Western Australia is not Special

Andrew Probyn is one of the nation’s finest political writers; lucid, thoughtful, well-researched and fiercely impartial. But there was something he wrote on Friday which gave me pause, and raised something that has been nagging at the back of my brain for some time now.

“the EMA policy provided the Government with a golden opportunity to display it actually ‘got’ WA.”

“WA is misunderstood by the Federal Labor Party as much as it is by the rest of the country,” he wrote in a piece discussing the ‘millstone’ that the Roy Hill EMA arrangement has become for the government.

This kind of thinking has become endemic among Western Australian journalists and writers, and – I’m uncertain which – either reflects the dominant thinking of residents there, or influences it. And it suggests that there is something that needs to be said. Frankly, it beggars belief that it needs to be said at all.

Western Australia is not special.

It is not unique, it is not blessed. It comes not with humans of significant insight, or particular unique talents. It is a quarry. Much as other parts of Australian and the world have served (and do serve) as quarries for other parts of the world. About 160 years ago, Victoria was the quarry – about the same time as there was an influx of migrant labour heading to California as it experienced a similar resource boom at a similar time.

It has taken no special effort, intelligence or skill to be in possession of large quantities of rocks which one can then dig up and sell. Queensland, apparently, is in possession of several. Yet it has been some time since the Queensland premier has made not-so-vague statements in the general direction of secession.

Instead, in between assertions that WA is propping up the lazy, unimaginative ‘eastern’ states and that it doesn’t receive its ‘fair share’ of GST payments, we are bombarded with claims that the west is somehow ‘different’. And by ‘different’, they mean ‘better’. A better class of rock, no doubt.

One of Australia’s defining characteristics is its astounding homogeneity. Across Europe, Africa,Asia and parts of South America, one can drive for 30 minutes, and encounter and vastly changed accent, history culture, and sometimes even dialect. Yet in Australia, one can drive from Darwin to the Dandenongs and encounter no great change in any of these things. Sure, in the warmer climes things slow down a little, and rural Australia is, well, rural, while city folk are exactly that, but when it requires linguists to identify the difference between a Brisbane and Adelaide accent, you know it’s all much of a muchness here.

Yet, still, we hear that this state that desperately relied on the largesse of those ‘eastern’ states when iron ore prices bore a passing resemblance to Irish interest rates is unique. That it merely needs to be unshackled from the Sisyphean burden that is Victoria, NSW and South Australia and it could bound to new heights of awesomeness.

In this way, it is much like any mediocre beneficiary of inheritance. Those born into good fortune tend to ascribe their success to their own modest smarts, hard work and entrepreneurship, ignoring the hard work and smarts of those who have failed. Children of privilege, likewise, are often advocates of the ‘free market’, believing that they should not be impeded from ‘earning’ the money they receive as a return on the investment of their inherited wealth. Of course, when the house of cards comes crashing down, they are the first to stick out their hand for support, being the ‘job creators’ and ‘wealth creators’ and whatever other rubbish might shoot forth from their pampered lips.

Western Australia is the lazy, semi-talented cousin whose daddy owns an advertising firm, gets set up with a cushy job, then pats himself on the back for being so diligent and talented. Just like every other state, but with loaded parents.

Likewise; Gina Rinehart. Champion of the free market. Opponent of government interference unless it involves procuring low-cost foreign labour. She’s done little other than sit on an ever-growing pile of rocks that have simply become more valuable, increasing her ability to influence the government she claims to want out of the way. A useful enough metaphor for the success of her home state.