Former US vice-president and climate crusader Al Gore has urged Australians not to write off Prime Minister Julia Gillard, suggesting that she still had time to turn around opinion poll results.
The outspoken advocate for action on climate change praised Ms Gillard's "courage and vision" while questioning the merits of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's direct-action policy to cut carbon emissions.
Mr Gore's comments came as Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury identified the carbon tax as a key issue hurting Labor in crucial election battlegrounds in western Sydney.
Former US vice-president Al Gore says the carbon tax was a brave move. Photo: Reuters
Mr Bradbury said cost of living pressures continued to be ''an enormous challenge for people''.
''There's no question that the very difficult decision that we've taken around pricing carbon has been a real challenge for us out in the community and I've had a huge number of conversations with local residents, some in my office, out and about in the community,'' he told ABC TV's Q&A program on Monday night.
''When you get the opportunity to sit down and explain to people what it is we've done and why we've done it, quite often people are very receptive to that message.''
Leader of opposition business Christopher Pyne said western Sydney was a key battleground but was emblematic of suburban areas in other cities.
Mr Pyne said Labor's brand was poor in those areas because of concerns over cost of living and job security – issues put in stark focus by the Gillard government's introduction of a carbon tax in July last year.
''I think voters in western Sydney are terrified of the price of electricity and the cost running through all of the things they purchase,'' Mr Pyne said.
Opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt said an "electricity tax" was incredibly inefficient."It doesn't do the job and it does enormous damage to Australia's competitiveness," he told Sky News on Tuesday.
The Coalition has vowed to axe the carbon pricing scheme, which is due to convert from a ''tax'' on big emitters to a market-based emissions trading scheme in 2015.
Mr Gore, who has campaigned for action against climate change for years, said he had a ''great deal of faith and confidence in the people of Australia'' and he would watch the election outcome closely.
''Well, if I were a citizen of your country – I am not, so I don't wish to interfere in your politics – but I would certainly question the conclusion that public opinion polls are going to decide the outcome of an election so far away,'' he told ABC TV's Lateline program.
''I'm very impressed with your current prime minister. I think she's shown a great deal of courage and vision. And I think that Australians may look very carefully at the progress that has taken place and also look at the very powerful evidence that the climate crisis is having a very harsh impact on Australia, as predicted, as your own scientists have eloquently warned over and over again.''
Asked about the opposition's plan to embrace ''direct action'' such as planting trees and providing financial incentives to cut emissions, Mr Gore said such a policy had ''not worked anywhere''.
''Either we are serious about confronting this crisis or we are not,'' he said.
''We really have to rise to this challenge and I refuse to believe that we will not.''
In a sign of the difficulties of ensuring big polluting countries worked to cut emissions, Mr Gore said there was good news and bad news in China.
''The bad news is they're still building another new coal plant every 10 days or so and their pollution levels are so high now that admissions to hospitals for respiratory ailments have been multiplied five times over,'' he said.
''But the good news is that there are increasing protests from the people of China, and their new leadership, taking power formally next month, appears to be strongly committed to forward the movement on reforms.''
The comments came before the resumption of federal parliament on Tuesday for the first sitting of the year, with an election set for September 14.