‘Call it Coonawarra’: Former deputy PM Tim Fischer weighs into NT and SA merger vision
A population map from the 1920s shows one vision of how the NT’s borders could look.
(Supplied: NLA Maps Collection)
A vision to forge the great new Australian state of Centralia, or Coonawarra, will likely remain just that, as governments of South Australia and the Northern Territory dismiss the idea.
- Ex-minister John Elferink’s vision to merge NT with SA has been dismissed by both governments
- Ex-deputy PM Tim Fischer says the move would be great for economic development
- Alice Springs town councillor Eli Melky says the proposal is a “harebrained” idea
But the ambitious proposal has its fans, with former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer weighing in to say a merger, “should be seriously considered by the nation”.
Former NT Country Liberal Party minister John Elferink floated the idea of merging SA and NT together to create the new state of Centralia as a way to alleviate the Territory’s current budgetary woes.
Mr Elferink, the CLP’s corrections minister during the notorious Don Dale youth detention scandal of 2016, has outlined his vision for the merger in lengthy letters to the editor in Darwin’s NT News.
After his first letter on December 27, in which he proposed forming the state “with resources to rival WA” that would “put Australia firmly in Asia”, he received a barrage of responses for and against his idea.
Former CLP Minister John Elferink’s proposal to merge SA and NT has been rejected. (ABC News: Tristan Hooft)
“The opportunities for a new state that represents a third of the continent’s land mass with direct access to Asia are very real and merit serious consideration, particularly in the Asian century,” Mr Elferink wrote in another letter today.
Governments dismiss merger proposal
The grand concept was today squashed by both the NT and SA governments.
A spokesman for SA’s Liberal Government said: “The [Steve] Marshall Government has no plans to merge South Australia with the Northern Territory.”
SA Police Minister Corey Wingard told ABC Local Radio it was not something he was thinking about.
“We’re focused on South Australia here … that’s where our intent and focus is,” Mr Wingard said.
During a press conference about how an increased migrant intake could help improve the NT’s flailing economy, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he did not, “believe that we should be looking to delegate, defer or hand [NT] decisions to anybody else”.
“These are things that Territorians have to solve for ourselves. The solutions are here in the Northern Territory,” Mr Gunner said.
“I believe in the future of the Territory and I believe in Territorians.”
Former deputy PM offers support
But the outlandish idea does have at least one high-profile supporter.
Mr Fischer, a former trade minister and deputy prime minister during the John Howard government years, has voiced his support for the merger, and said the new state should be named Coonawarra.
“It’s absolutely worth investigating,” Mr Fischer told ABC Darwin.
“It would mean a dynamic economic focus for the combined South Australia [and] Northern Territory to Asia, and that would be job creating in its own right.
“I think a name like Coonawarra, an Indigenous name which relates to honey, would be … appropriate for the combined state … it has a ring about it.”
Mr Fischer said the proposal had “occasionally” been bantered around during his period in power.
“It was certainly on the margins, and attending CLP meetings in the Territory,” he said.
“The time has come for this to be seriously considered by the nation of Australia.”
Central Australia says ‘no’ to Centralia
Despite a long-standing rift over resource distribution between the Top End of the Territory and Central Australia, the idea of a merger has been dismissed in the Red Centre as well.
Alice Springs residents want to stay as Territorians, a town councillor says. (ABC News: Neda Vanovac)
Alice Springs town councillor Eli Melky said the proposal was “harebrained” and a “headline-grabber”.
“Central Australia is who we are, we’re part of the Territory,” Mr Melky said.
“People need to stop running around and making different excuses and get back to the basics.
“And get us out of the financial woes by showing good, strong leadership … the basics are all we need at the moment moving forward, not some headline-grabbing idea that isn’t really practical, isn’t really sustainable and is simply not possible.”