Australia pledges to deliver carbon price next year

Prime Minister Julia Gillard predicts long-awaited climate bill will pass in 2011.

Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard today announced she was determined to put a price on carbon as soon as next year, declaring 2011 the year in which long-awaited climate change legislation would finally pass.

In some of the toughest rhetoric of her premiership so far, Gillard told the Council for the Economic Development of Australia this morning that Australia had navigated the global financial crisis more effectively than any other nation, and that now was the time to fulfil its environmental commitments.

“Climate change was first discussed in our Parliament in the 1980s. It has been central to public debate in two successive Federal election campaigns, but a working consensus for action has eluded us,” she said. “In 2011 there will be nowhere to hide.”

It is the first time Gillard’s Labor party has put any kind of timeline on the introduction of a carbon price, despite pledging to move forward with legislation as part of the deal that stitched together support for the minority government in the wake of this summer’s inconclusive election result.

Earlier this year, then-prime minister Kevin Rudd shelved the government’s planned emissions trading scheme after it was blocked in the Senate three times. Rudd’s handling of the bill fuelled opposition to environmental legislation and directly contributed to his overthrow by Gillard.

But since the election, public support for action on climate change has increased and a host of large businesses, including BHP Billiton and AGL Energy, have come out in favour of a price on carbon.

Some sections of the media are now also calling for bipartisan support for Labor’s planned carbon pricing mechanism, though the Liberal-led coalition opposition remain largely opposed to the move.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott rose to power in his party on a platform of specifically opposing carbon legislation, and is unwilling to alter his view.

However, Gillard is determined to push forward with the bill despite the opposition, and recently enlisted the influential Productivity Commission to investigate the impacts of a carbon price on several economies.

The prime minister also set up a multi-party climate change committee, which has been tasked with investigating the best way to put a price on carbon. The committee will meet on a regular basis and look to gather incontestable evidence to support a price on carbon.

Climate change adviser Ross Garnaut is due to release an updated report on the matter in May next year.

“The Climate Change Commission will carry out its task of bringing together expert opinion and public attitudes,” Gillard said today. “I promise you, no responsible decision maker will be able to say next year that they need more time or more information on climate change.”

The speech comes as a delegation of 35 Australian government officials arrive in Cancun, Mexico, to attend UN climate change talks.

Australian climate change minister Greg Combet said it was vital for Australia to pass carbon legislation so that it can participate effectively in such talks.

“Australia seeks a legally-binding outcome that includes as many countries as possible. To achieve lasting emissions reductions, all major emitters must be part of the global solution,” he said. “The Australian Government is working to develop mechanisms which will deliver real emissions reductions in our economy… the most important action we can take is to work towards the introduction of a carbon price into the economy.”

By Tom Young

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