“Howard hints at budget tax cuts,” says the lead headline on
the Financial Review‘s
front page, with a report that the PM – fraught by
difficulties with the proposed IR changed and new terror laws – is
dangling the carrot of tax cuts in next year’s budget. According to the
HSBC tax model, it
would only cost $1.4 billion to entirely eliminate the top 47%
marginal tax
rate on July 1 next year, leaving the top marginal rate at just 42
cents in
the dollar. That’s a handsome tax cut, says the Fin‘s John Edwards, but
that’s all it is. It isn’t a political and economic revolution. Whereas if Costello
showed a little more political courage, he could eliminate the top rate with no
budget cost at all.

Also on the front page, investigations by the Fin
have found that the Howard Government wasted millions of dollars from the
proceeds of the first two Telstra share sales on its $320 million Networking
the Nation program, rather than investing it in long-term infrastructure.

And inside the paper, Neil Shoebridge reports on how odd
couple Sir Martin Sorrell, of WPP Group, and larrikin advertising baron John
Singleton are shaking up Australia’s
$25 billion advertising sector.

The Australian leads with a warning from Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie that people in rural
areas could end up paying ten times more for their telephone lines if the
competition regulator forces Telstra to cut the amount it charges competing
telcos for network access in the city.

Meanwhile, the paper’s Bryan Frith reports that Burns Philp is believed to have consulted with the corporate regulator ASIC
before releasing a 64 page draft of financial information relating to the
pending IPO of its Goodman Fielder consumer foods business.

And on the food-for-oil scandal: “Of course, in the case of AWB, the former Australian Wheat
Board dealt with companies, not politicians,” says The Oz‘s Michael West. “Except
that one time, on page 9 of the 2003 AWB annual report, where a smiling Andrew
Lindberg is pictured handing over the keys for two shiny new Bobcats to Messrs
Ali Allawi, Iraq’s Interim Minister for Trade, and Faik Rasool, Interim Deputy
Minister for Planning. A ‘gesture of appreciation’ no less.”

The lead business news in The Sydney
Morning Herald
is that Qantas chief Geoff Dixon has closed the door on the possibility of
merging the national airline with Singapore Airlines to form an Asia-Pacific
mega carrier, saying “the moment has probably passed.”

And an eye-popping price rise was buried in last week’s
inflation figures that had nothing to do with the cost of oil, says the paper’s
Matt Wade
– the price of child care jumped 9.1% in the year to September, more than
three times the headline inflation rate.

The Age leads with the news that Indian call centres are reeling after a report slammed
them for operating like Roman slave ships. A New Delhi
labour institute funded by the Labour Ministry said the practices in call
centres were similar to 19th century prisons. It described the surveillance
systems as appalling, and accused human resources managers of tricking workers by
camouflaging work as fun.

“Parliamentary inquiry into digital television grinds slowly
towards the bleeding obvious,” wrote Alan Kohler in The Age
over the weekend – which is that analogue TV can’t be switched off in
two years
and that digital tuners will have to be mandated by law for all new
sets. Maybe then, television might be able to go wholly digital
sometime before the
centenary of Australian television in 2056.

And in a special series of articles, The Age‘s Malcolm Maiden and Tim Colebatch look at investment housing and the debate on whether negative gearing is right
or wrong.

“There can be no doubt that investors would switch their
attention to other assets if the tax system was altered so that it
discriminated against housing investment,” says Maiden, arguing in favour of
negative gearing. Indeed, that’s why the change was made. But the government
would have no control over where the migrating investors go.

“The question should be: does this work to boost our
economy, or shrink it?” says Colebatch, arguing in the against camp. “The
answer is obvious. Would we be better off phasing it out, and using that $3
billion plus to cut tax rates for all taxpayers? The answer is obvious.”