I must wander off in a moment to join the lovely folks on The Drum on the ABC. It's been lovely to be back with Pulse Live readers again after the summer on our brand new blog template.
Great to see so much engagement so early in the political year.
Let's do the evening summary.
Today in federal politics:
- Mr Abbott's thinking on a northern Australia policy won some early exposure with a leak to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
- An ambitious draft plan for differential taxation, special economic zones, 'borrowed' millions from the aid budget and relocated public servants got a quick haircut, with Mr Abbott ruling out the aid proposal and changes that would be unconstitutional.
- Critics suggested it was a worrying blend of big government and big sop to the mining industry.
- The Gillard Government promptly declared Mr Abbott's blueprint a shocking impost for the good folks of western Sydney, who were already subject to Premier Barry O'Farrell's wicked plan to allow fracking under their homes and streets.
- A report from the Australian Crime Commissioning suggesting widespread drug cheating and match fixing went off like a firecracker in sports-mad Australia, a nation inclined to idolise those blessed with excellent hand-eye coordination.
- Question Time returned to the theme of the week: where is the surplus versus you Liberals don't care about jobs and growth.
We'll be back next week when parliament returns. Stay safe until then.
And as Christopher Pyne might say, later dudes.
Christopher Pyne during Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax
MPs are making their way to the airport after this first sitting week.
What do we make of it?
A welcome anti-climax in some respects after the prelude. Quite a calm week actually. Not too many hysterics in the House. Not too much gratuitous muck and nonsense.
Question Time shifted to the economy, in recognition that we are moving into election season proper. Mr Hockey is taking up the attack task in parliament.
Labor is going back to first principles in its messaging, explaining why the over-hang from the global financial crisis is hard to move past; pitching a values narrative around the economy. Jobs and growth. We who watch politics closely will be developing a drinking game around that catch phrase - but we aren't the target.
The old maxim is when political journalists get frustrated with the same old script, it is just starting to filter out.
That sports story is making its way around the world.
For a sense of how the Australian doping is playing globally, it's the lead story on BBC World News.— Nick Bryant (@NickBryantOz) February 7, 2013
Meanwhile, the Senate has voted in favour of a motion from Greens Senator, Richard Di Natale, to conduct an inquiry into the impact of advertising and promotion of gambling on sport.
Photos without Notice.
Swanny. How I love ya.
Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Photos without Notice.
My question is to the Treasurer.
Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey rises to ask a question Photo: Andrew Meares
Photos without Notice.
Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott: how 'bout that surplus eh?
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey Photo: Andrew Meares
Photos without Notice.
Sexism? Moi? The Prime Minister after being accused of sexism for remarking on the colour of Tony Abbott's tie.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard resumes her seat Photo: Andrew Meares
Now it's time to hand over to chief photographer Andrew Meares for Photos without Notice.
This is Andrew's captain's pick: the best images from the chamber each sitting day.
After that, I'm going to put some shape on this parliamentary week.
A note in my inbox from Port Hedland.
"Just a quick note, Karratha is spelt with two Rs – you've had it with one a few times on The Pulse today. Nice to see some attention for those of us up here though!"
Apologies. I'm very ashamed.
Not quite. The Bandt/O'Dwyer maneuver got a majority in that vote but not the absolute majority required by parliamentary procedure to carry the suspension.
The government will be very relieved by that.
The Gillard Government is very fixated on not losing votes. Call it minority government paranoia.
A stunt in the House of Representatives.
That's the verdict of Mr Albanese and his Cabinet colleague Chris Bowen, who is helping him out in this scramble.
A stunt in the House of Representatives for no good purpose.
(That's never happened before has it?)
Division bells are ringing. Let's see how this vote goes.
Mr Albanese professes himself opposed to this Liberal-Green alliance motion. He suggests this tie-up between Mr Bandt and Ms O'Dwyer portends an outbreak of procedural anarchy. You can't just waltz in here with no warning and bring on a motion, he suggests. The whole principle of private members business is about considered reflections and orderly process. You are inviting every member of this place to just bring on votes whenever they feel like it.
Mr Albanese says Mr Pyne - his opposite number on House matters - needs to reflect on this precedent before voting yes. If we support this resolution from the Member for Melbourne then anyone will just bring on a vote.
Mr Bandt has a seconder. It's Victorian Liberal Kelly O'Dwyer.
Now that's not something you see every day, a Liberal seconding a Green motion. A unity ticket on science and research funding. Bring it on. I like it.
(Of course high level research is a big political issue in Victoria, where a lot of great work gets done.)
It's theoretically possible this play will work - but I'm conscious Speaker Burke has shown several MPs the door in this session. They might be just short on numbers. We'll see.
The Prime Minister has ended Question Time.
Greens Deputy leader Adam Bandt is now trying to suspend the standing orders.
He's trying to bring on the vote that the government pulled this morning on research funding. (We reported on this issue in the post at 10.50am this morning.)
Mr Bandt thinks he's got the numbers to get this motion up. The Coalition is supportive and he says so are other crossbenchers. He suggests the government just doesn't want to lose a vote.
Mr Albanese says he hasn't got a copy of the resolution. Have you got a seconder, he inquires of Mr Bandt?
Bit of racing about on that one.
Victorian Liberal Alan Tudge wants to know how the Prime Minister can justify cutting funding to Victorian hospitals by the same amount of money as that spent on promoting the clean energy package. Surely hospital beds are more important than promoting the carbon tax?
The Prime Minister says she is grateful for the question. She argues the Victorian Government is the one taking money out of the state hospitals and blaming that on Canberra. Ms Gillard says she shares Mr Tudge's concerns about health funding in her home state.
Mr Tudge would like to table a document: a press release he says confirms the Commonwealth cut.
Manager of government business Anthony Albanese says he doesn't need the document. The government has the Budget papers confirming an increase in health funding.
Joe Hockey in Question Time. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
What can you do?
Environment Minister Tony Burke takes a question allowing him to be outraged about horizontal fracking in western Sydney. (See my post from 12.15pm for background.)
Just not on, this business of Premier O'Farrell.
Victorian Liberal Tony Smith is persisting on superannuation. You took money away from low income superannuants, why should we believe that there aren't detrimental changes in the pipeline?
"You should be protesting the leader of the Opposition's plan," Ms Gillard says to Mr Smith.
(The Pulse Live: That seems unlikely.)
Nationals leader Warren Truss wants to know if Ms Gillard agrees with Labor whip Joel Fitzgibbon that aspirational Australians are sick and tired of changes to superannuation?
This prompts a long answer from Ms Gillard about Labor being the party of superannuation; of the Coalition's intrinsic hostility to low income working people. Ms Gillard does not reflect directly on the contribution of Mr Fitzgibbon.
The Prime Minister is wondering about Mr Abbott's new positive strategy. She suggests it's not that evident in the chamber. Ms Gillard suggests the only new thing is the colour of Mr Abbott's tie.
Mr Pyne objects. This is sexist and should be withdrawn.
Ms Gillard powers on.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson is now being granted an opportunity to reflect on northern Australia. He says today's uncosted effort from the Coalition contains completely whacko ideas. He suggests someone in the Opposition policy team thought so too obviously, because the proposals were leaked.
Here is Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury, deployed to issue the attack lines on Mr Abbott's northern Australia discussion paper.
This proposal will divide Australia. The poor families of western Sydney will be deployed north. It will increase taxes in western Sydney. (Eh?) There will be white elephant infrastructure in northern woop woop. Gold plated footpaths in Karatha.
Given Mr Bradbury has a pamphlet, Mr Hockey would like to table a pamphlet of Mr Bradbury's promising a surplus that was never delivered.
NSW Independent Ron Oakeshott is giving the parliament a history lesson on the railways.
Mr Oakeshott wants to know about rail freight.
The Prime Minister says her government has embarked on an unprecedented capital works program to upgrade the railways. We are studying high-speed rail - a potential game changer for this nation.
Mr Oakeshott seeks a supplementary. Speaker Anna Burke tells him the supplementary question for the crossbench was used up earlier in the week.
Manager of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne during Question Time.
Mr Pyne wants to know about health and education funding - cuts of $1.6 billion and $3.9 billion in the mid year economic forecasts.
Mr Swan wants him to know about jobs and growth.
Completely relentless today.
Mr Swan winds from jobs and growth to Mr Abbott's northern Australia discussion paper, which he dismisses as "a thought bubble from Gina Rinehart."
Treasurer Wayne Swan during Question Time.
Treasurer Wayne Swan is back on the importance of jobs and growth.
Ok then, Mr Hockey says, would you admit that employment and growth on average was stronger under the Howard Government than it has been under Labor?
Mr Swan notes that the Opposition likes to pretend the global financial crisis never happened.
"We have performed very well, unlike other developed economies, because this government had to guts to put jobs and growth first."
Passing the laugh test
First Dorothy Dixer from Labor is on the merits of costed policies.
The Prime Minister counsels no-one in particular that policies need to pass the laugh test.
Shadow treasury spokesman Joe Hockey isn't laughing.
He's back at the dispatch box, seeking the surplus.
Buck up man. Only the first question.
Blogger Greg Jericho. Someone get him a cup of tea.
Cripes. #qt— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) February 7, 2013
Back in the black. Mr Abbott opens Question Time on the surplus. Why are you making life tough for people in terms of cost of living by breaking your surplus promise?
The Prime Minister says inflation is low.
Manager of Opposition business Christopher Pyne would like Ms Gillard to answer the question.
Ms Gillard says she is talking about cost of living pressures for low income workers and pensioners, as Mr Abbott's question required. She says the global financial crisis caused revenue write-downs. You ask yourself at that point, do you support jobs?
And sorry, I'll try and get to your comments after Question Time. Hope there's good conversation to be had!
The hour of where's your surplus versus did we mention jobs and growth beckons.
What will be today's twist?
Less surprising to me is Ross Gittins response.
Here is the economics editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, commenting today.
"Don't worry, the federal Coalition's dream of moving a lot of Australia's population north of the Tropic of Capricorn ain't gonna happen. It's a crazy idea practically, politically and economically.
Presumably, it's a kite Tony Abbott is allowing to fly for a day or two to show how positive he is in his vision of our future. It's an idea some in the National Party would dearly love, but most in the Liberal Party will be appalled by.
Northern Development is not a new idea, it's an old, discredited one, brought to us by the same people who wanted to turn back the rivers and who wasted millions on the Ord River dam in the Kimberleys, then built an unneeded railway from Alice Springs to Darwin that has always run at a large loss.
It's a close relative of the dreams of building a multifunctionpolis in South Australia and establishing ''growth centres'' at places like Bathurst-Orange. It's the 1950s dream of ''decentralisation''.
It would be very hard to organise, facing constitutional and other legal barriers, active resistance from public servants and the need for huge monetary incentives to induce people to take part. On the experience of all previous such exercises, it would be a grand failure."
Ok, this is a little confusing.
The Institute of Public Affairs likes the Coalition's northern Australia proposals.
The once dryer-than-dry policy think-tank likes old fashioned developmentalism?
What am I missing here?
The Coalition's draft discussion paper on Developing Northern Australia, reported in today's media, is a welcome recognition of the potential for Northern Australia to be the driving force of the Australian economy in coming decades, according to the Institute of Public Affairs.
"The resources boom has benefited all Australians including those in southern regions. Developing the North further will create wealth and provide jobs for all Australians, both in the North and in the South," said Dominic Talimanidis, Director of the North Australia Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.
"For the Australian economy to grow we need innovative policies that leverage our strengths. The North remains underdeveloped and it is fantastic that the Coalition is looking to unleash its potential," Mr Talimanidis said.
"Developing the North will grow the pie for all Australians. We have recently seen major resource projects moving offshore and we need to respond with policies that make Australia an attractive destination for investment again."
Here's an update on today's developments at the Independent Commission Against Corruption from investigative reporters Linton Besser and Kate McClymont:
A close friend of Ian Macdonald has testified he told the disgraced former mining minister of the involvement of Eddie Obeid's family in a mining company that won an allegedly corrupt tender in 2009.
And notes shown at a sensational corruption hearing have been suggested to show that Greg Jones, a former Labor staffer and lifelong friend of Mr Macdonald, has channelled thousands of dollars in secret payments to his old mate.
In stunning evidence at a corruption hearing, Mr Jones has also said he told Mr Macdonald that he would reap millions of dollars himself from the same mine, and that he could use this money to invest in businesses Mr Macdonald was planning for life after politics.
He admitted lending Mr Macdonald $195,000 during the same period, thousands of which he wrote off and Mr Macdonald never repaid. Mr Jones has also confirmed that his own handwritten notes, shown at the inquiry, correctly recorded that he had given $35,000 "in cash and gifts" to Mr Macdonald.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating Mr Macdonald's role in the coal tender, including a $75 million windfall that was to make its way to Mr Obeid and his family.
An anti-Abbott poster on the Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Facebook page. Photo: Andrew Meares
Self publishing via social media. Today's case study.
Greater Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy is having a press conference in Manuka.
Find 'em. Get 'em out of the sport.
"This is a rude awakening for a lot of people in a lot of sports."
So we have developmentalism, drugs and western Sydney.
That's the shape of the political day.
Let's summarise the key events thus far.
- A leaked policy document revealed the Coalition pondering an ambitious plan to develop northern Australia.
- Opposition leader Tony Abbott promptly made the plan a draft not a policy; and considerably less ambitious.
- Labor leapt on the challenges posed by the aforementioned draft to innocent public servants from the western suburbs of Sydney who could find themselves suddenly relocated to Karatha.
- The same western Sydney residents woke this morning to discover a fight between Canberra and Premier Barry O'Farrell about horizontal fracking in urban areas.
- And presumably sports fans from Penrith to Cairns are utterly dismayed by the findings of a 12 month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission finding evidence of drugs and match fixing in sport.
Stay with us.
Today is already a beauty.
Andrew Demetriou, AFL CEO, during a joint press conference on organised crime and drugs in sport. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax
Bob Katter on Tony Abbott and Northern Exposure and Damascene horses.
"If Tony Abbott's had a fall off his horse to Damascus I'll be the first to thank him" - Katter #mixedmetaphor award (re northern tax zone)— Daniel Hurst (@danielhurstbne) February 7, 2013
Really interesting scoop this morning from Sydney Morning Herald colleagues Lenore Taylor and Sean Nicholls.
Residents of western Sydney not only face the threat of an abrupt relocation to the tropics - they must bear the threat of horizontal fracking - and combat between Canberra and Macquarie Street.
Lenore and Sean:
The federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, is demanding the NSW government reconsider coal seam gas exploration and production licences in western Sydney and has flatly rejected the state's proposed assessment procedure for such projects and big coalmines.
In a letter to the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, sent on Wednesday, Mr Burke said NSW's decision to allow coal seam gas exploration ''in urban areas and close to regional population centres'' was causing ''significant community concern'' and asked NSW to ''urgently reconsider the appropriateness of these developments''.
AGL has plans to drill 66 coal seam gas wells in an area between Liverpool and Campbelltown, with horizontal drilling potentially running under thousands of homes and the possible use of the controversial extraction technique, fracking, for some vertical wells.
Meanwhile, in a galaxy called Queanbeyan.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott poses with Jess Grogan. Photo: Andrew Meares
Back to the sport story. Victoria Police say they have received the confidential version of the ACC report - and it contains significantly more detail than the one in the public domain today.
There are current investigations into the racing industry. That information is already in the public domain. That's it at this point in time.
The Afghanistan statement got a bit crunched by that news deluge.
Thanks to my colleague David Wroe for these particulars:
The care of veterans will become an increasing focus for the government as Australia winds down its operations in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Stephen Smith has told Parliament. In his regular update on the situation in Afghanistan, Mr Smith said conditions would remain ''difficult and dangerous'' this year even as Australia begins the long process of withdrawing the bulk of its troops.
''There will be challenges and setbacks ahead. The Taliban will target Afghan security forces as they take responsibility for the security of their country. The IED roadside bomb threat will continue and the Taliban will continue to focus on high profile propaganda-motivated attacks, together with claiming responsibility for any insider attacks on ISAF forces.''
And he said that the care of ''wounded, injured and ill veterans'' would be a high priority for the government in the years to come, with more combat veterans living in the Australian community than at any time since the 1970s.
The Defence and Veterans Affairs departments were working more closely together to ensure veterans did not miss out on treatment. ''Put simply, it is to stop our wounded, injured and ill veterans from falling between the cracks in the system.''
Minister Clare says there have been thirty coercive hearings producing evidence of multiple players taking prohibited substances.
That's as specific as it gets.
It is quite clear that the sporting codes have been briefed by investigators on suspect incidents. They aren't sharing particulars.
A reporter asks the not unreasonable question, given we have broad brush here but precious little specifics about who did what when - how can Australians have any faith in any sporting code?
How does any footy fan know that their club isn't crooked?
Minister Lundy says we just have to wait.
"Due process has to unfold."
Mr Lawler suggests he doesn't intend to breach the law in order to satisfy the curiosity of journalists.
Sports Minister Kate Lundy.
"I'm proud to be here with these people and say to the Australian people our job is to restore integrity in sport. We are ahead of the game. But we can never be complacent. There is nothing about this information today that says we can be complacent. We intend to stamp this out, that's our job, and that's what we intend (to do)."
"We see (gambling, drugs and compliance with salary cap) as our greatest threats to the game" - AFL chief Demetriou #drugsinsport — Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) February 7, 2013
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare and ACC boss John Lawler.
Australian Crime Commission chief executive John Lawler has told reporters he is hopeful that criminal charges will be laid.
Justice Minister Jason Clare won't get into details for legal reasons, but suggests the match-fixing probe involves multiple sporting codes and multiple teams.
Here's an image of the press conference, still underway.
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, Minister for Sport Senator Kate Lundy speak to the media during a joint press conference with sporting code representatives, at Parliament House, in Canberra on Thursday 7 February 2013. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
A year-long government investigation has found widespread use of banned drugs in Australian professional sport and links with organised crime.
The findings are shocking and will disgust Australian sports fans.
The Australian Crime Commission released the findings of a 12-month investigation into the integrity of Australian sport and the relationship between professional sporting bodies, prohibited substances and organised crime.
It said the links may have resulted in match-fixing and fraudulent manipulation of betting markets. The key findings of the investigation identified widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport.
It said that in some cases players were being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use.
The ACC also identified organised crime identities and groups that were involved in the distribution of PIEDS (Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs), to athletes and professional sports stars.
Ministers are addressing the media in Canberra.
Sports Minister Kate Lundy: "If you want to cheat, we will catch you. If you want to fix a match, we will catch you."— Simon Cullen (@Simon_Cullen) February 6, 2013
The second House matter. The government has pulled a scheduled vote on a Greens initiated-motion to protect science and research funding from further Budget cuts.
Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt.
"The motion had the support of the cross-bench and the Coalition and was set to pass. Late last night, Labor pulled the motion off the daily program. Labor is either chicken or has something to hide about the upcoming Budget. If this is how the new Minister is going to approach the issue of science funding it doesn't bode well for the sector."
Let's leave this topic for a couple of House matters.
Labor backbencher, Robert McClelland - who intends to depart politics at the coming poll, is expected to speak later on closing the gap.
The Prime Minister yesterday delivered her annual report card to parliament on indigenous disadvantage. Mr McClelland - who was Attorney-General until he was rather too vociferous in his support for Kevin Rudd to return to the Labor leadership - wants the existing targets expanded.
He wants two more measures: reducing the current rates of victimisation; and incarceration in Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders communities.
Mr McClelland in my view is one of the most decent fellows you would find in politics. His proposal sounds a sensible idea. Particularly incarceration.
An excerpt from his speech expected later:
"Today, indigenous Australians make up only 2.5 percent of the population, but account for 26 percent of the adult prison population. The incarceration of indigenous adults is 14 times higher than for non-indigenous adults. Between 2000 and 2010, the rate at which indigenous women are incarcerated increased by 58.6 percent.
The rate at which indigenous men are incarcerated increased by 35.2 percent. The figures are even higher for indigenous juveniles. Only five percent of young Australians are indigenous, but half the young people in detention are indigenous. Indigenous young people are 28 times more likely to be in detention. In fact, indigenous young people are more likely to be incarcerated today than at any time since the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody – some 20 years ago.
The gap is increasing not narrowing."
Queensland National Senator Barnaby Joyce speaks to the same voters that Bob Katter speaks to.
Here's his view on Northern Exposure from this morning.
Senator Joyce is a big fan.
"A policy release is a policy release, that you will be able to take it as a policy release when you see the respective Ministers releasing their policy. A discussion paper is best described in a leak. We have a leak of a discussion paper today, though there are some very good ideas that need to be pursued there.
"There are some great opportunities that the Australian people I'm sure want to engage in. The Australian people a want vision, they want a vision that takes our nation forward, that takes us to a higher place, that makes us a better place."
Here's a prediction. Developmentalism will be a key theme of this federal election contest - so it's good we are limbering up early.
Regardless of the position the major parties ultimately take on these sorts of policy questions, Queensland's Bob Katter has already started this conversation with the voters.
If you think Mr Katter is a novelty act, I'd encourage you to think again.
Mr Katter and his party have the potential to take votes from both the Coalition and Labor at this coming election. Mr Katter wants to emerge with balance of power in the senate once this election cycle is done.
Now his fledgling movement may go the way of Pauline Hanson, it may implode because of poor organisation or poor candidate selection or in-fighting - but the major parties aren't counting on it.
Whomever ends up Prime Minister after the federal election may be looking at a torrid time in the senate on these sorts of policy questions. I don't think we've yet focussed on that point sufficiently: it's something voters need to start thinking about.
"We have always had the view there is great potential in northern Australia. But they've produced a document that is very expensive, not well thought out and already condemned by Liberals."
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi remains an enthusiast.
From his Bernardi Bulletin this morning:
"Helping northern Australia fulfil its full economic potential is a key part of the Coalition's positive vision to build a modern, 21st century powerhouse economy. We believe the economic potential of northern Australia is unlimited, and for too long governments have neglected the economic potential of this region. We won't apologise for wanting to create greater economic opportunities for that part of the country. It's on Asia's doorstep, and we now need to have a conversation about how we can grow one of the great untapped regions of our country and create the jobs of the 21st century. Closer engagement and trade with Asia is an integral part of our strategy to create more jobs, higher real wages and a stronger, more prosperous economy. We've been listening to experts and community leaders about the possibilities to grow our economy in northern Australia, and we've collated the ideas put to us, and we're inviting comment on those ideas in a draft option paper. The paper isn't yet Coalition policy; in coming months the Coalition will circulate a discussion paper for public comment and then we will release a policy before the next election. This is Cory Bernardi."
So we shouldn't develop northern Australia?
Mr Emerson. Well, we're not saying that.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson is now down in one of the parliamentary courtyards demanding the Coalition release all of its policies.
This is a plan to divide the nation, opines the Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, looking suitably grave. People in western Sydney will have to pack up their bag and go north if they want to keep their job.
(Will no-one think of Liverpool?)
Ministers David Bradbury and Craig Emerson hold a doorstop on the Coalition’s leaked policy document on Northern Australia. Photo: Photo by Alex Ellinghausen / Fai
Greens leader Christine Milne was unimpressed on radio this morning. She suspected the Coalition was developing plans to please Gina Rinehart - the mining magnate who believes labour costs and taxes in Australia are way too high.
Labor people are shouting about how this Coalition plan will damage western Sydney and those poor people stuck in traffic. (Because western Sydney is notoriously anti-Cairns.)
What say Pulsers?
Feel free to comment here on the blog, or on Twitter using the hashtag #thepulselive
And foreign aid. Are you really going to raid the foreign aid pot to build medical centres in Australia? Won't that cause a bit of a stink?
REPORTER: Any idea about how to pay for these incentives? There's some suggestion this morning that foreign aid could be cut to pay for extra infrastructure for instance, in northern Australia.
TONY ABBOTT: Well again, the idea of a specific redirection of foreign aid in that way is not going to be our policy.
REPORTER: But it is in the discussion paper.
TONY ABBOTT: As I said, this is a draft discussion paper and it's important that we respond intelligently to the ideas that people have been putting to us because there is this discussion process which has been going on now for quite a few months but this is a draft discussion paper only. It's not even a finalised discussion paper. It's certainly not policy. What people will get in good time before the next election are the specific proposals that we will be putting to the people at the next election to make the most of our country.
The tax element of the plan has grabbed most of the early attention. How could you create different tax regimes in different zones in Australia and not run into Constitutional hot water?
Mr Abbott thought it prudent to seek the cameras early. If the discussion paper had been leaked, best to shape the discussion.
REPORTER: Are you looking at separate tax regimes for different states, and if so, how is that constitutionally possible?
TONY ABBOTT: No, we're not. We are not. What we are looking at are carefully targeted incentives to develop Australia. That's what we're looking at. Carefully targeted, fiscally responsible incentives and I would remind you of the proposal that we took to the last election which was for five trial sites where there would be carefully targeted incentives, but there is absolutely no way that people in different parts of Australia will be paying different tax depending upon where they live.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, you can rule out now that there won't be an exclusive economic zone, for instance, for northern Australia?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, the short answer is yes. We are looking at sensible, responsible policies that will make it easier to develop our country. While the Government wants to divide Australia and divide Australians, we want to develop Australia and to make the most of the potential of our country. But what we won't be doing is saying, well, people will be paying a different tax system depending upon where they live.
If you are just tuning in, The Daily Telegraph has delivered a heart starter this morning with this story:
Tony Abbott will take to the election a radical plan to reshape Australia by splitting it into different personal tax zones and forcibly shifting tens of thousands of jobs to the Top End.
According to a leaked discussion paper, the Coalition was intent on delivering a twenty-year strategic plan for northern Australia. Population would be boosted in Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and Karatha. There would be tax incentives. $800 million from the aid budget would be reallocated to build world centres of excellence in tropical health. Foreign investment rules would be liberalised.
Big thoughts for an Opposition routinely accused of being a policy-free zone.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith delivers a statement on Afghanistan in the House of Representatives Photo: Photo by Alex Ellinghausen / Fai
Good morning Pulsers and welcome. Brisk old start to the political day.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith is delivering his regular report to parliament on Australia's involvement in the conflict in Afghanistan.
And the airwaves are crackling with Opposition leader Tony Abbott's big bold plan to stimulate economic development in Australia's north.
A big lug of new fashioned Queensland developmentalism.
But is it over before it's even begun?