By JR on Wednesday, November 09, 2011
FOR a few, it was a moment to celebrate and to embrace. Greens leader Bob Brown emerged from parliament into a thunderstorm to declare "even the heavens are clapping".
But as the carbon tax Julia Gillard vowed never to impose was passed into law, yesterday marked a dark day for the majority of Australians opposed to it. According to her detractors, Ms Gillard's "betrayal" was now complete.
And with the passing of the controversial tax came an admission from the government it had effectively divided the nation - anyone who disagreed with it would stand accused as a "naysayer" or "denier".
"This has been a victory for the optimists and a defeat for the naysayers," Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said.
Finance Minister Penny Wong claimed a clear divide in Australian politics between "those who speak to hope and optimism and those who want to drum up fear".
The divide appeared close to home, with a prominent government MP absent when the senate voted on the legislation just after midday. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who reportedly believes the carbon tax is destroying the government, chose to stay in a cabinet sub-committee meeting during the historic vote.
Liberal MPs seized on a handshake between Mr Brown and Labor Senate leader Chris Evans.
"That handshake between the leader of the government and the leader of the Australian Greens says it all about the betrayal and the sellout of traditional Australia Labor Party values to the Greens," Liberal senate leader Eric Abetz said.
He added that the passage of the tax was: "The grossest betrayal of an electoral mandate in Australian political history."
The carbon tax will add an average $514.80 a year to family bills and, while most will receive compensation, high-income families will pay as much as $1031 a year with just $6 in tax cuts.
Concern Australians would pay a $23 a tonne carbon price which is now twice the rate in Europe after a market collapse there were dismissed by the government.
The Greens hailed yesterday's vote as a victory for their share in power, crowing Ms Gillard only won their support to guarantee supply because she agreed to a tax. "I think everybody around Australia knows this has been delivered because we have a power-sharing parliament," deputy Greens leader Christine Milne said.
Mr Brown called the carbon tax "timid" and "short of the mark" but said it was "gallant" and he claimed Australians would be grateful for the tax in 50 to 500 years.
Mr Swan claimed the bills had only passed because Ms Gillard was "tough as nails". "Putting in place long-term reform, tough reform, in this country is always hard," he said.
Ms Gillard was asked if she regretted her comments before the election but she insisted she was proud: "I've made decisions in the nation's interests."
She claimed every living Liberal leader, including Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, supported pricing carbon. Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt vowed to make the next election a referendum on the carbon tax while Mr Abbott said from London he would repeal the tax if he won office.
Ms Gillard vowed to fight, saying Labor would support it "five years, in 10 years".
The government is likely to begin a costly ad campaign, with Ms Gillard saying she wanted Australians to have correct information.