Senator Matt Canavan, a friend of mine from my Canberra days, is not wasting any time while he is temporarily out of the Cabinet. He is making plans for a new State of North Queensland. With his background as a Productivity Commission economist and as the former Minister for Northern Australia, Senator Canavan has the expertise and experience to come up with a credible and convincing plan for a new State of NQ. The Senator made some very interesting observations to the Townsville Bulletin last Friday:
“I’ve often said we’re big enough and strong enough and wealthy enough to represent ourselves,” he said.
“I reckon we’d get more things going if we didn’t have the handbrakes put on us by Brisbane and Canberra.”
Senator Canavan said Tasmania had 12 senators with 500,000 people but “North Queensland has only two and we have more than one million people”.
“I utterly reject any notion that we couldn’t stand on our own two feet,” he said. “Our average per-person economic output in North Queensland is 30 per cent higher than in southern Queensland. All the money seems to get spent in Brisbane.”
Senator Canavan is absolutely right about NQ’s higher economic output per capita (see chart below based on the most recent official estimates from Qld Treasury), although this is a result of the disproportionate contribution of mining to NQ’s economy. A lot of the income generated in NQ is earned by mining companies, and the bulk of it ends up leaving NQ, with a good proportion of it going overseas. The average NQ resident does not earn a higher income than the average SEQ resident. That said, the large economic contribution of mining (e.g. around two-thirds of North West Qld’s economy, half of Mackay’s, and one-third of Fitzroy’s) means that a new State of NQ would earn healthy royalty revenues. Of course, as currently happens with Queensland, this healthy royalty revenue would count against NQ in the distribution of GST revenue.
While I concur with the Senator that a State of NQ would be economically viable, I’d be careful about rushing into it. The set up costs would be large, and there may be trouble filling senior public service positions, given the vast majority of current Queensland public service SES positions are in Brisbane. Also, as I’ve posted on previously, I’m unsure NQ gets such a raw deal from Brisbane (see my post Is NQ under-funded relative to SEQ?). That said, I am very open to a debate about a new State of NQ, and I look forward to further contributions from Senator Canavan in advancing this interesting proposition.
*NB Senator Canavan is including Rockhampton, where his office is based, and the Fitzroy region in NQ.