It is an historical fact that on 8 April 1933, when the people of Western Australia were asked whether they were in favour of the State withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth, they voted ‘Yes’. When a government delegation went to Westminster in 1935 the Imperial Parliament refused to intervene on the issue of secession. However, it is less well known that Tasmania might have seceded before the Western Australians. A suggestion to do so occurred within Tasmania’s Legislative Council.
On 29 November 1928 the Legislative Council came to the brink of resolving to secede from the Federation. The mover of the motion, Thomas Murdoch (MLC Buckingham) knew that the Legislative Council could not act alone and so his motion was, he admitted, only an ‘expression of opinion’. Nevertheless, he wanted the Upper House to express its disquiet over the ‘detrimental effect of the Navigational Act’ (an Imperial statute) was having on the ‘trade and financial position of this State’. In addition, and perhaps with a curious echo for today’s Work Choice legislation, Murdoch wanted the Legislative Council to express its disquiet about Commonwealth ‘industrial legislation generally’. According to Murdoch’s motion it was, therefore, ‘desirable that steps should be taken to enable Tasmania to withdraw from union with the Commonwealth of Australia’.
Parliamentary debate began on the suggestion to secede, but more temperate minds took over. Thus on a parliamentary division Murdoch’s motion for Tasmania to quit the Federation was reworded. By 11:3 votes it was changed to read: ‘This Council expresses its profound dissatisfaction at the present position of the State of Tasmania under Federation and with the treatment extended to Tasmania by the Federal Government’. While it can be wondered whether the resolution had much impact on the Commonwealth Government, the sentiments documented by it could very well have been adopted as a mantra by many State Governments. General elections have even been fought on this very theme. Murdoch’s parliamentary career continued until 1944 and included serving as President of the Legislative Council from 1937 until 1944.