Brown Makes Pitch for Greener Australia After Aug. 21 Vote

Australia’s Greens party would raise the government’s proposed levy on coal and iron ore profits and push for a carbon tax if voters give the group more power in this weekend’s election, party leader Senator Bob Brown said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is “under the thumb of the coal industry,” Brown said at the National Press Club in Canberra today. “We will move very strongly to get an extra A$2 billion ($1.8 billion) from the mining tax” when laws are introduced next year, he added.

Opinion surveys suggest the Greens could add to their five seats in the 76-member Senate, giving them a chance to block or amend laws, as voters look for action on reducing emissions. Support for Gillard’s Labor party fell after it shelved carbon- trading plans in April and it is virtually tied with the opposition in polls ahead of the Aug. 21 vote.

Climate change “has to be tackled,” Brown said, proposing an A$23 per ton price on carbon in a nation where 80 percent of power generated comes from coal-fired plants. “It will be a carbon price on polluters, not voters” with the revenue used to “cushion” consumers against rising electricity prices, he added.

Support for the Greens has almost doubled since the 2007 election, with 14 percent of voters listing it as their first choice, according to the Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper on Aug. 16. The telephone survey of 1,694 voters from Aug. 13-15 had a 2.4 percentage-point margin of error.

Voters Split

Voters are almost evenly split between Gillard’s government and Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition in the contest to control the 150-member House of Representatives where a majority is needed to form a government. Neither party holds a majority in the Senate.

The tightness of the race raises the possibility that neither major party will win the 76 seats needed to control the lower house, adding to the risk of policy gridlock as the Greens and up to four independent lawmakers vie for influence. Brown said today his party would not block budget measures in parliament and would negotiate on other legislation.

The Labor Party led the coalition by 52 percent to 48 percent in the Newspoll survey when voters were asked to chose between the two major parties, while a Galaxy poll in the Sunday Telegraph on Aug. 15 gave Abbott’s group a narrow lead.

The Greens want to cut Australia’s emissions by 40 percent by 2020, while Labor and the coalition pledge a 5 percent cut, and seek 100 percent use of renewable energy by 2050.

Mining Tax

Brown supports higher taxes on mining, after Gillard clinched a compromise deal with BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto Group and Xstrata Plc to water down a plan that would have imposed a 40 percent levy on resources in the world’s biggest shipper of iron ore, coal and alumina.

The Greens leader wants revenue from the planned 30 percent levy on iron ore and coal, projected by Labor at A$10.5 billion for the two years from mid-2012, to be put in a sovereign fund to pay for infrastructure such as fast-rail on the nation’s east coast and to boost funding for government schools.

The Greens won’t block the tax, even if Labor rejects their demands, Brown said.

Gillard plans to set up a citizens’ group of “ordinary Australians” to help decide over a one-year period on a course of action to reduce greenhouse gases, delaying laws on carbon trading that would have to pass the lower house and the Senate.

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