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AHC: Balkanised Commonwealth of Australia

Venocara

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Over the decades there have been a great many proposals to partition the states or add to the number of states that comprise Australia, some of which have been successful, others less so. So I would like to ask: what is the maximum number of states that the Commonwealth of Australia can plausibly be comprised of? How much of an effect would this have on Australia's stability, identity and future; could such a balkanised union survive for very long without secessions?
 

Venocara

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Well NZ had a sort of similar situation, with the Provinces, where for various reasons it became possible to create new provinces quite easily. Maybe include something similar in the federal constitution
Would it be possible for Australia to adopt something like the New Provinces Act? Concurrently, would it be possible for New Zealand's Provincialists to win out so that each of the provinces joins Australia when the time comes as opposed to New Zealand as a whole?
 

Juan Vogel

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I guess it just seems unlikely given the long gestation of the federation. Maybe in one of the states in the 1850s?
 

SenatorChickpea

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For once, Venocara, you'll be happy to have me in the thread.

I'm cooking right now, but I'm posting this to remind me to come back to this thread with notes and citations- but yes, it's very possible to have more states, and they would almost certainly come out of Queensland and New South Wales.
 

SenatorChickpea

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Right!

The west and north


OK, so we can plausibly dispense with subdivisions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Both have been proposed- acted upon, briefly, in the case of the Territory- but there's simply no population base for them.

Barring the physical transformation of large parts of Western Australia via the kind of irrigation scheme that seems more likely to destroy the landscape than save it, the demographic case for a single large Western State seems set to remain. The Northern Territory will, at some point, likely become a state- but it will be vastly, disproportionately small and weak even compared to US states like Wyoming.

This is also, incidentally, why I don't think you'll ever see an Australian equivalent of Nunavut- the Territory is by far the area of Australia with the highest proportion of Indigenous inhabitants, and they're not a majority. Australian politics being what they are, I doubt that you'd ever see the necessary support from non-Indigenous Aussies for such a state, even if it was backed by the majority of indigenous people (I don't believe that it is.) If, for the sake of argument you did carve out a piece of the territory to be the 'Indigenous state' (and there are many, many problems with that, not least that the vast majority of aboriginals have no connection to that Country,) it is the only possible scenario where I can imagine two states being carved out of the Territory. That is to say, I simply can't imagine a government that thinks its politically possible to increase indigenous representation in the Federal Government while keeping the white inhabitants of the region in a Territory.

Moving east.

There's not much chance of dividing South Australia; the proposals for a 'Princeland' between that colony and Victoria never had much support in the 1860s and that was the high point. Victoria's similar. The idea for a state around the Riverina in the Murray-Darling is a non-starter; it only got any traction in the 2000s when it finally became inescapably clear that water management was going to be a major issue, and it was largely popular with people who wanted to avoid the regulation of the rivers. Even if they had successfully built up any kind of popular movement- which they didn't- there's no way Victoria, South Australia or New South Wales were going to stomach the hijacking of a vital resource artery by climate-change denying landowners.

New South Wales- alright, here's your silver medal, the second-most likely place to give you a new state. New England- in the north of the state- has had a secession movement for a good century, and even had a referendum on statehood in the 1960s. It lost fairly narrowly, too, with 54 percent against- in part because the NSW state government cleverly drew the map of the proposed state so it would include the city of Newcastle, which had no intention of giving up its economic links with the south and interior of NSW. If that map gets drawn differently, which it probably does if the referendum gets held in the 1920s or 1930s, well, there's your state. It'll be an odd one- the only Aussie state with no clear capital. Guaranteed senators for the Country (or later, the National) party I'd imagine. Sort of an Aussie equivalent to those Republican strongholds in the Midwest- though if they include the Hunter Valley it'll have better wine than the Dakotas... A lot will depend on if it gets a corridor to the sea (maybe Coffs Harbor?), because I'd expect that port to boom. If Newcastle does end up as part of the state, it'll be the capital of necessity- which would lead to an interesting tension where the capital really doesn't want to be part of the state, but also plays too big a role in its politics to be brushed aside in the manner of liberal cities in the Midwest. New England would probably be a Labor/National area, with the Liberals not getting much of a look in. The other political Aussies might disagree with me there though.

While we're in NSW, I think we can take a moment to rule out statehood for Greater Sydney (and Greater Melbourne, for that matter.) This sometimes gets proposed, but I think people make the mistake of drawing too many analogues with the American Union- you know, statehood for NYC and so on. The relationship between Melbourne and Victoria, and between Sydney and NSW is very different from NYC and New York. The rural hinterlands and smaller cities might not like the capitals, and vice versa. But they can't be separated politically without all manner of regulatory problems that would potentially cripple the economies of both the new and old states.

Queensland! The gold medal. Going right back to the 1870s you had an extremely strong movement to divide the state. In fact, running the odds, it's probably quite surprising that we only have one state north of NSW and not three. Four, of course, if you count New England! A tripartite division of Queensland was very possible, and perhaps even likely. Central Queensland's separation movement really got going in the 1890s, and was weakened by Federation- since it lost the right to appeal to the British government, which had made sympathetic noises. They key to breaking it off is in the even more popular movement to break of Northern Queensland, which had been an ongoing project since the 1850s. The pressure point here is immigration; the Far North was dependent upon plantations served by non-white labour trafficked recruited from the Pacific Islands. This was a fundamentally different economic model from the rest of the state. Right through the second half of the nineteenth century it caused major arguments in the Queensland press and legislature (and throughout the rest of Australasia.) On the one hand you had a coalition of anti-immigrant factions- the nascent Labour movement, missionary societies appalled at the mistreatment of laborers, militant republicans and proto nationalists like the Bulletin writers and all manner of concerned citizens worried that non-white people would spread south from Cairns and, bluntly, attack your daughters. On the other, the settler communities in the north who were making good money out of the trade and plantations, and didn't think that their way of life could survive without foreign laborers- it was, of course, scientifically impossible for white people to work in the tropical heat in the same conditions as the islanders.* In the end, the depression of the 1890s probably ended the movement; before then the tide was shifting against the use of foreign Labour and faced with a hostile government in Brisbane the north might have successfully petitioned London to divide the state. But the depression saw the anti-migrant restrictions eased for a decade, and after that Federation came- which, as I said, stripped London of its role in determining the boundaries but also saw the immediate passing of an act calling for the deportation of the islanders. After that, though the separation movement's been quietly popular ever since, it's never had the economic case or the political might to get anywhere.

But if it does, then you see a state stretching from, let's say Townsville north. The weakened rump-Queensland is also likely to lose Central Queensland at this moment, as those communities would jump on the British reassessment of the boundaries too. They're likely to have a capital at Rockhampton. That leaves you with the south of the state, even more dominated by Brisbane (though that's likely to be a smaller city in this timeline as it won't be the natural home of the mining companies in the north-east anymore.)

Overseas

Ignore wiki. Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea had no prospect of becoming states. The island group that did have a shot- and that's basically ignored in wikipedia- is Fiji, whose European community was very interested in being incorporated into Australia or New Zealand in the 1890s. Fiji was not self-governing- the governor there (formally of the Western Pacific High Commission) saw his job as including the duty to protect the locals form annexation to Australasia, as it was expected that the settler colonies would destroy the Fijian population and steal what land was left. Granted, the WPHC didn't exactly treat the islanders well themselves but they probably weren't wrong that things would have got even worse if Fiji had been annexed. New Zealand probably came closer to taking the island group- there's a letter to London from the early 1900s where a staffer in Fiji warns Joseph Chamberlain that the islands had to be kept form the hands of Richard Seddon and his 'parliamentary hoodlums,' but many of the leaders of the Australian Federation movement thought that Fiji would become a state.

If it does, you're going to have a very nasty state of affairs- a state dominated by a white plantation elite, that unlike North Queensland is also a demographic minority. That's going to lead to bad things when decolonisation hits the Pacific. I'd expect to see more white people move into the islands, and perhaps- depending on what type of White Australia regime is in place- a serious attempt to co-opt the Fijian Indian population into supporting statehood.

The other big one: New Zealand.

Now, I disagree with most people in that I think there was still an outside chance at New Zealand statehood as late as the 1890s. Some of the explanations for why it was impossible are straight up nonsense, especially the idea that the Treaty of Waitangi would be insurmountable. Ignoring the fact that at this time the New Zealand position was that the Treaty was a 'simple nullity,' there is no evidence at all that the Australian states thought that the Maori should be treated in the same way as their own indigenous populations and in fact the first Australian government was prepared (and thought it important) to make any necessary constitutional changes to allow New Zealand to keep its own authority to make laws with respect to the Maori. In fact, New Zealand was more concerned about racial contamination from Australia than the other way around.

This is not to say that the Maori would not have a worse time of it as part of Australia, but we should be clear that their concerns were not the reason New Zealand stayed out.

The real problem (apart from the Tasman Sea) was the economic and political gulf between the two societies, with New Zealand being much more dependent upon trade with Britain and therefore a potential loser from any Federal laws that changed the existing customs and tariffs regimes was far more important. To get around that you need, firstly, to coopt the New Zealand political elite into the Federation project- tie the two labour movements together, and get big beasts of New Zealand liberalism like John Ballance and Richard Seddon into the Federation movement. Avoid the South African War, at least for a few years- it was hardly decisive, but the contemporary commentator on colonial nationalism, Richard Jebb, was probably on to something when he remarked that the big displays of colonial patriotism and imperial loyalty that overlapped with Federation did a lot to make both societies think about how they were part of the broader empire not a local union. Try and get a bigger market for New Zealand goods outside of Britain- ideally within the rest of Australasia.

It's still a long shot, don't get me wrong, but that could work.

Now, as to your question about the provincial system of New Zealand leading to more states- that's a non-starter. It's an easy mistake to make because 'provinces' sound like a workable sub division, but they were abolished for a good reason- there simply was not enough people for that many governments!

However, separating New Zealand in two is doable. @Juan Vogel and @Uhura's Mazda know more about Juan's namessake Julius Vogel than I do, but my instinct is that if there's a way to make him the premier of the South Island (New Munster, probably?) in the 1870s than the two colonies are unlikely to reunify. And if that happens, then two small colonies are more likely to take part in Federation than one. And you only need a single one of them to join, really- because once one of the two islands is its own self-governing colony, than the British government is going to put the same pressure on it that it did Newfoundland to join the local confederation and save London some paperwork.

A North Island state could be interesting if you keep Wellington as its capital, because it would be the only state where the biggest and most important city is not the capital- and in fact where the rural hinterlands and smaller towns are on the capital's side as a balance against Auckland.

A South Island state would probably avoid the long-term decline of Dunedin, which would be one of the only unquestioned Good Things about New Zealand statehood.

So, where does that leave us?

If we assume that these divisions happen, and that most of them happen in the nineteenth century, than our Commonwealth of Australia is likely going to have quite a different constitutional setup. But let's still call it the Commonwealth- it has the states of


Western Australia
South Australia
Victoria
New South Wales
New England
Queensland
Capricornia (Central Queensland)
North Queensland (Mackay? Edwardia?)
Fiji
New Munster (The South Island)
New Zealand/New Ulster (The North Island)
I don't care what anyone says, I didn't forget Tasmania

and the territories of

The Northern Territory
The ACT

and various Pacific Islands in 'association' with the Commonwealth.








*This particular manifestation of scientific racism is a whole thing, and can be got into another time.
 
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TR1996

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New South Wales- alright, here's your silver medal, the second-most likely place to give you a new state. New England- in the north of the state- has had a secession movement for a good century, and even had a referendum on statehood in the 1960s. It lost fairly narrowly, too, with 54 percent against- in part because the NSW state government cleverly drew the map of the proposed state so it would include the city of Newcastle, which had no intention of giving up its economic links with the south and interior of NSW. If that map gets drawn differently, which it probably does if the referendum gets held in the 1920s or 1930s, well, there's your state. It'll be an odd one- the only Aussie state with no clear capital. Guaranteed senators for the Country (or later, the National) party I'd imagine. Sort of an Aussie equivalent to those Republican strongholds in the Midwest- though if they include the Hunter Valley it'll have better wine than the Dakotas... A lot will depend on if it gets a corridor to the sea (maybe Coffs Harbor?), because I'd expect that port to boom. If Newcastle does end up as part of the state, it'll be the capital of necessity- which would lead to an interesting tension where the capital really doesn't want to be part of the state, but also plays too big a role in its politics to be brushed aside in the manner of liberal cities in the Midwest. New England would probably be a Labor/National area, with the Liberals not getting much of a look in. The other political Aussies might disagree with me there though.

While we're in NSW, I think we can take a moment to rule out statehood for Greater Sydney (and Greater Melbourne, for that matter.) This sometimes gets proposed, but I think people make the mistake of drawing too many analogues with the American Union- you know, statehood for NYC and so on. The relationship between Melbourne and Victoria, and between Sydney and NSW is very different from NYC and New York. The rural hinterlands and smaller cities might not like the capitals, and vice versa. But they can't be separated politically without all manner of regulatory problems that would potentially cripple the economies of both the new and old states.
Any chance for Senator Charles Hardy and the 1930s Riverina Movement in NSW to get off the ground in any capacity? Or was enthusiasm for that always doomed to dissipate with the removal of the contentious Labor Premier Jack Lang?
 

Stateless

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If we assume that these divisions happen, and that most of them happen in the nineteenth century, than our Commonwealth of Australia is likely going to have quite a different constitutional setup. But let's still call it the Commonwealth- it has the states of


Western Australia
South Australia
Victoria
New South Wales
New England
Queensland
Capricornia (Central Queensland)
North Queensland (Mackay? Edwardia?)
Fiji
New Munster (The South Island)
New Zealand/New Ulster (The North Island)

and the territories of

The Northern Territory
The ACT
Yes I am interested in your independent Tasmania newsletter.
 
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Alex Richards

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The west and north


OK, so we can plausibly dispense with subdivisions of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Both have been proposed- acted upon, briefly, in the case of the Territory- but there's simply no population base for them.

Barring the physical transformation of large parts of Western Australia via the kind of irrigation scheme that seems more likely to destroy the landscape than save it, the demographic case for a single large Western State seems set to remain. The Northern Territory will, at some point, likely become a state- but it will be vastly, disproportionately small and weak even compared to US states like Wyoming.

This is also, incidentally, why I don't think you'll ever see an Australian equivalent of Nunavut- the Territory is by far the area of Australia with the highest proportion of Indigenous inhabitants, and they're not a majority. Australian politics being what they are, I doubt that you'd ever see the necessary support from non-Indigenous Aussies for such a state, even if it was backed by the majority of indigenous people (I don't believe that it is.) If, for the sake of argument you did carve out a piece of the territory to be the 'Indigenous state' (and there are many, many problems with that, not least that the vast majority of aboriginals have no connection to that Country,) it is the only possible scenario where I can imagine two states being carved out of the Territory. That is to say, I simply can't imagine a government that thinks its politically possible to increase indigenous representation in the Federal Government while keeping the white inhabitants of the region in a Territory.
I'd add an addendum to this.

I can see an early change which sees the Kimberley region attached to the Northern Territory rather than Western Australia, maybe the Pilbara as well. Essentially in the sense of somebody trying to shove enough bits together to make the Territory a viable future State.

Still probably going to be a post-war statehood however.
 

SenatorChickpea

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Any chance for Senator Charles Hardy and the 1930s Riverina Movement in NSW to get off the ground in any capacity? Or was enthusiasm for that always doomed to dissipate with the removal of the contentious Labor Premier Jack Lang?
You know, I'd completely forgotten about that, and I honestly don't know enough to give a meaningful answer.
 

Venocara

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This is an excellent analysis @SenatorChickpea, so thank you very much. I do have three questions that I would like to ask:

1. Do you think it is possible for Queensland to have its claim to southeast New Guinea recognised?
2. Do you think that New Zealand could be forced into the Commonwealth post-Federation in any scenario?
2. A bit tangential, but do you think it is possible for South Australia to retain its possession of the Northern Territory?
 

SenatorChickpea

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1. Depends what you mean. One thing to remember is that when Queensland unilaterally annexed the territory in 1883, it did so in the name of the British Empire, not its own local colonial ambitions. I won't bore you with the theoretical underpinnings of my take on Australasian imperialism, but the point is that while the British rebuke of Queensland was humiliating (to the whole group of colonies, including NZ) there was a sense of vindication when the UK was bounced into declaring a protectorate the next year and then creating the formal British New Guinea territory in 1888.

What that means is that Queensland largely achieved its aims, but no one came out of it looking good- Germany was insulted, Britain stuck with a large, expensive and completely unprofitable territory it didn't want and a bunch of self-governing colonies who felt that London had ignored their concerns about foreign expansionism, and Queensland and the rest of Australia were stuck trying to explain why they shouldn't have to pick up all the costs of running New Guinea. Most Queensland politicians took the view that they wanted their companies to have the right to work and profit in New Guinea and the security of it not being in foreign hands, but that they shouldn't have to run it.

For Queensland to directly rule New Guinea, you probably need slightly frostier Anglo-German relations in the early 1880s and for Gladstone's ministry to decide to resolve the situation by calling Brisbane's bluff- you want it, you run it.

2. Forced? No. This is a major problem with the Kaiserreich scenario. There is no precedent and no practical way for the UK to force a Dominion (or any self-governing colony) to give up that self-government. It took economic collapse and the demographic fallout of WW1 to make Newfoundland unviable, and that still required the parliamentary consent of Newfoundland to give up self-government. I can picture, just about, some drastic series of wars and economic catastrophes that make New Zealand feel paranoid and isolated enough to want to join the Federation, though it takes some squinting. But to be forced by Australia or the UK? No. That's maybe the only situation I can picture a New Zealand UDI.

3. I suppose so, but the question is why they'd want to. Remember that the resources boom came very late to Australia; the Territory was economically unviable for most of its existence. One of the most lucrative industries in the 19th century was pearl fishing, but since that was dominated by Japanese ships the South Australian government did its level best to shut down one of the only sources of profit in the region.

I suppose that if you started the resources boom early it might change the calculus, but you'd still need a South Australia prepared for the serious expenditure on rail and other infrastructure to make mass extraction viable in the early twentieth century.
 

SenatorChickpea

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Oh, one other thing that might help drive NZ into Federation- more great power competition in the South Pacific. The 1883 Federal Convention saw all the colonies- including NZ- demand that the UK not permit any further expansion into the islands from anyone else. The bogeyman in question, depending on the island and the colony, ranged from Germany (New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomons) France (the New Hebrides,) Russia (they invaded Dunedin in the 1890s,) and the US (Samoa and, bizarrely, Hawaii.)

Japan didn't really feature in paranoia about the islands until the twentieth century, though of course it and China were the subject of often frenzied invasion fantasies well before that.

It's often overlooked just how much the publics cared about the islands- in 1886, tens of thousands of people signed petitions, attended rallies and town-hall meetings, wrote their representatives about how France had to be kept out of the New Hebrides. If you look at the Colonial Office files in Kew for that year they are literally packed with letters from groups like the Presbyterian congregation of Oamaru demanding that action be taken. It was a real headache for Lord Salisbury, particularly after he had a courtesy meeting with a group of colonial politicians to brief them on policy and was astounded when a young troublemaker called Alfred Deakin apparently tore him to shreds.

Anyway, turn up the pressure on NZ- it only has to be the perception of pressure, a belief that the Tsar or the Kaiser is going to invade- and that'll help keep the colony engaged in planning for mutual defence with the rest of the Australasia.
 

SenatorChickpea

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The hoax is a representation of real fears- through the 1870s and 1880s there were various war scares between Britain and Russia, and New Zealand convinced itself that it was at risk. So through the 1880s you see a whole bunch of fortifications built at the major harbors- some with the very latest technology, like Dunedin's 'Disappearing Guns' which would rise from the cliffs, fire, and then be lowered back into safety to reload and escape the counter-bombardment.

It doesn't, so far as I can tell, have any basis in actual geopolitics. Admittedly I've only read about this in passing: I gather that a scholar by the name of Glynn Barratt was the reigning expert on NZ 19thC Russophobia, at least through the late twentieth century, but I've only read one of his papers, not the full book.

It's odd. I tend to believe that you have to take colonial geopolitical views seriously; the 'threat' of Germany in the Solomons and New Guinea and France in the New Hebrides might have seemed overblown to the British government, and the Kaiser's holdings were certainly cleared out in WW1. But in WW2, New Zealand and Australia's entire defence hinged on the defence of those old German possessions- and today, our governments are deeply worried about the possibility of a Chinese naval base in Vanuatu- the New Hebrides. So while those fears may not have been accurate in terms of reading the opponent, they did stem from an actual understanding of the strategic importance of the region.

Russia, so far as I can tell, is different. The nearest Russian base was in Vladivostok. Russia never successfully gained so much as a coaling station in the Pacific. The fears stem entirely, so far as I see, from Britain's war scares, Pandjeh and the like.

As to invasion: no, it was never on the cards. @Kato is clever in that her book has the invasion happen almost accidentally- it's Russian ships in the region carrying out a raid, getting bogged down, trying to salvage their position. But while I can just about picture something like the Kaskowiski hoax- a hostile power attacking a port and leaving within a day or two- no one had the capability to land a real force in NZ.

Or in the Australian colonies, for that matter. Though I suppose the old 'seize Darwin and create an island in the Outback' plan would have been viable.
 
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Kato

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Russia never successfully gained so much as a coaling station in the Pacific
This was my biggest stretch when plotting Freedom's Rampart - I ended up finding a reference to an OTL ad hoc arrangement with a local ruler in (IIRC) Java.

Otherwise by c.1890 only the most state of the art Russian vessels had the range to do Vladivostock-South Pacific. The 3rd strategic priority (after the Black and Baltic Seas) of the Russian armed force's junior service did not get the best gear.

It was kind of cool to see, given hindsight, just how objectively implausible those C19th war scares were from a local perspective.
 

SenatorChickpea

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How much of an effect would this have on Australia's stability, identity and future; could such a balkanised union survive for very long without secessions?
I never really got around to this.

The answer will depend, in great part, as to when the borders are redrawn. Despite all I said upthread, it's quite possible that a 'New Zealand' that joins the 'Commonwealth' could try and secede; if it does- which would require a British government that's willing to let a Dominion breakup, which is plausible but not guaranteed- it would be much harder to contain Western Australian secessionism.

However, new states within Queensland and NSW are not likely to cause any significant effects in terms of threatening Australian political cohesiveness.

The later the boundaries are redrawn, the more stable- because that's when the centralising factors that made Federation possible are most developed. new states in Queensland in the 1890s might slow down Federation by a few years, because it would require a slightly different national bargain on White Australia- but it's decades after the process got underway.

Earlier divisions could (could. Not would.) lead to a more balkanised region, because the chances of a weaker Federal governing structure developing are higher- you see this in the 1880s with the 'Federal Council of Australasia' which was completely ineffective as a foundation for a unified government. NSW and New Zealand did not join; the latter's absence was tolerable, a Federal structure without NSW was both untenable and risked the Council becoming an instrument for Victoria to harangue the other colonies.

On the other hand, and going against everything I just said- it's also possible that a 'Commonwealth' with New Zealand is actually less susceptible to Balkanisation, since the necessary compromises to keep the governments across the Tasman satisfied will also dampen secessionist sentiment in Perth.

I can envisage a situation where the historic weakness of the Federal Prime Minister is both more marked, and lasts longer; it was the world wars and depression that really gave the post grunt. In a larger Australasia, it's possible that the PM carves out defence and foreign policy for themselves, but a weaker Federal parliament has less power to create domestic laws than OTL. The Federal government's place as an arbiter of interstate commerce disputes and its role in controlling tariffs and customs will still be important, and the best tool of centralising authority.

Hmm.

It's a half-formed thought, and I don't have time to expand it- but my instinct is that a Commonwealth that includes New Zealand is more likely to have Melbourne as its capital. Not sure why- something about the need for a Federal capital that's a port, Melbourne's role as a major trading partner to cities across the Tasman (and on the West Coast,) and the relative decline in the importance of the NSW-Victorian rivalry in this situation. This may not stand up to scrutiny, though.
 
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