The election campaign focus on jobs and the economy has continued on day 11 with the Prime Minister announcing Labor’s plan for the development of northern Australia.
The plan would involve establishment of a Northern Special Economic Zone with lower company tax, and expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme from Western Australia into the Northern Territory.
But the Opposition describes Labor’s plan as just a poor imitation of the Coaltion’s blue-print for the north.
Kevin Rudd says he has a three pillar plan to “turbo charge” northern Australia’s economy and ensure the nation continues to prosper once the China resources boom ends.
“I believe in the Territory, I love the Territory. I have been here stacks of times in the past and I like coming back here. I see it as huge in where we want to take Australia in the future in Asia, huge in terms of economic potential. All we’re talking about is giving people a bit of a leg up.”
To that end, Mr Rudd says a re-elected Labor government would create a Northern Special Economic Zone to attract new Australian and foreign investment.
He says the zone would simplify investment rules, streamline application processes for major projects, and introduce tax incentives.
While not committing to an exact figure, Mr Rudd says he would like to see the company tax reduced by about a third within five years.
But when asked who exactly would benefit from the tax cut, Mr Rudd contradicted himself several times before saying Labor was still working through the details.
The second pillar of Mr Rudd’s plan is to expand the Ord River irrigation scheme from WA into the Northern Territory.
Mr Rudd is promising $10-million to help settle Native Title disputes he says are holding back the expansion.
He says finalising Native Title claims would free up about $14,000 hectares of land and increase agricultural production by about $150-million a year.
Mr Rudd says a Labor government would work with the Northern Territory government and the Northern Land Council to sort out the disputes.
“We’ve been entirely mindful of those sensitivities. Equally mindful of the need to expand agricultural export opportunities across Northern Australia. When you talk about expanding the Ord by a third this is a large slice of territory and I’m proud of the fact that we are stepping out, making a decision to make this work.”
The final pillar of Mr Rudd’s vision for northern Australia is to develop 20 year growth plans for Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott says Labor is copying the Coalition’s plan.
“I’m pleased that Mr Rudd has finally woken up to the potential of northern Australia. This is something that the Coalition has been talking about for the last three years and Mr Rudd is playing catch up politics.”
In June the coalition unveiled its own 20 year plan to develop the north of Australia, which also involved tax incentives.
Labor slammed the plan at the time saying it was long on rhetoric and short on detail but now Mr Rudd is facing the same criticism from the Coalition.
Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne is not impressed with either of the major parties’ plans.
“What they’re talking about is code for environmental destruction, lower wages, poorer conditions for workers and longterm lack of resilience for local communities. And I won’t be surprised if the pair of them get together and decide they’re going to turn the rivers inland. This is such backward thinking and it’s interesting that they’re both adopting Gina Rinehart and Bob Katter’s ideas.”
Labor’s plan for the north of the country came as the Coalition unveiled an 11 point plan for Tasmania.
Tony Abbott says a Coalition government would strengthen Tasmania’s role as the gateway to the Antarctic with a $38-million upgrade to the Hobart airport and a $24-million Centre for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research.
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