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Australia cuts number of firms to pay carbon tax

Australia will levy a controversial carbon tax on about half the number of companies originally expected, a government list released on Friday shows, signalling a political strategy to limit the economic impact of the tax which starts on July 1.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pinned her government’s survival on implementing the carbon price while hoping for a muted voter reaction to blunt a persistent opposition attack warning of higher prices, job losses and factory closures.

Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator has named 294 companies will be liable for the A$23/tonne ($22.96/tonne) carbon tax, with electricity generators, steel makers and mining companies among the biggest emitters.

The list is well short of the government’s initial estimate that around 500 companies would be forced to pay to pollute under its sweeping carbon price, designed to cut Australian carbon emissions by five percent of 2000 levels by 2020.

“It is a finite number of entities within our economy that will carry the carbon price liability,” Climate Change Minister Greg Combet told reporters.

The government has already started to roll out a program to rebate billions of dollars to householders to compensate for a modest 0.7 percent inflationary impact of the scheme, with electricity prices to be the most affected.

A poll by the respected Lowy Institute think tank found 63 percent of voters oppose the carbon price, while 57 percent support opposition leader Tony Abbott’s promise to abandon the scheme if he wins power at the next election, due in late 2013.

Under the plan, the carbon price will be set at A$23/tonne for three years, before moving to a full trading scheme with a floating price from July, 2015.

To further cushion the economic impact, the government will offer generous compensation to big polluting industries and offer free permits to major export-exposed industries.

Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporting nation, is one of the world’s biggest per-capita carbon emitters due to a heavy reliance on coal for 85 percent of electricity generation, although it accounts for only 1.5 percent of global emissions.

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