Government draft plan is no gag

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Daryl Williams has drafted legislation to gag whistleblowers and journalists. The Federal Government plans to introduce laws it says is aimed to deter espionage by increasing jail time for spies. But the proposed legislation also spells out the possibility of a two-year jail term for public servants who release non-authorised information, and the same penalty for journalists who print the information. The maximum jail time for people committing espionage will be increased from seven to 25 years. The Criminal Code Amendment (Espionage and Related Offences) Bill will cover any official information from a government body, even if it has no security classification. Mr Williams said the government was simply transferring existing information from the Crimes Act into the Criminal Code. However, he did say the Crimes Act did not stipulate jail time for journalists who printed leaked material. He said he hope to introduce the legislation within the first two weeks of the Parliamentary sittings later this month.

Premium push

AUSTRALIA’S biggest health insurer came under fire from the PM this week after it proposed fee hikes of up to 13 per cent.

Medibank Private said the 60 per cent jump in claims and a downturn since September 11 was the reason it intended to increase premiums.

Mr Howard said that, because of the assistance the health industry has received, the price rise was excessive.

The Government provides more than $2 billion a year in subsidies through its 30 per cent rebate.

The Health Minister can stop Medibank’s plans.

Also making health headlines were AXA Australia and MBF, which are rumoured to be in talks to join forces as a rival to Medibank Private.

If the merger goes ahead the consortium would have 29 per cent of the market and 2.6 million members. Medibank Private has 32 per cent of the market and 2.9 million members.

Minerals boost

THE Kimberley region received a boost this week with the announcement of a $210,000 new minerals study of the East Kimberley-West Tanami area. This study, coordinated by the WA Department of Mineral and Petroleum Resources as part of the WA Government’s Regional Minerals Program, is aimed at securing long-term mining projects, employment and infrastructure.

The study will identify and prioritise strategic infrastructure and development issues. Outcomes of the study will be of interest to mineral explorers and producers. In 1999/2000, sales of Kimberley minerals, including diamonds, zinc and lead, reached more than $890 million, but more exploration is recommended, to supplement known reserves which could be exhausted by 2020.

Doing too well

KARRATHA has been in the news, with Hamersley Iron to sell six houses to private business to help ease the pressure on housing. The current accommodation shortage is due to the progression of a number of major resource development projects, and the State Government is planning to construct an additional 38 housing units in the town in the next 16 months. Last week, a motel-style accommodation village for more than 500 construction workers employed by Woodside Energy Ltd and the Kellogg joint venture for the North-West Shelf gas expansion project on the Burrup Peninsula was officially opened.

IN much cooler territory, the State Government has announced a $700,000 upgrade for Kings Park’s Fraser Avenue, in the vicinity of the restaurant and function centre. The refurbishment precedes a two-million visitor increase expected by 2005. This will bring the number of Kings Park visitors to six million annually.

Power profit

AND speaking of climate control, this week the State-owned electricity provider Western Power reported a $94 million after-tax profit for the six months to December 2001. The privatised AlintaGas announced a $32 million figure, representing a 22 per cent increase, and built on a 13 per cent boost in revenue.

Golden show

SHARES in gold miner Normandy Mining have shot beyond $2.20 on the back of a moderately rising gold price. Normandy is the subject of a cash-and-scrip offer from the USA’s Newmont Mining Corp, which has a low hedging profile relative to many of its fellow gold miners. This openness to movements in the gold price has boosted investor interest in Newmont and consequently Normandy.

The Adelaide-based company this week reported a 33 per cent jump in profit to $83.5 million for the six months ending December 31, 2001.

Tax tinkering

TAX reform may not yet be over. During his visit to New York earlier this week, Prime Minister John Howard expressed support for more tinkering with Australia’s business tax laws to encourage foreign investment.

Some commentators have suggested, however, that rather than being a “yes-man” to pressure from US business groups, Mr Howard might point out that the United States has different tax laws in each of its 50 States and income taxes levied by some local governments, as well as a national tax system.

This situation is not regarded as ideal for Australian companies looking to invest in the United States.

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