The Prime Minister, while claiming victory after a five-year campaign against carbon pricing, also launched a new campaign against the Labor Party’s promise to take a replacement emissions trading scheme to the next election.
The Senate passed the government’s amended carbon tax repeal bills by a margin of 39 votes to 32 at 11.14am (AEST), with only the Labor Party and the Greens opposing their passage into law.
It was the government’s third attempt to pass the repeal legislation through the upper house.
Government and Palmer United Party senators were joined by the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir, Liberal Democratic Party’s David Leyonhjelm, Family First Party’s Bob Day and Democratic Labour Party’s John Madigan to vote in favour of the repeal.
Government senators applauded the bills’ passage as Senate president Stephen Parry reported the result of the vote.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Independent senator Nick Xenophon was absent from the chamber, having fallen ill yesterday.
Labor said today’s repeal had “made Australia the first country to reverse action on climate change”, while Greens leader Christine Milne said the government’s victory represented “intergenerational theft”.
Mr Abbott, speaking after the vote, insisted the defunct tax was “not a policy to reduce emissions” but an “international oddity”.
“Today the tax that you voted to get rid of is finally gone. A useless, destructive tax which damaged jobs, which hurt families cost of living, and which didn’t actually help the environment is finally gone,” Mr Abbott said.
“What’s gone today is not a policy to reduce emissions. What’s gone today is the world’s biggest carbon tax.
“That international oddity, that international aberration, has now gone.”
Mr Abbott said any new Labor emissions trading was simply another “carbon tax”.
“Surely it’s time to accept that the Australian people don’t want a carbon tax,” Mr Abbott said.
“Whatever it’s called, it’s still a tax, and the Australian people don’t want it.”
Mr Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt said they expected families’ costs would drop by the projected $550-per-household, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would ensure electricity price reductions were passed through “immediately”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten affirmed a pledge to take a new emissions trading scheme to the next election, predicting savings from the carbon tax repeal would fail to meet the government’s expectations.
“Do Australians really believe that they’re going to see back all the money which Tony Abbott alleged the carbon price cost them?” Mr Shorten said.
“Tony Abbott’s caught in a trap of his own making. He said the carbon price was so deadly and so bad that Australians should be, according to him now with its repeal, seeing a river of cash coming into the cost of living.”
Mr Shorten insisted Australians wanted “real and genuine action” on climate change.
“Australians aren’t silly. It’s a matter of making sure that what we do is anchored in international best practice. What we need to do is be fair dinkum on climate change and be consistent,” he said.
Mr Shorten said the government’s Direct Action policy was designed to appease “the internet trolls and shock-jock radio announcers” who deny the reality of global warming.
In question time, the Coalition seized on Labor’s pledge to pursue an ETS.
Frontbencher Christopher Pyne vowed to hang Mr Shorten’s emissions trading scheme around his neck “like a rotten, stinking carcass, right through to election day at end of 2016”.
“You’ve given the Coalition a whole new lease of life, Bill, a whole new lease of life, because we can now tell the Australian public with great confidence that if they vote Labor at the next election then the carbon tax will be reintroduced,” Mr Pyne shouted at Mr Shorten during question time.
Greens leader Christine Milne said of the government’s tax repeal victory: “History will judge Tony Abbott harshly for his denial of global warming and his undermining of Australia’s effort to address it.
“The repeal of the price on pollution is intergenerational theft. Tony Abbott has delivered a massive blow to jobs, a massive blow to clean solar and wind energy, and a massive blow to our kids and grandkids who will live on a planet permanently changed by global warming.”
Palmer United Party senator Jacqui Lambie said: “This was one of the things that we promised the Australian people, and I think it’s worked out well.
“That’s one down for this week, and we want the MRRT (minerals resource rent tax) to follow as soon as possible, and that will be a good week’s work for us.”
The PUP is stalling the MRRT repeal, demanding the government retain welfare spending linked to the tax.
The Climate Institute’s chief executive, John Connor, said the repeal was “a historic act of irresponsibility and recklessness”.
“What we are left with as potential replacement policy rests on three wobbly legs — a government fund subject to an annual budgetary arm wrestle, uncertain non-binding limits on some company emissions, and a renewable energy target under assault,” Mr Connor said of the Coalition’s direct action policy.
BHP Billiton welcomed the repeal, saying Australia’s competitiveness suffered under Labor’s climate policy.
However, the mining giant also acknowledged that a price on carbon would be necessary to address climate change and the “human influence’’ on global warming.