* Carbon price details to be released Sunday
* Industry, householders to get compensation
* Export-exposed companies to get up to 90 percent of free
* Govt to set up independent agency to promote renewable
By James Grubel
CANBERRA, July 8 Australia's government on
Friday secured the final crucial vote needed to introduce a
carbon tax, which will put a price on greenhouse gas emissions
from the nation's top companies and help cut 160 million tonnes
of emissions by 2020.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard will detail the carbon plan on
Sunday after more than six months of negotiations with Greens
and independent lawmakers, and is expected to announce a
starting carbon tax of around A$23 a tonne from July 2012.
The plan, which will transition to an emissions trade scheme
in three to five years, will include substantial compensation
for export-exposed industries, steelmakers, coal mines and
electricity generators, including reported loan guarantees to
help power stations refinance debt.
The carbon price will cover 500 of Australia's top
polluters, responsible for more than two thirds of Australian
carbon emissions in an economy which relies heavily on coal for
electricity generation and export income.
The carbon price will reportedly push up prices by around
1.0 percent, although the central bank has said it would look
through any inflationary impact when its sets interest rates.
Gillard has promised compensation to 90 percent of
householders for the higher food and electricity prices in a bid
to help win public support for the tax and her ailing
government, which has record low support in opinion polls.
The carbon price is a make or break issue for Gillard, who
leads a minority government after last August's dead heat
But Gillard secured on Friday the final pledge of support
needed to ensure the scheme can pass through parliament, when
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, who was not part of the
carbon price negotiations, said he would vote for it.
"I will be supporting the government's move to put a price
on carbon," Wilkie told reporters in Canberra after a full
briefing on the carbon plan. "I am satisfied the government has
the settings right."
Companies to be included in the scheme include electricity
generators such as International Power , majority owned
by GDF Suez, TRUenergy, owned by Hong Kong's CLP Holdings
, Australia's largest steelmakers BlueScope
and OneSteel Ltd as well as global resource companies
such as Rio Tinto , BHP Billiton
and Woodside Petroleum .
But export exposed companies will receive up to 90 percent
of free carbon permits, while steel makers will receive up to 95
percent of free permits, with reports saying they could be
shielded from the carbon tax for the first few years.
Coal miners and coal fired power generators are also set to
receive considerable assistance, including reports the
government will issue loan guarantees to help generators
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson on Friday also announced
the government would set up a new independent renewable energy
agency, which will oversee A$3.2 billion worth of government
programmes to promote renewable energy.
Gillard plans a national campaign to promote the plan after
Sunday's release, and hopes the passage of the legislation later
in the year will help her government claw back voter support
ahead of the next elections, due in the second half of 2013.
Two previous attempts to push an emissions trading plan
through parliament were defeated in 2009 when the Greens voted
with the conservative opposition, with the Greens saying they
emissions target of five percent cuts by 2020 was too low.
But the Greens will back the new carbon plan, which also
aims to cut emissions by 160 million tonnes by 2020, or five
percent of year 2000 levels, because the new target can be
strengthened if the rest of the world takes stronger action.
Greens deputy leader Christine Milne earlier told reporters
her party, which holds the balance of power in the upper house
Senate, wants Australia and other countries to take stronger
action to fight carbon emissions, blamed for global warming.
She said the Greens would prefer a carbon price of around
A$45 to A$50 a tonne, but it was clear global action and
international carbon prices meant that would not be suitable.
"We are working in an environment where an emissions trading
scheme has to go with an international price," Milne told
reporters, adding Australia's scheme could be made tougher if
the world agrees to stronger action on climate change.
"We have a view about how quickly we'd like to be addressing
climate change, but our focus in the climate negotiations has
been to make sure that if the world does decide to become
serious about climate change... there would be nothing in the
scheme that prevents us making those adjustments."
(Editing by Ed Davies)