COMMENT: Tropical tax zone plan destined to be a grand failure

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.

The idea is to use tax and other incentives to entice Australians to live in places they don't want to live and do things they don't want to do.

For federal public servants, however, there would be an element of compulsion: some government departments and agencies would move to Darwin, Cairns, Townsville or Karratha, so you could move or find yourself a new job.

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.

It would win the Nationals a few votes in parts of northern Australia where they don't need them, but lose the Liberals a lot of votes in the rest of the country. It would give Labor huge scope for scaremongering.

It would not just give a few northern Australians big tax breaks the rest of us didn't get, the rest of us would have to pay more to cover the cost of the scheme and endure infrastructure spending being diverted from where it was sorely needed to where it wasn't.

It would be the party of choice and free enterprise engaged in a massive exercise in social engineering.

Australians live where they live for sound economic and social reasons. We mostly pile into big coastal cities for sound economic and social reasons.

For a government to decide it knows better and try to shift us to places we don't want to live flies in the face of sound economics and would cause slower economic growth and less job creation overall.

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