The prime minister's bid to regulate greenhouse gases has threatened her party's dominance, fractured the political system, and even drawn calls for breaking apart the country
Protesters rally in Sydney against Prime Minister Julia Gillard's carbon pricing plan / Reuters
Last February, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a new carbon tax, effective in 2012, the details of which she finally released last Sunday, July 10. If she succeeds in rolling her plan out, Australia will be the first country in the world with an economy-wide tax on carbon emissions. But Australia's economy relies heavily on carbon-intensive agriculture and mining exports and opposition to Gillard's plan has been intense. Now the Prime Minister and her Labor party are struggling to hold onto power as the fight over carbon taxing threatens not just to derail Gillard's plan but to topple Australia's government.
The same day the plan was announced, Mines Minister Norman Moore, one of the top officials in Western Australia, spoke openly about the possibility of Western Australia seceding, citing the unpopular carbon tax as proof that the federation was broken. How did things get so far?
The carbon tax began not so much as an environmental but as a political concession. When Australia's 2010 federal election resulted in a hung parliament, the incumbent Prime Minister Gillard, suddenly in need of support from another party, reneged on her campaign promise not to introduce a carbon tax to woo the Green Party into a coalition. Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens, told the local Adelaide Now newspaper that both Gillard and her primary detractor -- Tony Abbott, the leader of the center-right Liberal party -- made it clear they would accept a carbon tax as part of negotiating a coalition. Brown said he had advocated for the tax because it was an immediate mechanism to moderate pollution.