Australia will be left without a major scheme to cut greenhouse gas emissions after Clive Palmer last night backed the repeal of the carbon tax without supporting any concrete alternative.
The Palmer United Party leader sounded the death knell for the carbon tax last night by confirming his senators would vote to abolish the impost after the new Senate takes shape next week.
In an unlikely pairing with former US vice-president Al Gore, one of the world’s leading climate change campaigners, Mr Palmer held a press conference in Parliament House to declare the carbon scheme dead.
Mr Palmer said the PUP would propose an emissions trading scheme to put a price on carbon but said it would only start when other nations did the same, an unlikely prospect in the short term.
He also vowed to vote against Tony Abbott’s alternative policy, the $2.8 billion Direct Action spending program, in a move that appears to kill off the scheme given it is also opposed by Labor, the Greens and minor parties.
“The carbon tax is an arbitrary tax and it sets a price on carbon at a level far above an international price for carbon, and in so doing it disadvantages Australians and that is why it should be repealed,” Mr Palmer said.
In a written statement, the PUP leader said the party would be “true to its promises” and would vote to abolish the tax.
The statement put no conditions on the PUP vote other than an amendment to require power companies to pass on their full cost savings to consumers. Further conditions are possible, however, as Mr Palmer will hold talks with the Prime Minister today to negotiate the party’s position, which has shifted several times since the election.
The declaration capped an absurd press conference last night where Mr Palmer and Mr Gore refused to take questions, saying they had to go to an “urgent dinner” and avoiding questions about whether the former vice-president had been paid for his appearance. Mr Palmer told the ABC last night Mr Gore had not been paid.
Greens leader Christine Milne dismissed Mr Palmer’s proposal for a long-term emissions trading scheme as “extremely vague” and noted that Australia already had an ETS due to come into effect under existing legislation. The outcome is a significant win for Mr Abbott in his bid to end the carbon pricing scheme, securing a majority in the upper house with support from the PUP, the Liberal Democratic Party, Family First and the Democratic Labour Party.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said last night’s declaration was “good news” and the government would work with the PUP on amendments to ensure power companies passed on any savings to consumers.
“We welcome the fact the carbon tax will be repealed — that’s the unambiguous message from tonight,” Mr Hunt said.
The government is facing defeat, however, on the Direct Action program that Mr Abbott has put forward over more than four years to replace the carbon price.
Mr Palmer called Direct Action a “waste of money” and confirmed the PUP would vote against it, ensuring its defeat given similar objections from Labor, the Greens, the LDP and Family First.
In a surprising but untested proposal to act on climate change, Mr Palmer said the PUP would seek to legislate an emissions trading scheme that would only come into force when Australia’s main trading partners also took similar action. He did not elaborate on how the ETS would work, but said later it would not be a condition for his support in repealing the carbon tax.