Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government declared victory Thursday after Australia’s Senate voted to repeal the country’s two-year-old tax on carbon dioxide emissions, ending months of political fighting with left-wingers and environmentalists in the legislature.
The Senate voted 39 to 32 to repeal the country’s carbon tax, which cost the country’s economy about $8.5 billion annually and forcing Aussie families to pay over $500 more for power every year, according to Abbott.
“I should say that at the election, we said to the Australian people, we said to you, that we wanted to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia, and every day that is what we have been working to bring about,” Abbott said in a press conference following the repeal vote.
Abbott’s conservative Liberal-National coalition came to power in 2013 on a platform that included repealing the widely unpopular carbon tax that was imposed by the Labor-controlled government in 2012.
Abbott made a “pledge in blood” to repeal the carbon tax, and has been fighting Australia’s left-wing Labor and Green parties for months to get them to agree on repeal. Since November 2013, conservative lawmakers have pushed for repeal three times, finally seeing success on Thursday.
“We said – pre-election – that we would scrap the tax, build the roads of the 21st century, get the budget back under control and stop the [illegal immigrant] boats,” Abbott said. “I believe that we are purposefully, methodically, calmly working for you every day to deliver on our commitments.”
“That is what I hope Australians have seen in this government over the last 10 months – a government which said what it means and is now doing what it says,” Abbott added.
The carbon tax cost Australia’s economy $8.5 billion every year as businesses were taxed for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The tax was meant to eventually convert into a cap-and-trade system.
But as energy prices increased and Australia’s economy slowed, voters turned against the Labor government’s carbon tax, heralding Abbott’s landslide victory last year on the promise of a carbon tax repeal.
“The tax was always intended to drive up the cost of living,” said Environment Minister Greg Hunt. “That was its sole purpose, to drive up the cost of living so as to then, in theory, produce a result. The problem is it was a tax which didn’t do the job. It hurt families, but it has singularly failed to have any significant result on reducing our emissions.”
Labor and Green party leaders argue that axing the carbon tax would be bad for the planet and would also make Australia a “pariah,” as the rest of the developed world imposes policies to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
The carbon tax repeal comes ahead of the next major United Nations climate conference set to be held in Paris next year. There, delegates are expected to hash out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol — and Australia’s u-turn on climate policy may hinder efforts on an international agreement.
“This is a fundamental moment in Australia’s history,” Labor Senator Lisa Singh said in a speech. “We are about to devastate the future of this country.”
But fears of becoming an international pariah have done little to deter Abbott, who has been busying himself with forming a coalition of right-wing governments to oppose international climate policies that would hinder economic growth.
So far, Abbott has been able to get support from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in opposing U.S. and European efforts to make global warming policy a key priority at the upcoming G20 conference in Australia.
Canada was one of the several developed nations to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2011, because staying in would penalize its economy for failing to cut carbon dioxide emissions enough. Canada and other countries also complained that huge emissions increases from developing countries would render their emissions cuts useless.
Abbott says that repealing the carbon tax would not only save families money every year, but it would also cause gas prices to fall 7 percent, and electricity prices to fall 9 percent.
“So it is pain without gain, and that’s why we took to the Australian people a pledge to not just remove the tax, but to therefore reduce the pressure on their cost of living,” Hunt said. “At the end of the day, this is about the small businesses, the manufacturing businesses, the families and the pensioners of Australia.”
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