On 8 April 1933, a referendum was held on the issue of Western Australia seceding from the Commonwealth of Australia. On the question of whether the voter was in favour of “the State of Western Australia withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth”, a two-to-one majority vote in favour was received.
Ironically, this vote for WA’s secession occurred on the same day as the State Election when Western Australians voted out the Government of Sir James Mitchell and removed him as a Member of Parliament. James Mitchell was the parliamentarian responsible for sponsoring the referendum and campaigning for the secessionist cause. A State Labor Government was elected led by Philip Collier, who had actively opposed secession during the election and referendum campaigns.
Given the resounding nature of the vote, Philip Collier’s Government, though not in favour, could not ignore the referendum outcome. State Archives reveal the State Government’s moves to prepare and present the case to the UK Parliament at Westminster for WA’s secession from the rest of Australia.
Eventually the case for secession was rejected by the UK Parliament and the Western Australian secession movement died away, soon to be overtaken by the events of World War II. But since the 1933 referendum, murmurings about Western Australian secession occur from time to time, especially when there are perceptions that WA may not be receiving a fair distribution of funds as determined by the Commonwealth Grants Commission.
Historians investigate and debate the reasons for the resounding vote in favour of secession in 1933, citing, in the main, economic factors, most obviously the ‘Great Depression’. State Archives held by the SRO reveal a great deal of detail about the blooming secession movement during the 1920s and 1930s, and also government and community responses to the results of the 1933 referendum.