Mr Hawke joined Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday to launch a report on the impact of climate change on Kakadu, which was declared a national park in 1991 despite a public campaign against it by the Liberals, Nationals and mining companies.
The former Labor leader said tackling climate change through carbon pricing was a difficult subject to sell, but the Kakadu issue showed that the national interest could win out over special interests.
“What the government has done (so far) has really shown the bad bit, if you like, but the details of the good bits are still to come,” Mr Hawke said.
“And I think as the details are unfolded, as the science here and around the world continues to confirm the necessity for action… my confidence in both Julia and the government and basically in the Australian people leads me to the conclusion that this argument will be won.”
The report into Kakadu showed that within two decades global warming could start impacting on the world heritage-listed Northern Territory Park.
Salt water would infiltrate fresh water habitats, monsoon rainforest and woodlands could be destroyed and wildlife devastated.
Mr Hawke’s intervention was lampooned by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in parliament.
“She (the prime minister) got very nostalgic today,” he said.
“(But) when we are talking about Bob Hawke, Julia Gillard’s commitment that `there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead’ was as honest a statement as the former prime minister Bob Hawke who said by 1990 no Australian child would be living in poverty.”
Mr Abbott focused his attack on Labour backbenchers from industrial and manufacturing regions, who he accused of betraying workers.
He said the backbenchers were “nervous” and starting to lobby the prime minister against carbon pricing.
“If the prime minister won’t drop this toxic tax, those members will drop this toxic prime minister,” Mr Abbott said.
He reminded parliament it was a year ago this month that Ms Gillard took over from Kevin Rudd in the wake of the carbon pollution reduction scheme’s failure.
One NSW Labour backbencher Ed Husic told reporters people in his seat “do have concerns about what impact this will have on families”, but he was confident they would welcome the household assistance to be announced in the coming weeks.
Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott had shown he did not care about workers by backing the now defunct Work Choices laws.
“A man who never cared at all about working people now trying to pretend he’s the battlers’ friend, give me a break,” she told parliament.
Asked whether Ms Gillard was right to go back on her election promise not to introduce a carbon tax, Mr Hawke said good political leaders responded to changing circumstances and the attack “trivialised” a serious issue for the planet.
The government expects to finalise its climate plan by early July, with legislation to go to parliament by the end of the year and a fixed carbon price to start on 1 July, 2012.