SYDNEY Feb 7 Australia's opposition is considering adopting a policy of raising tax rebates paid to residents in its mining-rich tropical north ahead of September elections, drawing criticisms and comparisons to controversial ideas penned by mining magnate Gina Rinehart.
Citing a "leaked, high-level" opposition document, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported the opposition was considering splitting the country into different tax zones, relocating civil servants and diverting A$800 million ($825 million) in foreign aid to fund major projects north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott confirmed they were discussing incentives to boost development in the sparsely populated northern regions of Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland but ruled out separate economic or tax zones. His regional development spokesman said changes to a rebate scheme for remote regions were being considered.
Politicians from the ruling Labor and Greens parties, which are lagging the opposition ahead of elections due in September, said the "dangerous" and "wacky" ideas echoed those of Rinehart, the country's richest person.
Rinehart, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $17 billion, has long argued that more needs to be done to cut taxes and reduce soaring costs for resource projects in northern Australia, where much of the workforce is employed on six-figure, fly-in, fly-out contracts.
She laid out her vision in a poem entitled "Our Future" which is attached to a 30-tonne iron ore boulder displayed in her hometown of Perth.
"Develop North Australia, embrace multiculturalism and welcome short-term foreign workers to our shores
"To benefit from the export of our minerals and ores
"The world's poor need our resources: do not leave them to their fate
"Our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late"
The verse was panned by critics, described by some as "the universe's worst".
Tony Maher, the National President of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, said it was frightening to think of an Abbott government developing policy according to Rinehart's poetry.
"There is no shortage of mining investment in northern Australia. The best way to deliver jobs and development is to require mining companies to pay their fair share of tax - creating an income stream to invest back into communities - and provide training and good, well-paid jobs to locals." ($1 = 0.9691 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Ed Davies)