Penny Wong
Penny Wong

The Australian Government’s carbon pricing legislation has been passed by the Senate and will take effect from the middle of next year.

The bills were passed in a division 36-32, with Labor and the Greens siding against the Opposition, independent Nick Xenophon and the DLP’s John Madigan.

Under the scheme, the estimated 500 Australian companies which produce more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum will pay $23 per tonne of CO2, beginning on 1 July 2012. The tax will increase by 2.5% annually for three years and then be replaced by a market price scheme. Agricultural companies are excluded and some export-oriented industries will be compensated.

Some of the funds from the tax will be used to fund a $1.2 billion Clean Technology Program aimed at improving energy efficiency in manufacturing and supporting research and development of clean energy. More than 7.5 million people will receive a tax cut to cover any increases in household expenses and about 1.9 million families and about 3.4 million pensioners will receive an increase in their Government payments

The laws will see Australia join the European Union and New Zealand which already have emissions trading schemes. California’s starts in 2013, while China and South Korea are working on carbon trading programs and India has a coal tax.

Wrapping up the 26-hour debate, Senator Penny Wong said that “Today marks the beginning of Australia’s clean energy future. This is an historic moment, this is an historic reform, a reform that is long overdue.”

Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, called the passing of the legislation “a betrayal of the Australian people”, as he left the country for a week-long trip to the UK.