Article – Committees and tax-free zones not what Australia's North needs

August 26, 2013
Larry Graham
WA Today
As an old Norwester, I should be happy that there is emerging political interest in the northern half of our continent – but I am not.
The two major parties have just discovered there is something between them and Indonesia, and because there are folks up there who vote, they have to be promised stuff.
The Libs have promised a committee and Labor is promising a special economic zone with tax breaks.
This Labor fantasy is somewhat similar to the nonsense that the Hancock family has been pushing since the early 70s.
Even though our constitution prevents this happening within states, such a change may be possible in the Northern Territory.
But why would anyone do it? These tax loopholes force people and businesses in one place to pay more tax so someone in another place can pay less. They have never and will never work.
If it is ever implemented, the territory will become the dodgy tax haven of Australia, rows and rows of post boxes and registered offices will appear and little else will happen.
For their part, the Libs promise to form a Committee. To hell with that! Well-meaning committees have been deliberating over the North for over a century and there are rooms full of their reports.
The North that the Libs want to plan for covers half the continent, includes parts of two states, one entire territory and a whole range of regions that are all different to each other.
The climate varies from beaches, mud flats, tropical monsoon country and arid deserts. There are gigantic plains, staggering mountain ranges, umpteen rivers (both seasonal and permanent), but the one thing there is not, is a generic “North”.
We would never consider lumping Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and southern Western Australia into a region called “the South” and then forming a committee to tell those areas what to do.
Any government proposing to form a committee to deal with the South like this would be laughed out of office.
And the reason that would happen is because we accept that there are state and regional differences in the South. We accept that these differences lead to different industries developing and we understand that this requires different approaches – so why are these such a difficult concepts to apply to the North? The reality is that our political system has never known how to deal with the northern half of our continent.
Starting with the first failure at Fort Dundas on the Melville Islands, the region is littered with the remnants of what seemed like good ideas at the time.
In his book Linkletter Down Under, millionaire and 1950s American TV star Art Linkletter tells us of late prime minister Harold Holts’ view of the North. Holt said, “Here then are tens of thousands of acres of land that properly developed could be made into a magnificent agricultural empire. Enough rice could be grown to supply most of the world’s granaries year in and year out. The soil is as rich as the fabled Nile Valley, but ten times greater in size.” Art fell for it, came, spent millions and then left. Had he, or the late Harold Holt, bothered they could have looked at myriad of reports that tell of the difficulties they would, and did, encounter.
The North West of our nation is home to the bulk, if not all, of the pearling, diamond, iron ore, petroleum, gas, salt and pastoral industries, as well as tourism. However most of these industries were developed despite our governments, not because of them.
The simple fact is the north of our country is different to its south, not worth less or more, and our centralist decision makers in Perth and Canberra do not and can not ever accept that.
It is not that I want to disparage the North. I love it, grew up with my fathers’ stories of it and have spent most of my life in it. However what grates is the idea that these wonderful, wealth-generating areas somehow need this condescending crap.
Despite these puerile promises and whoever wins the election, little will change in the North and, sadly, I suspect that our grandkids will grow up listening to pollies talking about their grand visions for developing “the North”.
Courtesy of WA Today.