‘Split Queensland in two — and make me Premier’

 

He's put more than 3000km on the four-wheel-drive in the past week, hurtling through Hughenden and Richmond, taking in the Birdsville Races and even dropping in on the tiny town of Dajarra, spreading news of a new northern state with all the zeal of a political evangelical.

Jason Costigan, booted out of the LNP in February amid allegations he behaved inappropriately in front of an 18-year-old woman, has a plan B in mind for his political future - create a new state.

Strenuously denying allegations of impropriety, and refusing to back away from plans to launch defamation actions against his accusers, the ever-ebullient Costigan, who holds the seat of Whitsunday, has shot off in a new direction, now leading a party with an unequivocal mission statement embedded in its very name - "North Queensland First.''

Booted from the LNP over sexual misconduct allegations that he strenuously denies, MP Jason Costigan is now pushing for a new state of North Queensland. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Booted from the LNP over sexual misconduct allegations that he strenuously denies, MP Jason Costigan is now pushing for a new state of North Queensland. Picture: Alix Sweeney


The former rugby league footy caller was in Julia Creek when this column spoke to him this week about his vision of a state above the 24th parallel, which would keep Rockhampton safely in a new northern enclave, with Townsville the capital.

Costigan was in the heart of Katter country. One of the safer seats in the Queensland Parliament is held by Robbie Katter, the Member for Traeger, who also happens to be a keen secessionist.

Traeger sits inside the federal seat of Kennedy owned by Robbie's old man Bob, who has been banging on about a new northern state for decades.

"I am going mountain climbing, so I figured I might as well start with Everest,'' said Costigan ruefully when asked why he started his secessionist campaign in electorates securely held by secessionists.

Western Queenslanders are hardly likely to listen to a blow-in from the Whitsundays, but Costigan insists his view on a northern state has a strong resonance anywhere north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and he's determined to take his one-man road show to every corner of the north.

"There's always been that sense of alienation in the state's north and a desire to have a separate state,'' he says.

"I just think the political climate is right to bring the matter to a head.''

The idea of a far northern state is probably older than the state itself. The north has had a sense of its own importance ever since Charters Towers boasted more than five brothels and a stock exchange in the mid-19th century.

Pushing for a new Queensland state is not a new idea. Picture: iStock
Pushing for a new Queensland state is not a new idea. Picture: iStock

Lawyer Peter Raffles, in 'The Formation of a new North Queensland State - The Constitutional Issues and Procedural Pathway,' published in the James Cook University Law Review in 2017, says a committee of businessmen in Townsville first pushed for a separate state in July 1882, 23 years after Queen Victoria had signed off on the first one.

Raffles points out Section 124 of the Constitution clearly allows for a new state, provided it happens with the consent of the state (or states) impacted.

He also notes that a New England new state movement began in 1949, leading to 1967 referendum where the idea of a new state in northern NSW was voted down.

The fight for a new northern state might appear to be quixotic to many, with the possibility of the heavily populated southeast willingly giving up the revenue-rich north highly unlikely.

But Costigan, with his romantic attachment to the north underwritten by deep familial ties, believes a separatist identity has crystallised more solidly in the past quarter of a century.

"I think the Cowboys put north Queensland on the map 25 years ago and solidified that deeper sense of identity,'' he said.

Costigan has an Irish ancestor who was one of the first cops in Mackay in 1865, three years after European settlement, serving in "Scrubby'' (the local nickname for the nearby town of Walkerston) and at Nebo to the west. One of his relatives also taught Artie Fadden, the local boy who (briefly) became Australian prime minister in 1941.

They're the sort of folksy antecedents Americans of the deep south might drag out to reinforce an attachment to old Dixie, yet in the deep north they still have sentimental resonance among locals.

Costigan, with enough political smarts to win three elections back to back, may not end up being be the founding father of a new Australian state. But the promise of a new land in the far north may get him over the line in his fight to retain Whitsunday in next year's election.



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