TONY Abbott has played down a leaked discussion paper which reveals Coalition plans to create a new economic zone in northern Australia and to move thousands of public sector jobs to north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
''It's not our policy,'' Mr Abbott said. ''It's a draft discussion paper which had a reasonably wide circulation and obviously someone's decided to share it with the media.
''We certainly have no plans and it would be unconstitutional to civilly conscript public servants."
While reiterating he could not force public servants to move from one state to another, Mr Abbott said: ''It's not a bad thing to have Commonwealth facilities in different parts of Australia''.
''One of the factors in the very extensive development of the north we've seen in the last 20 or 30 years has been Commonwealth facilities going into these areas. Defence facilities in Townsville and elsewhere.''
The government has attacked the Coalition's draft paper, which reportedly includes plans to divide the north into different tax zones and reallocate $800 million from the foreign aid budget to build a tropical health medical centre in far north Queensland.
Even more contentious in this election year are reports that western Sydney will lose some 20,000 public sector jobs to northern regions under the plan.
With 10 western Sydney seats held by Labor within a margin of about five per cent, many say the election will be won or lost in that region.