Article – Calls for changes to zonal tax offset as part of revamp to give northern Australia a boost

4 September 2014
Steven Scott
The Courier Mail

RESIDENTS of Queensland cities such as Townsville, Cairns and Mackay could lose old tax perks while others in more remote towns gain rebates as part of a proposed overhaul to develop northern Australia.

The proposal is contained in a wide-ranging report into developing northern Australia to be tabled in Parliament today, The Courier-Mail can reveal.
The confidential report ­includes 36 recommendations, which cover a wide range of measures to boost economic development, improve lifestyles and lead to more infrastructure in the north.
A new minister for northern Australia would be created, with a bureaucracy most likely based in the region as part of the plan.

 Generic views of Townsville including the Port and Jupiters Casino and the Marina from Castle Hill .

Government departments would be encouraged to base public servants in northern cities if suitable.

Other government departments would be encouraged to base public servants in northern cities if suitable, but the ­report does not back calls to forcibly relocate agencies like Customs, AQIS and CSIRO.
Several new dams would be built north of the Tropic of Capricorn and new areas opened up for agriculture under other proposals.
A greater military presence will also be encouraged in the north.
The zonal tax offset, which offers small concessions to residents who live or work for at least 183 days a year in a remote area, is also facing calls for an overhaul.
Critics claim the scheme is outdated because the benefits can be claimed by people in areas like Townsville that are no longer remote.

Under an old system that sets out two different zones for the benefits, some small country towns such as Clermont in central Queensland do not qualify, while some parts of ­cities like Townsville do.

The proposals could see the rebates offered to a smaller number of people but at a higher rate in a bid to offset the higher cost of living in rural towns.
The inquiry will feed into the Abbott Government’s promised White Paper into northern Australia, which is due by the end of the year.
Sources told The Courier-Mail some of the committee’s recommendations were weak because of a desire for support from all sides of politics.
Committee chairman Warren Entsch refused to comment on the contents of the report.
But he confirmed there was cross-party support for the recommendations and said they would carry weight because they were backed by Labor, the Greens and the Coalition.
“The fact that we have got a tri-party consenting report will definitely give it significant strength,” Mr Entsch said.
“This will survive through governments.”
Courtesy of the Courier Mail