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
"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
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
"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)