As a new era dawns, the leaders make their cases

As a new era dawns, the leaders make their cases

Taking the message to the people … the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, with a mobile billboard. Mr Abbott has said the next election will be a referendum on the carbon tax.THE Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, declared yesterday that the ”campaign is now on” as the Gillard government began the tough job of selling its carbon tax, the biggest economic reform the country has seen since the GST.

From yesterday, nearly 300 big carbon emitters – mostly power generators and mining companies but also many local councils – began paying the $23-a-tonne carbon tax, which will flow through the economy in the form of price rises, notably an average 10 per cent rise in power bills.

As conservation groups hailed the historic introduction of the carbon pricing scheme – the world’s most comprehensive – and some business groups warned of economic damage ahead, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Mr Abbott kicked off their two-week carbon campaigns.

Mr Abbott repeated his vow to make repealing the carbon tax his first priority if he wins government. ”On day one of a new Parliament, the carbon tax repeal legislation will be introduced. That is my pledge to the people of Australia. If you elect a Coalition government, there will be no carbon tax,” he said.

”So Australia, this campaign is now on. It is now on. What do you think of this carbon tax? What do you think of prime ministers who tell lies before elections? Well, this is your chance to pass judgment on this bad tax put in place by a bad government.”

Ms Gillard told ABC TV’s Insiders program that Mr Abbott was bluffing when he repeatedly swore over recent days to make it his first priority on day one of a Coalition government to begin the process of dismantling the carbon price.

”Even if Mr Abbott ever becomes prime minister in this country, he won’t take carbon pricing away. He’ll engage in a little fiddle, a little fudge, to kind of pretend, but carbon pricing will still be here,” she said.

The Greens leader, Christine Milne, said that her party could claim ”a great deal” of the credit for the carbon price. ”I think if a majority government had been elected, we would still just have a lot of talk and not real action,” she told Sky News.

John Connor, the chief executive of the think tank the Climate Institute, said that yesterday marked the ”historic end of a free ride for carbon emitters”.

”A carbon price is not the end point, it is a start,” he said. ”The reality is, even though much more needs to be done, many countries around the world are acting because of concern for climate change impacts, energy security and air pollution.”

The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said the government was prepared to ”tweak” the scheme if future problems arose. ”If some tweaking is justified, of course we’ll consider it, but it has been debated for four years essentially in great detail with the business community … and we think we have got the settings right.”

The director of economics and industry policy for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greg Evans, rejected suggestions that the business community’s concerns would be better met by adjusting the scheme rather than scrapping it.

”There is no room for compromise on these issues. We need to get that monkey off our back,” he said. ”We don’t believe it should be modified. It should be abolished.”

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