The Abbott government is confident of repealing the carbon tax next week after an assurance from Clive Palmer that changes he wants won’t apply broadly to business.
Talks between Palmer United Party staff and government officials were progressing on Friday, a day after the party’s senators joined with Labor and the Greens to vote down the government’s carbon tax repeal.
However, PUP leader Clive Palmer was not directly involved, he’s taking a short break in New Zealand before parliament again debates the legislation on Monday.
“The Palmer United Party is fighting for Australians to have a fair go,” Mr Palmer tweeted on Friday.
“We want lower gas/electricity prices and (are) not trying to disrupt government.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday talked down the scale of the problem facing the government on fulfilling the key election promise to axe the tax.
“This is the kind of thing that you could expect with a new Senate, with people coming in who don’t have a lot of parliamentary experience,” Mr Abbott said, adding, again, he was determined to scrap the tax as quickly as possible.
A government spokesman told AAP Mr Palmer had confirmed the amendment he wants would only narrowly apply to electricity and gas retailers, which should calm nerves in the business sector.
Australian Industry Group chief Innis Willox feared the changes would mean tough new penalties will not only apply to electricity and gas companies, but also force businesses that use a lot of refrigerants – such as abattoirs or cafes – to justify their prices once the carbon tax is scrapped.
“It seems that good policy has got lost in the wash for what we believe is a very ill-thought out reason and it just has the potential to create chaos,” Mr Willox said.
Peter Strong, from the Council of Small Business, told AAP the amendment appeared to have many “unintended consequences”.
PUP negotiators said their aim was to guarantee cost savings were passed on to consumers and business quickly.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Kate Carnell said she was optimistic the government would achieve its goal.
“But the negotiations of getting a way through are going to be incredibly difficult,” she said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Abbott had been too arrogant to properly negotiate with the crossbenchers.
“He thinks he’s the only team on the football field,” he said.
“He doesn’t understand why those in the grandstand should even be allowed to disagree with him.”
Government Senate leader Eric Abetz expects the “technical difficulty” with the repeal bill could be overcome when reintroduced with amendment to the lower house on Monday.
“That should then enable the legislation to come back to the Senate late Monday, hopefully for discussion on Tuesday, with resolution, one would hope, Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.
“But I’ve been in the Senate long enough not to try to predict outcomes.”
The government needs the three PUP senators and three other crossbench votes to repeal the tax.