Australia’s new conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, moved on Wednesday to abolish a carbon tax designed to combat climate change as his first major economic reform since taking office.
Abbott said the September 7 election, which he won decisively, had been a referendum on the future of the tax that was imposed by the former Labor government on major polluters from last year in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.
“No one should be in any doubt – the government is repealing the carbon tax in full,” he said as he introduced a bill to repeal the tax in parliament.
“We are doing what we were elected to do. We have said what we mean and we will do what we say – the carbon tax goes. It goes.”
Scrapping the divisive tax was a central election promise of Abbott who had argued the cost of the levy was passed on to consumers, resulting in higher utility bills and day-to-day costs.
“The intention of the new government is to put power prices down by axing this toxic tax and by using other means to reduce emissions,” he said.
“This is our bill to reduce your bills, to reduce the bills of the people of Australia.”
The move was criticised by the Climate Action Tracker, an independent monitor of countries’ carbon pledges and actions.
The plans will cause Australia to increase its emissions by 12 per cent in 2020 instead of reducing them by five per cent from 2000 levels as per its own target, the group said on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Warsaw.
“The proposed repeal will ... see a likely re-carbonisation of the power sector, the present machinery dismantled – and replaced by a climate policy that goes against the science,” said Bill Hare, director of think tank Climate Analytics, which co-sponsors the Tracker.
Abbott said the removal of the tax would strengthen the economy of Australia, which is among the world’s worst per capita polluters due to its reliance on coal-fired power and mining exports.
The carbon tax had charged the country’s biggest polluters for their emissions at a fixed price and was due to transition to an emissions trading scheme.
The new government instead favours a “direct action” plan that includes an incentive fund to pay companies to increase their energy efficiency, a controversial sequestration of carbon in soil scheme, and the planting of 20 million trees.
Abbott had been forced to wait for about an hour to move the legislation after Labor, which opposes the dismantling of the tax, stalled proceedings with debate about the government’s nickname for opposition leader Bill Shorten.
The prime minister had referred to his opposition counterpart as “Electricity” Bill Shorten during a media interview earlier in the day, a moniker attacked by Labor as “name-calling”.
Then as he began to move the bill, Abbott was interrupted by yelling protesters in the public gallery.
“Inaction (on climate) is simply not good enough,” shouted one protester, one of more than a dozen removed from the chamber.
The government also introduced a bill to repeal the mining tax, a levy once proposed as a 40-per cent tax on “super profits” within the industry but which was ultimately greatly reduced in size and scope after a backlash from the mining sector.