Carbon pricing in Australia
|The factual accuracy of parts of this article (those related to most everything over than the historic as the relevant legislation has been repealed) may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (July 2014)|
||It has been suggested that this article be merged with Clean Energy Bill 2011. (Discuss) Proposed since May 2013.|
|Financial year||Price* ($)|
|1 July 2014 onwards||revoked|
|Source: Clean Energy Regulator
* per tonne of emitted CO2
A carbon pricing scheme in Australia, commonly referred to as the "Carbon tax", was introduced by the Gillard Government and became effective on 1 July 2012, and was in operation until it was repealed by the Australian senate on 17 July 2014. The scheme required entities which emit over 25,000 tonnes per year of Carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases and which were not in the transport or agriculture sectors to obtain emissions permits. The Department of Climate Change stated there were 260 liable entities in June 2013. Approximately 185 discrete companies paid the carbon tax in 2013. Permits are either purchased or issued free as part of industry assistance measures.
The pricing was part of a broad energy reform package called the Clean Energy Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 and 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. The plan set out to achieve these targets by encouraging Australia's largest emitters to increase energy efficiency and invest in sustainable energy. The scheme was administered by the Clean Energy Regulator. Compensation to industry and households was funded by the revenue derived from the charge. Initially the price of a permit for one tonne of carbon was fixed at $23 for the 2012–13 financial year, with unlimited permits being available from the Government. The fixed price rose to $24.15 for 2013–14. The government announced a transition to an emissions trading scheme in 2014–15, where the available permits will be limited in line with a pollution cap. The scheme primarily applied to electricity generators and industrial sectors. It did not apply to road transport and agriculture. Domestic aviation did not face the carbon tax per se, but was subject to an additional fuel excise levy of approximately 6 cents per litre.
Falls in carbon emissions were observed following implementation of this policy. It was noted that emissions from sectors subject to the pricing mechanism were 1.0% lower and nine months after the introduction of the pricing scheme, Australia's emissions of carbon dioxide from electricity generation had fallen to a 10-year low, with coal generation down 11% from 2008 to 2009. However, attribution of these trends to carbon pricing have been disputed, with Frontier Economics claiming trends are largely explained by factors unrelated to the carbon tax. Electricity demand had been falling and in 2012 was at the lowest level seen since 2006 in the National Electricity Market.
|Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions||Mt CO2 equiv|
|Energy – Electricity||
|Stationary energy excluding electricity||
|Excludes land use, land use change and forestry/
Source – Australia's National Greenhouse Inventory Dec 2012
- 1 History
- 2 Scope and covered emissions
- 3 Industry Assistance Programs
- 4 Effect of the Carbon Tax
- 5 Political and industry response
- 6 Effects and impacts
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In October 2006 the Stern Review on the effect of climate change on the world's economy was released for the British government. This report recommended a range of measures including ecotaxes to address the market failure represented by climate change with the least amount of economic and social disruption. In response to this report and subsequent pressure from the Kim Beazley led Labor opposition, in December 2006 the Howard Government established the Prime Ministerial Task Group on Emissions Trading, chaired by Peter Shergold, to advise on the implementation of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) in Australia. Following the release of the final report from this task group, the Howard government committed to introduce an ETS.
Going into the 2007 federal election, the Labor opposition party presented itself as a "pro-climate" alternative to the Government, with Kevin Rudd, who had by then deposed Beazley as leader, famously describing climate change as "the great moral challenge of our generation". Labor differentiated itself from the government by promising an ETS with an earlier start date of 2010 rather than the 2012 timeframe advocated by Howard. It also promised ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, investment in clean coal and renewable energy, and slightly more aggressive targets for renewable energy.
Labor won the 2007 election, and on 3 December 2007 the Rudd Government signed the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol at the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference. By ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, Australia was committed to keeping emissions to no more than 108% of its 1990 emissions level by 2012. Australia's ratification came into effect on 11 March 2008.
In September 2008, the Garnaut Climate Change Review, commissioned in April 2007 by Kevin Rudd when he was leader of the opposition, released its final report. Garnaut recommended a price between $20 and $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent with a rise of 4% each year. On 16 July 2008, the Rudd Government released a green paper for its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), outlining the intended design of the scheme; a more detailed white paper was released on 15 December 2008.
The CPRS received criticism from those who were both for and against action to mitigate climate change. Environmental lobby groups protested that the emissions reductions targets were too low, and that the level of assistance to polluters was too high. Industry and business lobby groups however argued for more permits and assistance to offset the economic impacts of the scheme on many enterprises, particularly given the context of the global financial crisis. The Malcolm Turnbull led opposition supported the scheme in principle, although at times over 2009 they indicated disagreement with various details including the timing of implementation of the scheme, timing of the vote on the relevant legislation and on the level of assistance to be provided to polluting industries. The opposition was able to negotiate greater compensation for polluters affected by the scheme in November 2009.
Shortly before the Senate was due to vote on the relevant bill, leadership tensions in the opposition came to a head. On 1 December 2009 Tony Abbott defeated Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership challenge. Abbot immediately called a secret ballot on support for the ETS among coalition MPs, which was overwhelmingly rejected. The Coalition then withdrew their support for the carbon pricing policy and joined the Greens and Independents in voting against the relevant legislation in the Parliament of Australia on 2 December 2009. As the Rudd government required the support of either the Coalition or the Greens to secure passage of the bill, it was defeated in the Senate. In April 2010, the Government deferred the scheme to the post-2012 timeframe.
|Julia Gillard Interview, 2010|
|Tony Abbott interview, 2009|
In June 2010, Julia Gillard defeated Rudd in a leadership challenge thus becoming Prime Minister of Australia. Shortly afterwards she called a federal election. During the election campaign Gillard stated that she supported a price on carbon emissions and that she would prosecute the case for action for as long as she needed to win community support. However, she also indicated that she would not introduce carbon pricing until there was a sufficient consensus on the issue, and she specifically ruled out the introduction of a "carbon tax".
The result of the election left Australia with its first hung parliament in 70 years. To form a majority in the House of Representatives both of the major parties needed to acquire the support of cross-benchers, including the Greens. After two weeks of deliberation Julia Gillard had enough support to gain a majority including the support of the Greens and their single MP in the House, Adam Bandt. Julia Gillard, therefore, remained Prime Minister and Tony Abbott remained in opposition.
The Productivity Commission was asked by the Gillard Government to report on the steps taken to address climate change by eight major economies. The report found that more than 1,000 climate policies were already enacted across the globe. It also supported a market-based carbon price as being the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions. The report's findings were one of the major reasons that support for the carbon tax was provided by independent Tony Windsor. Windsor made it clear that he would not support the clean energy legislation if it included a carbon tax on transport fuels. He did not want to penalise people who lived in rural areas, where there was no public transport as an alternative to private vehicles.
One of the requirements for Green support was that the Gillard Government form a cross-party parliamentary committee to determine policy on climate change. Gillard honoured that agreement and on 27 September 2010 the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee (MPCCC) was formed, its terms of reference including that it was to report to Cabinet on ways to introduce a carbon price.
The MPCCC agreed on the introduction of a fixed carbon price commencing 1 July 2012, transitioning to a flexible-price cap-and-trade ETS on 1 July 2015. Initially the price of permits is fixed and the quantity unlimited i.e. there is no cap; the scheme thus functions similarly, and is popularly referred to as a tax. In February 2011, the government proposed the Clean Energy Bill, which the opposition claimed to be a broken election promise. The Liberal Party vowed to overturn the bill if it was elected.
The Clean Energy Plan was released on 10 July 2011. The Clean Energy Bill 2011 passed the Lower House in October 2011 and the Upper House in November 2011 and was thus brought into law. The carbon price was brought into effect on 1 July 2012.
Scope and covered emissions
Australia's scheme applied to:
- Direct emissions from a facility (scope-1 emissions) not including indirect scope 2 emissions;
- Only to facilities which emit more than 25,000 t/yr
The scheme did not apply to agriculture in Australia or to transport fuels. Agriculture emissions were exempt due to difficulty in tracking emissions and the related complexity of administering such a scheme. Households and business use of light vehicles did not incur a carbon price. However changes to the fuel tax regime were proposed to effectively impose a carbon tax on businesses' liquid and gaseous fuel emissions. There were plans for heavy on-road vehicles to pay from 1 July 2014.
In effect, the scope of the scheme meant Australia's small group of large electricity generators and larger industrial plants were subject to the carbon tax. The tax was payable by surrendering carbon units, which had been either purchased ($20/t in 2012–13) or acquired free under an industry assistance program. The pricing mechanism was expected to cover 60% of Australia's carbon emissions. 75% of each company's annual obligation were to be paid by 15 June each year with the remaining 25% by the following 1 February.
A list of companies which have paid carbon tax, and the amount which each has paid was published by the Clean Energy Regulator (CER). This was called the Liable Entities Public Information Database or LEPID. The LEPID for 2012–13 was updated on 12 July 2013 and the companies which were the fifteen largest payers of carbon tax in 2012–13 are shown in the summary below (related companies are grouped together where identifiable).
|Australian's Top 15 Payers of Carbon Tax in 2012–13
(account for 70% of total carbon units lodged)
|Company||Activity||Carbon units lodged
in 2012–13 (million)
|GDF Suez||Electricity generation||
|Macquarie Generation||Electricity generation||
|Delta Electricity||Electricity generation||
|Energy Australia||Electricity generation||
|Origin Energy||Electricity generation||
|Stanwell Corporation||Electricity generation||
|CS Energy||Electricity generation||
|Woodside Energy||LNG production||
|Verve Energy||Electricity generation||
|NRG Gladstone||Electricity generation||
|BlueScope Steel||Iron & steelmaking||
|Alinta Energy||Electricity generation||
Source – LEPID 12 July 2013
The Climate Change Authority was a statutory agency created to advise the government on the setting of carbon pollution caps, to conduct periodic reviews of the carbon pricing process, and to report on progress towards meeting national targets. These pollution caps were to form the basis for the cap-and-trade structure to commence in 2015.
Industry Assistance Programs
The Government is running several major ‘Industry Assistance’ programs to reduce the Carbon Tax impact for these 185 affected companies. These have the effect of significantly reducing the actual carbon tax raised.
Jobs and Competitiveness Program
The ‘Jobs and Competitiveness Program’ is for the non-electricity sector and is targeted at the ‘emissions-intensive trade-exposed’ activities – that is, companies who emit a lot of CO2 and are exposed to imports or who trade internationally. There is a list of 48 trade-exposed activities. It includes business such as steel making, alumina refining, cement making and similar activities.
Depending on whether a company is ‘highly’ or ‘moderately’ emissions intensive, it receives 94.5% or 66% of ‘average industry carbon costs’ supplied as free carbon units.
Overall in 2012–13 under the ‘Jobs and Competitiveness Program’, there were 104 million free Carbon Units issued to 123 applicants. That was valued at approximately $2.4 billion. The fifteen largest recipients of free carbon units in 2012–13 are shown in the summary below (related companies are grouped together where identifiable).
|Top 15 Recipients of Free Carbon Units in 2012–13
(under Jobs & Competitiveness Program)
|Company||Activity||Free carbon units
in 2012–13 (million)
|Rio Tinto||Alumina, aluminium||
|Tomago Aluminium||Alumina, aluminium||
|BlueScope Steel||Iron & steelmaking||
|Woodside Energy||LNG production||
|BHP Billiton||Nickel, copper, alumina||
|Adelaide Brighton||Cement & lime||
|OneSteel||Iron & steelmaking||
|Cement Australia||Cement & lime||
Source – Clean Energy Regulator
To put this into context, the LEPID list indicated that the total amount of carbon units to be surrendered would be 283 million units for 2012–13. 37% of these were awarded for free under the Jobs and Competitiveness Program.
Coal Fired Generation Assistance
There is also the ‘Coal Fired Generation Assistance’ for coal based electricity generating companies. Under this program, the Government is giving out 42 million (almost $5 billion worth) of free Carbon Units each year. These are only issued to the generators with the highest amount of CO2 emission intensity, above 1.0 tonne of CO2 per MWh of energy. These are primarily the brown coal-fired generators in Victoria's La Trobe Valley
The free units were shared according to their size and the amount of CO2 produced compared to a more efficient black coal-fired power station. The list of companies which receive those free units is published by the Clean Energy Regulator. Nine power stations qualified – the big four brown coal plants in Victoria, and five other much smaller plants. The four big brown coal plants in Victoria is receiving by the majority share of free Carbon Units, around 37 million of the 42 million free Carbon Units in September each year.
With an average emissions intensity of 1.3, that effectively means there is no Carbon Tax on the first 20 TWh (or approximately 50%) they collectively produce each year.
Steel Transformation Plan package
The Steel Transformation Plan is a $500 million package for Australia's two steelmakers. Payments of $160 million have been made, $200 M to BlueScope and$70 M to OneSteel in 2012.
Effect of the Carbon Tax
Reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases
Because the Australian carbon tax does not apply to all fossil fuels usage, it only had an effect on some of the emitters of greenhouse gases. Among those emitters to which it applied, emissions were significantly lower after introduction of the tax. According to the Investor Group on Climate Change, emissions from companies subject to the tax went down 7% with the introduction of the tax, and the tax was "the major contributor" to this reduction.
Continuing growth in greenhouse emissions
Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.3% in the first six months of the Carbon Tax to December 2012 to 276.5 Mt CO2 equiv, while Australia's gross domestic product grew at a rate of 2.5% per annum.
Greenhouse emissions from stationary energy (excluding electricity) and transport grew by 4% in the first six months of the carbon tax to December 2012.
However, there is a five-year trend for emissions from the electricity generation sector in Australia to decline. Electricity emissions peaked at 38% of the national total in September quarter 2008, coinciding with the start of the Global Financial Crisis. In December 2012, electricity emissions were just 33% of national emissions. The decline is due partly to an almost 6% reduction in electricity demand in the National Electricity market since 2008. This fall in electricity demand followed:·
- Retail electricity prices rising by approximately 80% over the past five years; ·
- Reduced economic activity and closure of the Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter in mid-2012; and·
- A burst in residential solar PV generation following generous State Government incentives, now all curtailed.
Other factors contributing to the five-year fall in greenhouse emissions from the electricity sector are:·
- An increase in wind generation supported by the Renewable Energy Target subsidies; and·
- Fuel switching from coal to gas.
The Australian Government said in July 2013 that the carbon tax was a factor in reducing the emissions intensity in the National Electricity Market from 0.92 t of CO2 per MWh to 0.87 in the 11 months following its introduction.
Since the carbon tax was introduced, wholesale electricity prices in the National Electricity market have increased significantly. The Energy Users Association of Australia in its June 2013 paper said that electricity generators have been able to pass through more than 100% of the cost of the carbon tax. “If the outcomes observed in the spot market persist then it can be unequivocally concluded that both fossil fuel generators and renewable generators will have gained as a result of emission pricing, at users’ expense. Surely this is not what was intended."
Alternative explanations of emissions reductions
The Energy Users Association of Australia (EUAA) said in June 2013 "we suggest that it cannot be said that pricing emissions has reduced emissions in stationary energy to any meaningful extent" 
Significant announcements which have, or may have, relevance to the carbon tax
AGL – In relation to its purchase of the Loy Yang brown coal fired power station in 2012, one of the single largest emitters of CO2 in Australia states “On the supply side of the business, the most significant strategic development was the decision to buy the Loy Yang A power station. ... The Board also recognised that coal fired generation would be required for decades to come if the demand from Australian households and businesses for electricity was to continue to be satisfied” 
Adelaide Brighton (Australia’s second largest cement producer) “….AdelaideBrighton expects it will significantly mitigate the impact of the carbon tax over the next five years by:·
- Enhancing its import flexibility;·
- Reducing reliance on domestic manufacture; ·
- Increasing the use of alternative fuels and cementitious substitutes” 
BlueScope (Australia’s largest steelmaker) "When funds from the Steel Transformation Plan are taken into account, the Company does not expect to face a net carbon liability over the period”.
Investments as a result of carbon tax
David Kassulke, the manager of AJ Bush & Sons, expressed grave concerns over the carbon tax during the lead up to its implementation. However, he now says the carbon tax has had a positive impact on the business. The company expects to cut carbon emissions from 85,000 to 30,000 tonnes per year with the construction of a new biogas plant in 2013.
"The end result of the introduction of the new biogas technology will not only be a saving of millions of dollars in energy and carbon costs, but also an opportunity for the company to be positioned at the cutting edge of renewable energy technology in the rendering industry, Mr Kassulke said."
“The (biogas technology) investment is a good way to modernise and will dramatically reduce our emissions."
“It will mean that we will reduce our emissions to the point where we will no longer be a big polluter any more."
“What the imposition of the carbon tax has done is make industry take stock of what it is currently doing and has forced it to look at doing things in a better way."
“It means companies are now looking at ways to use less energy which equates to less cost and a subsequent reduction in the tax that is being levied.“That has been the intention of the tax and clearly from that perspective it is working and working well.”
Political and industry response
|This section is outdated. (March 2014)|
The introduction of a carbon price in Australia is controversial. The day before the 2010 Federal election, the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard sent out a message regarding carbon pricing, stating "I don't rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism." However this same article clearly articulates her position on that term of government. "While any carbon price would not be triggered until after the 2013 election... She would legislate the carbon price next term if sufficient consensus existed. Thus the then Federal opposition accused the Government of breaking an election promise to not introduce a carbon tax. Julia Gillard responded to these accusations by saying that circumstances changed following the 2010 election. Then opposition leader Tony Abbott criticised the carbon pricing policy on economic grounds referring to it as "toxic" and likening it to an octopus embracing the whole of the economy. He pledged to repeal the tax after the 18 clean energy bills passed through the House of Representatives and stated that the next election would be a referendum on the "carbon tax".
The opposition (and since the 2013 election the Abbott government) proposed an alternative "direct-action" carbon emissions reduction scheme. Modelling produced by the Department of the Treasury indicated that this scheme would cost twice as much as the Clean Energy Plan. Abbott was unable to find an Australian economist who supported his policy, although he did cite international economists who are supportive. Tony Abbott's "Direct Action Plan" has been criticised because there is no disincentive to continue polluting at the same rate, meaning that emissions will increase rather than decrease by 2020. In addition, "under Direct Action it is the public, not polluters who pay."
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) was established as part of the Clean Energy Fund, and commenced operations on 1 July 2012. It will consolidate existing renewable energy technology innovation programs. It has funds available to provide financial assistance to research, develop, demonstrate, deploy and commercialise renewable energy and related technologies. The government-established but independent Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) will commence investment operations from 1 July 2013. The CEFC will focus on investments in renewable energy, low-emissions and energy efficiency technology and the manufacturing companies that produce materials used in such technologies.
The majority of big emitters in Australia supported a price on carbon as at 2012 July. However business groups and some big emitters, especially in the mining sector, are opposed to the pricing scheme.
One criticism of the carbon pricing scheme has been that Australia should not proceed with its introduction ahead of other countries. However, according to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Australia will be one of around 50 jurisdictions implementing similar schemes worldwide. The starting price of $23 per tonne has also been a point of contention.
Emissions figures from the 2010–11 financial year suggest the electricity generation sector may be due to pay around $3.9 billion. Loans have been made available so that electricity generators can purchase carbon permits. Macquarie Generation, a Government of New South Wales owned electricity generator, wrote down the value of its assets by about $1 billion as a result of the carbon tax. Power generators in the La Trobe Valley also face substantial write-downs.
Modelling undertaken by the Virgin Australia airline calculated that the average increase per flight would be $3. They responded by implementing a surcharge of between $1.00 and $5.00 to a one-way flight starting in July 2012. Qantas is raising its ticket prices by between $1.50 and $5.50.
In a survey conducted by the Economic Society of Australia, 60% of economists thought the carbon pricing proposal was sound economic policy, while 25% disagreed. A number of public protests both in support of and against the carbon price (or tax) have been held in the run up to its introduction. These include the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics rallies and Say Yes demonstrations.
2013 Australian Federal Election
Heading into the 2013 Australian Federal election, the Liberal Party developed a campaign platform that included removing the 'Carbon Tax'. The Liberal Party claimed that the election was in effect a National Referendum on carbon pricing in Australia. The incoming Liberal Government placed removing the carbon pricing scheme at the head of its legislative programme.
Effects and impacts
The carbon pricing scheme was intended to improve energy efficiency, convert electricity generation from coal to alternatives and shift economic activity towards a low carbon economy. Its impact on business was forecast to be 0.1 – 0.2% lower than the business as usual scenario. The scheme aimed to prevent 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere by 2020, as well as generating $24 billion over three years.
In May 2012, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) reported it was investigating about 100 cases where customers had possibly been misled into paying excessive price rises falsely claimed to be as a result of the carbon tax. By the middle of June, the commission was investigating about 200 cases. The consumer watchdog also set up a phone hotline and online form for complaints regarding excess pricing claimed to be due to the carbon tax. The ACCC had forecast that home construction costs would be at the lower end of the 0.7% to 1.8% range predicted by building companies. The Housing Industry Association estimated an average new house would experience a price increase of between 0.8% and 1.7% due to the carbon price. Housing construction was expected to be significantly impacted by the carbon tax because new homes require cement, bricks, aluminium, and glass, which are all typically energy-intensive materials. A forecast by the Centre for International Economics predicted the housing construction industry could decline by 12.6% as a result of the carbon price.
The coal industry was expected to be impacted due to the emissions produced as coal is mined, however a similar expense is not expected to be incurred by Australia's coal exporting competitors. The Institute of Public Affairs claimed that the Australian coal industry would lose jobs to overseas competitors and mines will be closed. Despite the announcement of the scheme, spending on mineral exploration in the March quarter was the highest ever at $1.086 billion. The impact on the LNG industry in Australia was expected to be minor to moderate. No major projects were expected to be cancelled as a result of the introduction of the carbon pricing scheme. Dairy farmers will be impacted because of higher power costs for milk processing.
Because carbon pricing would indirectly flow through to consumers, the Australian government implemented household assistance measures.
The measures included changes to income tax: the tax-free threshold increased from $6,000 to $18,200 on 1 July 2012, and was scheduled to rise to $19,400 from 1 July 2015. The changes meant those earning less than $20,000 received a tax cut with those earning up to $5,000 receiving the greatest tax reduction. The changes were described as the biggest overhaul of taxation since the Goods and Services Tax was introduced in 2000.
Some industries received direct compensation. As part of the Energy Security Fund, $1 billion was promised to highly emissions-intensive coal-fired generators. Most of that funding was intended for coal-fired power generators in Victoria. Research by the Grattan Institute suggested that no black coal mining or liquefied natural gas projects would be scrapped as a result of carbon pricing, regardless of industry compensation; it further claimed that, if coupled with compensation, the carbon pricing regime would in fact leave the steel industry better off.
Under the Carbon Farming Initiative, farmers and graziers would have been able to plant trees to earn carbon credits, which could have been on-sold to companies liable to pay a carbon price. The Clean Technology Investment Program was touted as helping the manufacturing sector to support investments in "energy-efficient capital equipment and low emission technologies, processes and products". Companies in the food sector would also have been able to apply for grants to improve their energy efficiency.
Six months after the introduction of carbon pricing the Department of Climate Change and Renewable Energy reported a 9% decrease in emissions from electricity generators.
Nine months after the introduction of the pricing scheme, Australia's emissions of carbon dioxide due to electricity generation fell to a 10-year low, with coal generation down 6% from 2008 to 2009.
The carbon tax was repealed by the Australian Senate on 17 July 2014.
- Climate change in Australia
- Energy development
- Economics of climate change mitigation
- List of climate change initiatives
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