although the League sent a petition with 10,429 signatures to the federal parliament, it failed to attract popular support and was dominated by commercial men.

A more broad-based movement appeared in 1929 when a Tasmanian Community Disabilities Committee, peppered with Labor politicians, demanded that the federal government reduce government departments, review the tariff, and lower taxes. The Dominion League wanted a secession referendum, but that was unrealistic. Tasmania had no future outside the union and most politicians preferred to argue for justice within the commonwealth. This they did after the appointment of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in 1933. When the Commission's first report recommended that Tasmania receive £290,000 in 193435, secession sentiment was dealt an effective blow. Secession proposals surfaced occasionally from the 1970s to the 1990s and were sometimes linked to the advantages of duty free status, but few took them seriously.

Further reading: P Cox, 'Anti-Federal Feeling 192434', Honours thesis, UT, 1964; S Dando-Collins, The first steps, Leura, 1991; RJ May, 'The politics of federalism', Australian Journal of Politics and History 14/3, 1968.

Stefan Petrow