AS the federal government cleared the final hurdle to a carbon emissions tax, Prime Minister Julia Gillard avoided saying the passage of the controversial impost would mark a turning point in Labor’s fortunes.
As a new poll showed a modest uptick in its primary support, Ms Gillard was happy her minority government managed to do what Kevin Rudd’s couldn’t – despite promising in the 2010 federal election there would be no carbon tax under her leadership.
“Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land,” she told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday after returning from overseas.
“Today our nation has got this done. Today we have made history.”
The government’s 18 so-called clean-energy bills passed the Senate on Tuesday with the support of the Greens, after being approved by the lower house in October and following years of “bitter debate and division”.
Ms Gillard was twice asked if the historic vote marked a turning point for her and Labor.
“This is about what’s right for the nation’s future,” she twice responded.
A Newspoll, published in The Australian, found primary support for Labor has risen three percentage points to 32 per cent, although the coalition retains an election-winning lead.
Treasurer Wayne Swan says the poll improvement might reflect the government’s preparedness to take tough decisions.
“The reason this legislation is passing is because the PM is as tough as nails,” he told reporters.
“This has been a really tough debate but today is a victory for the optimists and a defeat for the naysayers.”
The carbon tax, which starts in mid-2012 with a fixed $23-a-tonne price to be paid by the nation’s top 500 polluters, passed the Senate 36 votes to 32.
Ms Gillard said the result was a win for Australia’s children who would seek their fortune and find jobs in the clean-energy sector.
Mr Swan argued pricing carbon was an “intergenerational reform” on a par with floating the exchange rate, bringing down the tariff wall and introducing compulsory superannuation.
As the vote was won, Canberra’s skies opened and rain came tumbling down.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who was travelling to the UK, repeated his vow to seek a mandate from voters to repeal the tax at the next election due in 2013.
“Today Julia Gillard and the Labor Party have confirmed in law their betrayal of the Australian people,” he said in a statement.
Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott was “huffing and puffing” while crossing his fingers behind his back.
“They’ve got really no intention of repealing this,” she said.
She promised Labor would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Greens to stop the tax from being axed.
“This is our package,” Ms Gillard said.
“We will support it today, we will support it tomorrow, we will support it in a year’s time, five years’ time, 10 years’ time.”
Greens leader Bob Brown is convinced a coalition government wouldn’t repeal the tax because its business constituency wants certainty.
“The great debate on this legislation is over,” he said.
“There will be no rescission.”
Greens deputy Christine Milne bragged about what opposition senators were bemoaning – that the carbon tax was only law because the Greens had helped Labor form government.
“Everybody around Australia knows that this has been delivered because we have a power-sharing parliament,” she said.
Treasury estimates households will see a cost increase of $9.90 a week as a result of the carbon tax.
But the government says they’ll receive, on average, $10.10 a week in assistance.
The compensation will be delivered in the form of tax cuts and increased welfare payments.
There’s also likely to be another government-funded advertising campaign to sell the climate package.
“We will do what is necessary to get correct information to people,” Ms Gillard said.