The federal government’s plan to scrap the carbon tax has run headlong into a Senate roadblock, with the first bill rejected and little hope the upper house will decide on the full package of bills before next year.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called on the Senate to vote on his package of 11 bills to remove the carbon tax before parliament adjourns for its summer break on Thursday night.
But Labor and the Greens remain opposed to the bills, giving the government little chance of pushing its package through parliament until new Senators take their seats from July 1, 2014.
“Given that people feel very strongly about this, and a number of people are likely to speak, it’s unlikely there would be a resolution on the suite of bills by the end of the week,” Greens leader Christine Milne said on Tuesday.
Debate on the package has been tortuously slow, with the opposition and Greens opting for debate on each individual piece of legislation.
The first bill of the package was voted down on Tuesday when Labor and Greens joined forces to reject a bill to scrap the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) after a debate lasting more than 10 hours.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said abolition of the corporation was a priority for the government and a commitment Mr Abbott took to the September 7 election.
The government had the strong support of voters who rejected Labor at the election, he said.
“Labor takes the position they have flagged in this chamber today at their peril,” he said.
The CEFC was set up by the Gillard government to help finance clean energy projects.
Labor has condemned its abolition, saying it returned about $200 million a year to the budget.
But Senator Cormann said abolition of the CEFC would save money, as the corporation had to raise funds at public debt borrowing rates that Labor senators had ignored.
CEFC chair Jillian Broadbent, a former member of the Reserve Bank of Australia board, last week pleaded with the government to reconsider its plan, saying the corporation had made a profit and helped curb carbon emissions.
Labor senators said the abolition of the CEFC would hurt the government’s ability to reach its emissions reduction targets.
“It will cost the taxpayer more to shut this corporation down than Abbott says it will save,” Labor senator Glenn Sterle said.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said the Senate vote would allow the CEFC to continue its work.
“Unequivocally, the CEFC is a good thing – a vital part of Australia’s strong climate laws, laws that are working to help cut Australia’s pollution,” the foundation’s climate spokesman Jamie Hanson said in a statement.
The government could use the climate bills as triggers for a double-dissolution election if they are rejected a second time after a three-month interval.
Debate was adjourned on a second bill to abolish the Climate Change Authority, set up to recommend carbon emissions targets.