The West

The Federal Opposition is entertaining Gina Rinehart’s push for a special economic zone in Australia’s north.

The billionaire is the chairwoman of Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision, which says it wants “to unleash the potential of north Australia by getting government out of the way”.

Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey today indicated that he agreed with ANDEV’s notion - that Australia’s north should be classed as a distinct economic zone for tax and concessions.

“It’s been something that Tony Abbott, myself, Andrew Robb have all talked about,” Mr Hockey said in Perth.

“We want to explore it but it’s a long-term plan and it needs further discussion.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Julia Gillard flatly dismissed the iron ore magnate’s call.

Ms Gillard also rejected Ms Rinehart’s assertion that West Africa was now a more attractive mining investment destination than Australia with its new carbon and mining taxes.

Furthermore, African workers were “willing to work for less than $2 a day”, Ms Rinehart said in a video posted on the Sydney Mining Club website.

“It’s not the Australian way to toss people $2, to toss them a gold coin, and then ask them to work for a day,” Ms Gillard said.

“We support proper Australian wages and decent working conditions.”

Ms Gillard said business investment in Australia had risen by 20 per cent since the carbon tax was introduced, while the resources investment pipeline amounted to $500 billion.

More than $200 billion of that was at an advanced stage, she said.

“Ms Rinehart is a long-term opponent of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and carbon pricing,” she said.

“On both of those, I fundamentally disagree.”

Ms Gillard also said she was justified in telling miners at the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies conference in Perth on yesterday they should lobby State leaders to back the Federal Government’s school funding overhaul.

“I most certainly do (think it was appropriate) because there’s nothing more important to the long-term future of the mining industry in this country than the quality of Australian schooling.”

The West Australian

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