Article – Joyce slams north plan

August 27, 2013
Colin Bettles
North Queensland Register
SHADOW Regional Development Minister Barnaby Joyce says Kevin Rudd has “completely botched” Labor’s plans to develop northern Australia.
Senator Joyce is pushing a more considered option involving individual tax breaks over Mr Rudd’s key proposal to cut company tax rates by a third.
Mr Rudd said his three-pillared vision for northern Australia – announced recently on the federal election campaign trail – would attract new investment, creating new jobs and economic growth.
The ALP plan involves a one-third expansion of the Ord Irrigation Scheme, with $10 million for the Northern Territory government to bolster agricultural production by about $150 million per year, taking advantage of the Asian middle-class boom.
The plan would also introduce tax incentives like cutting the company tax rate for NT-based companies in five years.
Twenty-year growth plans for regional hubs at Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay would also be developed overseen by Infrastructure Australia to target key exports, including agricultural products.
“We need to diversify our economy beyond the mining sector to ensure we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” Mr Rudd said.
“We will harness the bountiful supply of water available here in the north to drive the production of these new food industries for export and create new jobs.” But Mr Joyce canned the plan, saying he’s been pursing regional development options for several years now involving individual tax rebates for people living and working in regional areas.
Coalition Policy Development Committee chair Andrew Robb said his party has been developing a comprehensive vision for Northern Australia over the past three years and had consulted across the length and breadth of the north.
This culminated in the release last June of the Coalition’s plan for a plan, The Coalition’s 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia – Senator Joyce had been extensively involved with the formulation of this policy in recent years.
Mr Robb said the Coalition would implement a comprehensive plan for Northern Australia to capitalise on opportunities in agriculture, minerals and resources, tropical medicine and research, education, tourism and Defence.
Senator Joyce said he’s had his own plans on individual tax arrangements bubbling away for some time, which would enhance the Coalition’s vision.
His plan would see people earning less than $55,000 per year paying no tax; those with one child earning under $75,000 per year paying no tax; and anyone with two children earning under $85,000 paying no tax.
Mr Joyce said his zonal rebate scheme would be trialled in five local government areas and was offered to the rural independents after the 2010 election in the negotiations to form government, but was rejected.
The Shadow Regional Development Minister said although the ALP’s announcement encouraged companies to set up business in the NT, individual communities wouldn’t benefit from population expansion and economic growth.
Mr Joyce said individual tax breaks would provide greater incentive for people moving into or remaining in areas in northern Queensland, Western Australia and the NT with economic potential, and incentives for individual Aboriginals and their families.
It would also provide direct incentives for health care and educational work forces, moving to or remaining in remote and rural communities.
Mr Joyce said Mr Rudd’s plan lacked details and even people in his own party were caught by surprise when it was announced in Darwin on August 14.
Senator Joyce has previously raised plans to cap tax rates in regional areas to stimulate economic growth. However, his ideas were opposed by Liberals in the Howard government who argued farmers already have specific taxation concessions at their disposal.
Mr Joyce said some Coalition colleagues still opposed his zone-based tax break plan, but he’d continue pushing for it if elected.
Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said moves to support local companies and businesses were to be encouraged, as are efforts to deliver important community infrastructure.
But this needed to be done in a responsible manner, she said.
“The scarcity of details from the old parties means we really don’t know what type of development they are pushing,” she said.
“Irresponsibly pursuing the notion of intensive agriculture across the north of Australia brings with it the prospect of unsustainable land use, changes to water flow, pollution and invasive species, all of which have the capacity to radically change this part of our country.” Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said the Prime Minister was “clutching at straws by adopting Gina Rinehart’s and Tony Abbott’s ill-considered northern Australia plan”.
“A CSIRO report in 2010 showed that large scale agriculture is not sustainable in far northern Australia because there is not enough water,” she said.
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) chief executive Matt Linnegar said special economic zones that encourage businesses to expand, improved taxation arrangements to attract new investment and the streamlining of regulatory impacts had all been raised by the farm sector in the NFF’s Blueprint for Australian Agriculture.
But Mr Linnegar said developing the north to take advantage of recognised opportunities required a co-operative and comprehensive approach.
He said a “sporadic or fragmented approach” to expanding agriculture in northern Australia won’t benefit anyone and would harm industry.
“What is needed is significant investment to response to critical issues facing development in the north, such as infrastructure including dams, transport and processing facilities, labour availability and research and development into crops and soil types,” he said.
“What’s more, better co-ordination is needed across industry, including agriculture and mining but also with State and Territory governments.”
Courtesy of North Queensland Register