Scott Morrison has failed to perform another election miracle, which may or may not bode well for the Victorian Independence Movement, who were using ScoMo as an excuse to ‘get out’ of the Federation.
Who? I hear you ask.
That’s right, the Victorian Independence Movement.
Yes, they’re a real organisation, and yes, they want Vexit and no, it most definitely isn’t an elaborate jape. And while Vexiteers wanted the Morrison Government gone as much as many other Victorians, they freely acknowledge the role Morrison has played bringing their movement about.
According to a spokesperson for the movement (they don’t have an appointed leader yet), ‘The shocking behaviour of the Federal Government during COVID-19, as it turned on Victorians when we were sick and scared, made many people realise that we need to control our own affairs rather than rely on a distant and now aggressive federal system.’
The COVID-19 pandemic tested Australia’s federation like nothing before it. State borders suddenly became more than just lines on a map, some closed for months and years on end, while each had their own public health and policing strategies for keeping the virus at bay, with varying degrees of success. And suddenly, regular people started learning the names of state politicians, who up until this point, had been faceless public servants who made decisions for them.
But it was in October last year, when Victoria was enduring the last and longest of its several lockdowns, that the Victorian Independence Movement was borne from adversity and decided it was time to break away.
A Twitter account under the same name suddenly appeared, sporting a distinctive VFL style logo with a Phillip Island Penguin in the front. It’s pugnacious and parochial comments soon gained traction and over six months on, the account has 1,400 followers along with a website, blog, and merchandise.
According to their spokesperson, the movement has tapped into a sentiment that extends well beyond the pandemic and its oppressive lockdowns.
‘Our movement is growing rapidly and there’s widespread discontent in Victoria at the way we are treated under the current federal system. Australia isn’t working anymore, especially not for Victorians. We pay into the federation well over the odds and get very little back. Canberra duds us on infrastructure spending, GST and tries to impose laws that override our protections for vulnerable groups.’
Discontent over these issues isn’t hard to find in Victoria.
The Andrews Labor Government has long complained about Victoria receiving less than its fair share of infrastructure spending from the Commonwealth, a point reaffirmed in the recent Federal Budget where the state received just 6% of the $3.6 billion in funding despite having 26% of the population.
Victoria is also set to be short-changed by a reallocation of GST funds made by the Coalition following a campaign by Western Australia. The new arrangements will see WA given an extra AUD4.4 billion per year, despite being the only state currently in surplus. AUD1 billion of that money will come from Victoria.
It’s a disconnect that’s been noticed well beyond the Victorian Independence Movement and led to others contemplating Vexit too.
One of them is Melbourne City deputy lord mayor and former ALP advisor, Nick Reece, who recently wrote an op-ed in The Age that argued an independent Victoria could not only survive, but thrive on its own. He writes, ‘With an advanced economy and a population of close to 7 million, Victoria is similar in size to countries like New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore.
‘These also happen to be countries that Australia often looks to for inspiration. Countries that Victoria could be more like if we were to go it alone.
‘Unshackled from the federation, Victoria could have a refugee policy that is more humanitarian like New Zealand. Environment and climate policies like the renewables and green super-power of Denmark. And a dynamic and innovation-led economy like Singapore.’
Reece points out that these are all countries that Australia is drawn to for inspiration. Vexit would allow Victoria to be more like them: other socially ‘progressive’ nations that fit into our worldview.
As alluring as this sounds, the Australian Constitution has no provision for secession, making Vexit all but impossible.
But the Victoria Independence Movement remains unperturbed.
Instead, they’re playing the long game, with plans for Senate candidates to run in future federal elections and eventually a referendum with a simple YES or NO question requiring a simple majority of voters (first past the post).
There’s no timeframe on the vote, but the spokesperson points to the Treaty process currently under way between First Nations Peoples and the Victorian Government as a potential turning point in the campaign and an example of why Vexit is needed.
They go onto write:
‘We don’t have a target date for a referendum or independence itself, but change is coming quickly in Australia, if unevenly. The Treaty process in Victoria will fundamentally alter our constitutional relationship with Australia, especially if the failed federation chooses to oppose the Victorian agreement.’
It might seem farfetched, and much of the opposition has so far has come in the form of ridicule, but recent examples such as the campaign for Scottish Independence show that secession movements can go from idealistic notions to juggernauts in no time, especially when there’s much to be gained by going solo.