CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Australia will introduce a carbon price in Parliament next month and it is expected to become a law by the end of the year, the federal government said Wednesday.
Under the controversial tax, Australia's 500 highest-polluting companies will pay $24 per ton of carbon pollution they emit beginning July 1, 2012. In addition, a market-based carbon trading scheme would be introduced in 2015, allowing major polluters to buy offsetting shares in companies producing emissions less than target levels.
Wednesday's announcement follows a protest by about 2,000 Australians on Tuesday -- the anniversary of a pledge that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard made during last year's federal election not to introduce a carbon tax – demanding that the government scrap the plan.
The latest Nielsen poll indicates that 56 percent of Australian voters asked said they are against the tax scheme and an Institute of Public Affairs survey showed that 70 percent of accountants polled said small business would be negatively affected by a carbon tax.
Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said Wednesday the government has ruled out putting off the carbon tax.
"This is a reform that is in our economic interests to make," he told Sky News.
"This will drive investment in new technologies, innovation, it will improve the productivity of our economy over time -- there is no case for delaying it here."
The Institute of Public Affairs, a free market think tank, urged the Gillard administration to scrap the carbon tax in light of the looming economic downturn of China.
The world's largest exporter of coal and iron ore, Australia is China's largest supplier of iron ore.
"The recent stock market roller coaster and the European and U.S. debt crises have shed light on the risks associated with Australia's reliance on China's thirst for our resources," Hugh Tobin, director of the Northern Australia Project at IPA, said in a release.
Tobin said that once global demand drops in the resource sector, commodity prices would fall from the current high levels. The combination of falling commodity prices, along with Australia's introduction of proposed mining and carbon taxes, he warned, would make many Australian projects unprofitable.
"China is deliberately moving to reduce its reliance on Australian minerals in favor of increasingly cheaper markets in parts of West Africa and South America," Tobin said. "Why would we want to add on new taxes and make ourselves uncompetitive at a time like this?"