News | 12th Oct, 2011

Carbon tax set to clear crucial hurdle

Wednesday, 12 October 2011
ABC News

Parliament's Lower House is almost certain to approve the Government's package of bills for the carbon tax when final votes are taken this morning.

Debate continued well into Tuesday night as politicians on both sides made their final arguments on the legislation, which cleared the all-important second reading stage yesterday evening.

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The debate was predictable and in parts theatrical, thanks to MPs including Liberal Bronwyn Bishop, who took the opportunity to remind the House of the Prime Minister's election commitment not to introduce a carbon tax.

"This was deliberately designed to allay the suspicions and fears that the Australian people had about this woman who had knifed the previous leader and usurped power, Lady Macbeth by any term," she said.

Labor's job to pass the package was made a little easier when an Opposition MP was thrown out of the House for 24 hours.

Opposition innovation, industry and science spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella defied Deputy Speaker Peter Slipper – a fellow Liberal MP – and the House voted to suspend her.

That means she will not be able to vote on the carbon tax bills or any other business today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard described today's final vote as a test for Opposition MPs.

"Whether they are on the side of history, whether they are on the side of action, whether they are on the side of change or whether they were content to stand against and watch the world change while Australia stayed the same," she said.

"History is marching on. We are going to get this done. This House of Representatives is going to get this done. We will be there voting on the side of history.

"The Leader of the Opposition will be writing his name into history as the biggest wrecker to ever serve in a leadership role in Australian politics."

The amendments to some of the 19 bills that make up the package included a last-ditch attempt by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to delay the introduction of the tax until after the next election.

"I am giving Members opposite a chance to turn a lie into a truth, to make honest politicians of the Prime Minister and to make honest politicians of themselves by deferring the proclamation of this carbon tax until after the next election," he said.

'Headless chook'

Mr Abbott is using every opportunity to tarnish the tax before it is written into law.

"It is a contemptible thing for a government to say one thing before an election to win votes and do the opposite after an election to stay in power," he said.

"So I say to members opposite, you've got about 18 hours left to stand up for your electorates.

"And if you think it makes sense, have the guts to have an election. If it really makes sense have an election and have it now."

Ms Gillard hit back, saying Mr Abbott would not repeal the tax, even though he was "running around like a headless chook in hyperactive mode" saying he would.

"His so-called promise to repeal a price on carbon is just nonsense. He won't do that because more than half of his political party supports putting a price on carbon," she said.

One who almost certainly does is Malcolm Turnbull, who was not among the 120 MPs who spoke during the 35 hours of debate heard in the House.

If the legislation passes the Lower House it will then be considered by the Senate, where the Greens will make sure it passes.

They have also now indicated they will be supporting the Government's bill to give $300 million in assistance to the steel industry, which has also passed the second reading phase in the Lower House.

The lawns outside Parliament House were on Tuesday planted with 1,000 messages from Australians urging MPs to pass the legislation, organised by Say Yes Australia as well as the ACTU and lobby group GetUp!

For its part, the Opposition's attack was all about timing.

"I refer the Treasurer to concerns in financial markets about the risk of a sovereign debt default in Europe…" Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said.

"The weak growth outcomes recorded in the United States, Japan and many European countries, and the IMF's downgraded the growth forecasts for Europe and the US stating that 'the global economy is in a dangerous new phase'.

"I ask the Treasurer isn't this the worst possible time to introduce the world's biggest carbon tax?"

The fixed carbon tax is scheduled to begin in mid-2012 before transforming to an emissions trading scheme in mid-2015.

The Government is also trying to win a symbolic victory in the Lower House this week by passing its Malaysia solution legislation.

To do so, it might have to strike a deal that means a last-minute change to the carbon tax.

WA Nationals crossbencher Tony Crook has proposed removing changes to the diesel fuel rebate as part of the carbon tax package and the Government is all ears.

"We understand the concerns that he is raising and recognise of course that he's representing the concerns that would have been raised with him by people within his electorate," Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said.

Mr Crook says his vote on the Malaysia solution legislation is still up for grabs.

"I don't think my credibility's at issue here, thanks. I'm weighing up all of the information that I can get from both sides of this argument and I'll make my decision in my time," he said.

He has got until next Thursday at the latest.

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