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Carbon tax bills to be fast-tracked

The Labor government has reached a deal with the Greens and independent MPs to fast-track its carbon tax legislation through both houses of parliament by the end of November.

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Eighteen bills forming the Clean Energy Future package will be presented to the House of Representatives on Tuesday, with debate set to start on Wednesday.

Leader of the House Anthony Albanese said the lower house was expected to pass the bills on October 12 before the Senate, which will sit for an extra week this year, debates them and passes them in early November.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet told parliament on Monday there had been considerable debate since the government released the full details of its Clean Energy Future plan two months ago.

Mr Combet said draft laws received 300 submissions, and since 1994 there had been 35 parliamentary inquiries relating to climate change.

“So we have been debating this now for 17 years in our parliament. The time for inaction has passed,” he said.

“It is time for the parliament to take the practical steps to cut pollution and drive the investment that we need in clean energy and energy efficiency.”

But opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said the government’s timeframe means it had scheduled a “ridiculous” 35 hours of debate for its 18 bills.

“That’s less than one minute of debate per bill per member – and even that assumes that one in five members don’t speak at all,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.

Mr Combet said business and industry needed the certainty of a carbon price mechanism to make long-term investments.

Mr Albanese said the government had also secured support from the Greens and independents for an inquiry into the bills, which would report on October 4.

The government was prepared for either house to sit extra hours this session to consider the bills, Mr Albanese said.

“I want every member who wants to participate in this debate to have the opportunity to do so,” he said.

Legislation governing a steel industry assistance plan will be dealt with separately.

Other legislation putting in place new government climate authorities is set to be introduced in early 2012.

Under the government’s legislation, Australia’s 500 biggest polluters will pay a fixed price of $23 per tonne of carbon emitted for three years from July 1, 2012, before moving to a market-based system.

The scheme is expected to cut 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2020 and will provide compensation to households to help them deal with flow-on price rises.