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Tony Abbott has acknowledged for the first time that his $3.2 billion ''direct action'' carbon abatement policy may not reach its promised 5 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 but will not be strengthened with extra money.
His comments came as he declared Saturday's election would be a referendum on Labor's carbon tax - a move designed to pressure the ALP to respect the mandate of a Coalition government and allow the repeal bills through the Senate.
"It's unimaginable that a defeated Labor Party would persist with a carbon tax," Mr Abbott said. "Having lost one election through support for a carbon tax, why on God's earth would you lose a second supporting the same failed policy?''
Asked about his own policy, the Opposition Leader was less definitive: ''We've told you the money we'd spend and we won't spend any more.''
The frank admission came as he was asked at the National Press Club if his recycled 2010 election policy would be fully tested against new economic data, given the doubts about its capacity to deliver serious emissions reductions.
In response, Mr Abbott said the Coalition stood by the scheme.
''We are very confident that we can achieve the domestic emissions reductions within the funding envelope that we've provided,'' he said.
He effectively asked voters to trust so-called ''letters of comfort'' from industry sectors to support its claim of achieving abatement by massive tree plantings, soil carbon programs and other methods.
Mr Abbott said behavioural changes by industry would also help because it was ''in the economic interests of business to try to reduce its costly inputs''.
''Often the most costly inputs, apart from labour, are fuel and power, and a sensible business wants to cut its costs as far as it reasonably can and normally that means using as little fuel and power as possible,'' he said.
''So there is enormous potential there, but the bottom line is we will spend as much as we have budgeted, no more and no less. We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions reduction, as we can for the spending that we've budgeted. We are very confident that we will achieve the 5 per cent target that we've set ourselves.''
Under his plan, farmers and industry will be paid to take action to reduce their emissions. The Coalition has budgeted $3.2 billion over the next four years to do this, plant trees, install more rooftop solar systems and take other measures.
The Coalition has not made a definitive statement about what it plans to spend beyond the forward estimates under its direct-action policy.
Several attempts to model the outcome of direct action has found it will not deliver the promised 5 per cent cut with the money budgeted.
Labor seized on Mr Abbott's comments, with Climate Change Minister Mark Butler questioning what other promises Mr Abbott might be prepared to break.
Mr Butler said on Tuesday that the Labor Party would not be supporting a move to direct action on climate change.
Mr Butler told ABC radio that Mr Abbott's argument that a losing party should junk all its policies to respect the winning side’s mandate, is a fallacy.
''We are simply not going to junk our longstanding policy position on the most effective way to deal with climate change no matter what happens on Saturday, whether we win, lose or draw,'' he said.
Asked if that would mean using numbers in the Senate to force a Coalition government to go to a double dissolution to repeal the ETS, he replied: ''We'll see what happens.''
Mr Butler said Australia was in good company and almost every nation that had acted on climate change was doing it through a market-based mechanism.
He said experts had been saying for months that Mr Abbott's direct action plan won't achieve its 5 per cent reduction target, or if it does, it will cost billions.
''We have a way that's going to work and he has finally come clean yesterday that his way simply won't work,'' Mr Butler said.